On June 16, 2008, WJO was traveling northbound in St. Lucie County on Florida’s Turnpike at a speed estimated to be greater than 100 mph. Trooper Adam Johnson initiated a traffic stop which resulted in a speeding ticket and a criminal charge of driving while license was suspended or revoked (DWLS). Defendant retained Jeffrey H. Garland to assist in evaluating this matter.
This case illustrates, yet again, the saying: “No good deed goes unpunished”. WJO had received notification that his driver license would be suspended for 30 days because of too many points. The suspension would not go into effect until June 17, 2008, but WJO decided to surrender his license on June 13. Even though he had surrendered his license, WJO was driving on June 16, which was the day before the suspension was to go into effect.
Attorney Garland brought these facts to the prosecutor’s attention. He pointed out that the State could, at best, establish that WJO was driving without a valid license, because DMV had “cancelled” the license upon receiving it. Upon consideration, the prosecutor agreed that the DWLS charge could not be proven. WJO was permitted to plea to a lesser charge of driving without a license. The court withheld adjudication of guilt. Court costs were payable within 30 days. There was no probation.
The reduction in charge from DWLS to no DL was a significant benefit. Any person who is “convicted of three “major” offenses within a 5-year period of time is subject to being declared an habitual traffic offender (HTO)”. A person who is declared an HTO will have their DL’s revoked for a period of five years, with no eligibility for a permit until one year of the revocation has been completed. A person who is driving in violation of an HTO revocation may be prosecuted for a felony.
A first offense DWLS may be punished either as a 60-day misdemeanor, if there is knowledge, or as a non-criminal infraction, if there is no knowledge of the suspension. Properly characterizing a charge is essential in determining whether a person is guilty or, if guilty, what the penalty might be. Driving histories are notoriously inaccurate. The client should retain an attorney who is experienced and capable of evaluating the sufficiency of the criminal history.
Attorney Garland has encountered numerous instances where driving history notations are inaccurate. Many times, these inaccuracies can be proven through official court records or by other means. Just because a driving history says an offense was committed does not make it so.