At some point in their lives almost everyone that drives a car ends up with some traffic violations. Most of the time it’s not a big deal. You pay the ticket, and life goes on. But if you don’t pay those tickets you could end up driving with a suspended license and not even know it. And driving on a suspended license can very serious, depending on the circumstances that you’re in. Traffic violations run the gamut to minor infractions to very serious charges, including potential felony charges. Driving on a suspended driver’s license with knowledge, which is usually abbreviated to DWLS, is fairly serious and carries the potential for some hefty consequences.
Driving with a suspended license without knowledge that your license is suspended is a less serious violation. It’s classified as a misdemeanor in Florida and you will have to pay a fine.
But if you have knowledge that your license was suspended, or you are caught driving a vehicle without ever having had a license, that increases the seriousness. According to Florida statutes Section 322.34 you could have to pay a fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail if it’s your first offense. If it’s your third offense or more then that bumps it up to a felony. Because it’s a felony you could face fines up to $5,000 plus other costs and/or up to five years in prison.
The key distinction when you’re facing a charge of DWLS is the “with knowledge” distinction. “With knowledge” is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail. “Without knowledge” is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail. “With knowledge” means that you were aware that your license was suspended. So, you can just say that you didn’t know, right? Wrong. Florida has statutes that say that if the prosecution can prove that certain conditions were met then that counts as “knowledge” that your license was suspended. Even if you never received notice in the mail that your license was suspended under Florida statue 322.34(2) these conditions are considered evidence that you had knowledge of your license suspension:
- The prosecutor can show that the driver received a prior driving while license suspended citation.
- The driver admits that he knows his license is suspended.
- The driver received notice of the suspension via a court order.
However, it’s possible that the prosecutor could charge you with DWLS with knowledge if a court order was issued suspending your license. They don’t need to prove that you were given notice that your license was suspended or prove that notice of the suspension was received at your home address, they just need to show that a court ordered the suspension. Since the orders are public information, the burden is on you to show that you didn’t know that your license was suspended.
Can My License Be Suspended Without My Knowing?
It is possible for the court to suspend your license and issue an Order to that effect even if you are not in court or aware of the proceeding. There are many reasons why your license may be suspended such as:
- Suspension because of the number of points on your license
- Unpaid or delinquent child support
- A DUI arrest or conviction
- Being classified as a Habitual Traffic Offender after too many citations
- Having outstanding unpaid fines, court judgments, or court costs
- Missing a required court appearance
- You haven’t maintained continuous car insurance
- Drug related convictions
- Guilty plea to a charge of racing on the highway
- Refusal to take a Breathalyzer on a DUI stop
But this doesn’t mean you are without options when it comes to mounting a defense against a DWLS charge.
There are many ways that you can defend yourself depending on the actual circumstances of what happened. Some of the possible defenses you could use include:
- Arguing that the traffic stop was unlawful
- Arguing that you weren’t driving the vehicle
- Arguing that you were unaware of the suspension of your license because you had moved or for some other reason were never given the information about the court’s decree
- Arguing that you were not driving on a public highway
- Arguing that you weren’t driving a vehicle that is classified as a passenger or commercial vehicle, such as an ATV or golf cart
- Showing proof that your license is reinstated or showing proof that you paid any outstanding fines or child support and believed that the license was reinstated. Or, showing proof of insurance and arguing that you now have the necessary insurance if the state suspended your license for failure to maintain insurance.
Even though on the surface a charge for driving on a suspended license might seem cut and dry there are a lot of ways that you could avoid serious penalties even if you are facing a felony level DWLS charge. The best thing that you can do if you are arrested for DWLS with knowledge is to never admit that you knew the license was suspended and call a criminal attorney that specializes in traffic cases immediately.
Call the office today to talk with experienced criminal attorney Adam Bantner about the particulars of your case and to find out what other possible defenses you could use to avoid serious penalties for a DWLS with knowledge charge.