Driving While License Suspended

A very common criminal traffic violation in Florida is driving on a suspended license.  It is also a common civil traffic violation.  What’s the difference?  Basically, a law enforcement officer has to determine whether or not you knew your license was suspended when he or she pulls you over.   If they believe you did not know (or they just want to cut you a break), they can just give you a civil citation for driving while license suspended without knowledge.  If they believe you knew your license was suspended and you are still driving, they can arrest you for driving while license suspended with knowledge!  The only thing they may be standing between you and the county jail is your ability to convince the officer that you honestly did not know your license was suspended.  I am not saying anyone should lie to any officer of the law – but I have seen cases where the officer made an arrest on someone who did not know their license was suspended.

How does an officer know if my license is suspended?

There is no one answer to this question.  Officers don’t “know” – they can only use their judgment to decide whether they believe you knew.  Basically a law enforcement officer will use his or her training and experience to determine whether or not they have probable cause to believe you knew your license was suspended.  The most obvious way is you admit that you knew.  Perhaps the next most obvious way an officer may believe you knew is if they run your record and they see that you have multiple offenses for this same offense.  Another way is if a person tries to play “too dumb” or the person, when asked if they knew their license was suspended, they begin their reply by saying something like “Honestly…” or “Truthfully…” or “In all honesty…” – responses like these alert an officer that anything that follows has a high likelihood of being a fabrication or a lie.

This charge can also be enhanced if you get into an accident while driving with a suspended license and you cause bodily harm to another person.  This is a third degree felony, which is another reason that you should not risk driving while your license is suspended.

Driving while License Suspended (No Priors)

Crime Level: 2nd degree misdemeanor

Most likely outcome*: Fine and court costs.

Maximum Penalties: 60 days jail or 6 months probation; $500 fine.

Collateral Consequences: Enhanceable offense if committed again.

Possible Diversion: No.

Defenses: No knowledge of license suspension, unlawful stop.

Related Offenses: DUI, no valid driver’s license, DWLS HTO

* For Orange County, Florida, assuming no priors or aggravators.  Actual outcomes vary from case to case and this most likely outcome estimate should not be relied upon as definite.

Driving while License Suspended (One Prior)

Crime Level: 1st degree misdemeanor

Most likely outcome*: Higher fine and court costs, perhaps a DWLS class on how to take alternative transportation if you cannot get a license.

Maximum Penalties: 1 year in jail or probation; $1,000 fine.

Collateral Consequences: Enhanceable to a felony if committed again.

Possible Diversion: No.

Defenses: No knowledge of license suspension, unlawful stop, no prior conviction.

Related Offenses: DUI, no valid driver’s license, DWLS HTO

* For Orange County, Florida, assuming no priors or aggravators.  Actual outcomes vary from case to case and this most likely outcome estimate should not be relied upon as definite.

Driving while License Suspended (Habitual Traffic Offender)

Crime Level: 3rd degree felony

Most likely outcome*: Felony probation, community service, court costs, cost of prosecution, perhaps a DWLS class on how to take alternative transportation if you cannot get a license.

Maximum Penalties: 5 years prison or probation; $5,000 fine.

Collateral Consequences: Loss of driving privileges for 5 years.

Possible Diversion: No.

Defenses: No knowledge of license suspension, unlawful stop, no prior convictions.

Related Offenses: DUI, no valid driver’s license, DWLS

* For Orange County, Florida, assuming no priors or aggravators.  Actual outcomes vary from case to case and this most likely outcome estimate should not be relied upon as definite.