Unfortunately, public transportation in Florida, particularly in the more rural areas, is typically not as convenient as driving one’s own car. Getting to work, running errands, buying groceries, picking up children from daycare, going to church, etc., is much more convenient to accomplish by driving than by riding public transportation. For the large part, people in Florida rely on having a valid driver’s license to get around on a day-to-day basis.
When I began to contemplate a career in criminal defense law, I didn’t anticipate much involvement in driver’s license law beyond DUI cases. Boy, was I in for a surprise! In Florida, convictions for certain crimes result in driver’s license suspensions, including crimes that are in no way traffic related. For instance, any conviction for a drug possession case, even a misdemeanor, results in a 2 year driver’s license suspension that begins on the date of conviction. This is true, even if the facts of the case have nothing to do with driving. The same can happen for a theft conviction, or for offenses prosecuted in juvenile court. Ironically, a conviction for drug possession results in a driver’s license suspension of 2 years, while a 1st time Driving Under the Influence conviction results in a suspension term of only 1 year.
If you are convicted of a criminal offense that results in a driver’s license suspension, it is presumed that you have knowledge of your license suspension. What this means is that if you are then caught driving while your license is suspended, and that suspension was due to a criminal conviction, you will likely be charged with the criminal offense of Driving With Licenses Suspended With Knowledge. As you can guess, a conviction for simple possession of marijuana can quickly snowball into future convictions for driving on a suspended license, unemployment due to loss of driver’s license (or excessive tardiness because the bus schedule is difficult to navigate), loss of social contacts due to not being able to drive to social gatherings, etc..
Once a driver’s license is suspended, it can be very difficult to left the suspension. If the license is suspended for failure to pay fines, not only does one need to pay the fines, once must also pay a reinstatement fee. If a license is suspended as a result of a criminal conviction, often times the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will require proof of completing certain other sanctions (such as taking courses), as well as paying a reinstatement fee, and waiting for the suspension period to expire.
Now, not all hope is lost. If you are convicted of a crime that results in a driver’s license suspension, you may be eligible for a hardship license, also known as a business purpose only (BPO) license, if certain conditions are met. This is a license the DHMV can issue that restricts the driver to driving only to go to work, school, or necessary errands such as going to the grocery store. The driver cannot use it for recreation such as driving to hang out with friends, going to the movies, going out to eat at a restaurant, etc.. Driving with a hardship license for a non authorized purpose is a crime. However, a hardship license is better than no license at all. Also, many driver’s license suspensions are as a result of convictions only. Thus, you may be able to avoid a driver’s license suspension altogether as part of a sentence if the court withholds adjudication.
One thing is for sure: if you find yourself with a suspended license, DO NOT DRIVE UNTIL THE SUSPENSION IS LIFTED AND YOU HAVE PROOF THAT THE SUSPENSION IS LIFTED. Once your driving privilege begins to accumulate multiple suspensions, it will become that much harder to restore your driving privilege, since each suspension has to be dealt with separately. I can't begin to tell you how many Driving While License Suspended cases I’ve had where my client was driving because he/she believed that by paying the reinstatement fee for one suspension, that all of the suspensions were cleared and lifted. License suspension can become a mire of bureaucracy, and leads many to frustration and a sense of hopelessness. The earlier the suspension is resolved, the better.
But the best medicine is prevention. So if you find yourself charged with a crime, make sure you talk to your attorney about whether a plea or adverse verdict could impact your driving privileges. Legally, a withhold of adjudication can only be imposed if a defendant is sentenced to a period of probation (however short). But I’ve been in court and seen defendants who are in custody accept plea deals that do not sentence them to any further sanction besides the time already served in jail (ex. the sentence is 2 days in jail and the person has already been in jail 2 days awaiting sentencing, so he will presumably get out of jail as soon as he enters the plea), but result in a criminal conviction. I’ve wondered whether the attorney has advised the client that an additional brief period of probation would result in preserving the person’s driver’s license if the court withholds adjudication.
Hopefully, no one reading this blog will ever have to contend with this issue. But if you ever do, please remember what you’ve read, and make sure you ask your attorney how your driver's license will be impacted and whether that impact can be avoided.