If you have been charged with or arrested for Driving While License Suspended in the Tampa Bay area, it is extremely important to hire a criminal defense attorney. This is true even if you just received a civil traffic ticket for Driving While License Suspended Without Knowledge. Driving While License Suspended can have serious consequences, including loss of your driver's license for 5 years.
This is a payable civil traffic ticket and not considered a criminal offense. Since it is not considered a crime, many people think that by simply paying this kind of ticket they will solve the problem. However, what many people do not know is that paying too many of these tickets can cause a myriad of more problems. That is because the Florida DMV will consider a person a Habitual Traffic Offender after 3 qualifying convictions within 5 years and suspend the person's driver's license for 5 years. Driving While License Suspended With or Without Knowledge is considered a "qualifying conviction" for that purpose. Simply paying the ticket will trigger the conviction for DMV purposes and in some cases a 5-year driver's license suspension. This is true even if you have never been arrested for or charged with the criminal offense of Driving While License Suspended With Knowledge. After your license has been suspended for 5 years for being a Habitual Traffic Offender, you could be charged with a felony offense for Driving While License Suspended if you are caught again for Driving While License Suspended.
An attorney can give you advice and help you avoid the serious consequences that a ticket for Driving While License Suspended Without Knowledge can cause.
Without any other aggravating circumstances, such as injury or death or prior convictions, this is a 2nd-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The prosecutor has to prove the following things before you can be convicted of this crime:
That you were driving on Florida Highways/ public roads;
That your driver's license was suspended; and
That you either knew or should have known your driver's license was suspended.
It may seem like a good idea to resolve this charge with just a minimal fine and some court costs without paying for an expensive attorney. However, doing so can cause serious consequences. After all, the prosecutor may even allow you to enter a plea to this charge and avoid a criminal conviction (by offering you what is called a Withhold of Adjudication). However, doing so is still considered a "qualified conviction" for the DMV and can as such cause you to lose your driver's license for 5 years under certain circumstances. It will also count as a prior conviction for purposes of enhancing the penalties should you ever be caught for Driving While License Suspended again.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you avoid these consequences by negotiating a reduced charge or checking whether or not you qualify for the "clerk's withhold." The clerks withhold will not trigger a 5-year driver's license suspension as a plea to a withhold of adjudication would. However, in order to take advantage of the clerk's withhold, you have to take immediate action before your court date. Therefore, do not delay hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney so you can still take full advantage of all options that may be available to you and don't risk losing your driving privilege and ability to drive to and from work, pick up your kids from school or go to the grocery store.
Having prior convictions for DWLS or being considered a Habitual Traffic Offender will increase the penalties. In that case, you can be charged with a 1st-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or a $1000 fine. Under some circumstances, DWLS on an HTO suspension can be considered a 3rd-degree felony and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $5000 fine.
Driving While License Suspended Causing Death or Serious Bodily Injury is considered a 3rd-degree felony and punishable by up to 5 years in prison and or a $5000 fine. If you seriously injure two or more people, you could be charged with a separate felony for each person that was injured. In those cases, it is extremely important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney because it can mean the difference between a lengthy prison sentence and possibly probation or even a reduction in charges. An attorney will be able to ensure that no stone remains unturned to defend against these allegations. An important question is whether or not the alleged victim suffered serious bodily injury as defined by the law. Without serious bodily injury, this would only be a misdemeanor.
Can the police or other witnesses identify you as the driver of a motor vehicle?
Can the prosecutor prove that you knew or should have known that your driver's license was suspended?
Was your driver's license actually suspended or did the Florida DHSMV made a mistake and your license should never have been suspended?
Were you driving on a public road as defined under Florida Law?
Can the prosecutor use your prior offenses as a prior conviction to enhance the penalties?
If charged with DWLS Causing Serious Bodily Injury or Death, was it your negligent driving that caused the injury or death?