Driving while your license is suspended or revoked (DWLSR) charges are by far the most common cases in Pinellas County. Suspended license charges also can be the most complex and have unknown consequences for the uninformed. The suspended license charges range from civil infractions to serious felonies, but they all are based on one simple act-being behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while a driver’s license has either been suspended or revoked.
Most people charged with DWLSR are first time offenders. Many have no idea that their license was suspended and wind up spending a night in jail. Some may have received a citation by a law enforcement officer, but missed the court date and now have a warrant for their arrest. Regardless of the situation, law enforcement continues to take a hard line approach to these charges in Pinellas County. In the past, officers would simply allow a driver to head home with a mere warning. But, due to the legal liability imposed on the police by allowing someone to drive off without a valid driver’s license, they no longer issue warnings. Instead, they will either arrest an offender, or issue a citation for a court appearance. Because of the changes in police behavior, the courts are flooded with suspended license cases. Because so many people going before the court have little to no experience with the criminal justice system, they inevitably make decisions that they regret.
St. Petersburg Suspended License Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested or issued a citation for driving on a suspended license, my advice is to speak to a suspended license defense attorney. It is possible that you can handle the case on your own, but a consultation with an experienced defense attorney can give you peace of mind and potentially avoid pitfalls. At St Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid, I specialize in DWLSR cases in Pinellas County. I have defended countless of these cases successfully over the years and will be able to identify many issues with your situation within minutes. Fortunately, attorney’s fees for DWLSR cases are usually very reasonable and if a client can obtain a valid driver’s license quickly, the matter may be easy to resolve with the correct procedures.
Driving While License Suspended (DWLS)
The overwhelming percentage of cases involve suspended licenses, not revoked licenses. The penalties are the same for both, so there is no need to delve into revoked license charges.
Driving on a suspended license charges are controlled by Florida Statute 322.34. The statute breaks down the severity of the offense into several categories.
Driving on a Suspended License Without Knowledge:
These charges are normally for first time offenders who have no knowledge that their license has been suspended. This is the least severe offense level and is simply a civil citation. The penalties for this offense is usually a fine. However, a conviction will put points on your record and have potential consequences to trigger additional suspension, such as a habitual traffic offender (HTO).
First Offense Driving on a Suspended License With Knowledge:
The first conviction for driving on a suspended license with knowledge of the suspension is a crime. This offense is a second degree misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum of a $500 fine, 60 days in the Pinellas County Jail or by 6 months of probation.
Second Offense Driving on a Suspended License With Knowledge:
The second conviction for driving on a suspended license with knowledge of the suspension is also a crime. This offense is a first degree misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum of a $1,000 fine, one year in the Pinellas County Jail or up to 12 months of probation.
Third Offense or Driving on a Habitual Traffic Offender Suspension:
The third or subsequent offense for driving on a suspended license is a third degree felony. Likewise, if your driver’s license has been suspended for being a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO), you will be charged with a third degree felony. These offenses are punishable by a fine up to $5,000, up to five years of probation, and up to five years in Florida state prison.
Common Reasons for License Suspension in Pinellas County
There are literally countless ways for one’s license to be suspended, but for the purposes of this informational article, only the most common suspensions will be listed. The most common reason for a license suspension is simply not paying a traffic fine or citation. Other common reasons are DUI suspensions, failure to carry insurance, or a conviction for marijuana or a controlled substance.
According to Florida DHSMV, every time your license is about to be suspended, a notice is sent to the address listed on your driver’s license. If the notice was sent, regardless of whether you actually received the notice, you can be charged with knowingly driving on a suspended license. Often, my clients are blindsided by this news as it normal to move without immediately changing your address on your license. But, the law imposes an obligation on you to update this information even though it may not always be reasonable.
Another way people get blindsided by DWLS charges has to do with issues with insurance. Every Florida driver with a motor vehicle registered to his or her name must carry insurance. The insurance company is supposed to notify DHSMV that insurance is in place. However, especially when people change carriers, this proof is not sent to DHSMV due to no fault of the client. Thus, people who carry valid insurance and have no idea that there is a problem, can be stopped and even arrested for DWLS charge.
Strategy for Resolving DWLS Charges
The number one reason to avoid a DWLS charge is to simply get a valid license. While the judges in Pinellas County do not have the authority to dismiss or amend a DWLS, the Office of the State Attorney does and will. In fact, in my career, I have never seen a person who got their license issues fixed be convicted of the DWLS charge. That being said, there are some people who simply cannot get a license no matter what they do. This is often from DUI or drug convictions in other states. In these circumstances, I advise my clients to accept responsibility as soon as possible and/or pay off as many financial obligations as possible. In other words, make some good faith attempt that you are trying to fix the problem. I have found that differentiating yourself from the thousands of people charged with DWLS is a key to minimizing the penalties.
Contact a St. Petersburg Suspended License Defense Attorney
DWLS charges require some guidance from an experienced defense lawyer. When I am retained to handle a case, I pull the driver’s license history from DMV to determine all of the reasons for the suspension. We are often then able to direct our clients about what needs to be done to clear the license. I also will send my clients to the nearest DMV office for an assessment about what needs to be done. If a client needs a case continued in order to obtain a license, as long as I can show the judge that progress is being made, I can delay the case to buy more time.
The repercussions of a DWLS conviction may not appear for some time after the case is over, so I always advise people to get an opinion about their options. At St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid, I always strive to give clients solid and cost effective legal advice. If you have any questions about a DWLS charge in Pinellas County, please contact me for a consultation before your court date.