N.N. (not his real initials) retained Jeffrey H. Garland shortly after being charged in Martin County, Florida, with DWLS with knowledge. Attorney Garland promptly recognized that a plea of no contest to the charge would result in a 5-year habitual traffic offender (HTO) suspension. Avoiding HTO classification became the primary object of representation.
The client had an essentially good driving record until the year immediately before the current charge. Several tickets were not paid on time. He changed insurance carriers which caused further problems. As a result, the client had pled, without an attorney, no contest (just by paying a ticket) to a previous DWLS charge which resulted in a “guilty” finding with points. He pled no contest to a second DWLS which resulted in a “withhold of adjudication”, but no jail.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) is sometimes known as the place which issues driver licenses. This can be confusing, because the State is phasing out driver license offices in favor of having the County Tax Collector take over these responsibilities. In addition, many driver license problems have to be handled through the Bureau of Administrative Review (BAR). The average person may have great difficulty in navigating the complex procedures governing driver licenses and may, completely inadvertently, fall victim to the web of suspensions and revocations which can result.
In N.N.’s case, the prosecutor believed she offered a terrific plea: no jail and a withhold of adjudication. Unfortunately, if the client had taken the bait, the sweet perfume of the easy plea would have turned into the nasty stench of a 5-year revocation. Instead, Attorney Garland realized that the client was eligible under the DHSMV Amnesty Program to exercise the administrative option. However, the prosecutor would not agree that the client was eligible for the administrative option. Attorney Garland filed a motion to determine eligibility to exercise administrative option. Martin County Judge Darren Steele considered the motion at hearing April 15, 2011. Judge Steele granted the motion and directed the Clerk to allow N.N. to exercise the administrative option. Since the client had already secured a valid driver license, he completed the paperwork necessary for the administrative option immediately following the hearing.
The Martin County Clerk promptly reported the disposition to DHSMV. Attorney Garland pulled a driving history on April 20, 2011, which confirmed the appropriate disposition. The net result was that the client’s driving privilege was not suspended or revoked.
Moral: DHSMV sends out notices warning that a driver license will be suspended unless certain action is taken. Each driver should consider the suspension notice letter and seek to respond to the problem. In some instances, the cause for suspension can be easily corrected, such as the payment of an overdue ticket or providing proof of a change in insurance. In other instances, the reasons for suspension are more complicated and may need the assistance of a qualified attorney. All drivers should be aware that notices will be sent to the last address on file with DHSMV. For this reason, all drivers should notify DHSMV of a change in address as soon as possible.