Digging Deeper and Deeper into the Hole
Driving charges in Florida encompass a wide range of offenses, including driving without a valid driver’s license, driving on a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving, driving under the influence, and on and on. Many of these charges are misdemeanors – at least at first. Some can be felonies, under the right circumstances.
For example, driving on a suspended license (DWLS) can actually be a non-criminal traffic offense if you didn’t know about the suspension. Let’s say that the first time you get one of these, you didn’t know about the suspension. You pay the ticket, and move on with your life. But you keep having issues with your license. Maybe there’s a traffic ticket you forgot about, or child support that you are having trouble paying. So you get another DWLS a year or so later. This time, the officer writes it up as “with knowledge” – a second degree misdemeanor. Still not too terrible… maybe you take a plea agreement for time served, a fine, and court costs. Then, another year goes by, and it happens again; now you’re charged with a first degree misdemeanor. Again, it doesn’t sound too awful, and maybe again you get a reasonable plea offer, and you take the deal.
Then, you get a notice in the mail from the DHSMV. Your driver’s license has been suspended as a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) – for 5 years! What now? All this time, you’ve been working as hard as you can, struggling to try to keep up with your obligations and get your license issues straightened out, and now you have no license at all!
Florida is not a particularly easy place to get by without a driver’s license. Sure, there are some local bus systems. Sometimes you can catch a ride to work with friends or co-workers. After a year, you can even apply for a hardship license. But being labeled as an HTO can make difficult circumstances virtually impossible if it causes you to lose your job due to lack of transportation or increased tardiness or absenteeism. Also, even if you didn’t have that first civil ticket and didn’t lose your license as an HTO, your third offense becomes a felony. There are other ways to become an HTO (DUIs and leaving the scene of an accident also count toward the “three strikes” within five years), but driving on a suspended license is perhaps the most common.
How a Satellite Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
Fortunately, there are also a lot of ways to attack driving charges, whether misdemeanor or felony level, or an HTO designation. In addition to possible grounds for a motion to suppress evidence if the traffic stop was not valid, there may be other legal reasons why your current charge is inappropriately high or an HTO designation is not lawful. For example, when your license is suspended for certain financial reasons, Florida law will not support a felony driving on a suspended charge, even if more than your third time. Also, sometimes you can attack the plea to one of the underlying driving on a suspended license charges, which can eliminate the grounds for making you an HTO. Under the right circumstances, if you can get your license reinstated, you might even be able to make an election and obtain a clerk’s withhold on a driving on a suspended license charge, which means that charge would not count as a strike.
Florida’s driver’s license statutes are long and complex, and there are many traps for the unwary or uninformed in handling these cases. It is key for your criminal defense attorney to review your driving record, and to review the details of any license suspensions, in order to determine what avenues might be open to you to defend yourself on driving charges in court.
About Attorney Ruth Singer
Attorney Singer holds a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Florida. She also holds a J.D. from Florida A&M University College of Law, where she graduated at the top of her class. Attorney Singer clerked for an administrative law judge in the Drug Enforcement Administration in Arlington, VA, and worked as an Assistant Public Defender in Orlando, FL, before entering private practice. She is also admitted to practice in Oklahoma.
Attorney Singer is a dedicated and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, with experience representing clients at both the trial and appellate levels. She has experience defending criminal cases through pretrial discovery, motions to suppress and dismiss, and at trial. As a former public defender, Attorney Singer strongly believes that the state must be held to its very high burden of proof. Attorney Singer aims to provide compassionate, client-focused legal representation and high-quality counsel that is accessible, affordable, and practical when it matters most.
Learn more about how The Singer Firm can help protect your future and the life you have built by scheduling a free consultation now at 321-804-3266.