(Note: Links within the guide go to a page on my website that has additional information on the topic)
THE CONFUSION FOR FLORIDA DRIVERS
It has become increasing clear that the law regarding driving with a suspended drivers license in Florida is not well understood by the average driver. This is because the Florida Legislature has hidden these laws amonst the myriad of laws we already have. This short legal guide is meant to help the average driver (you, me, and every other driver out there) deal with the "Driving While Drivers License Suspended" citation if we receive one. ( Here I have some common questions and answers regarding suspended licenses.)
The number one thing to remember is DO NOT DRIVE if our drivers license is suspended. In Florida the police will take us to jail for that. However, if we are stopped and told our drivers license has been suspended and we did not know this - we must tell the policeman that we did not know our drivers license was suspended. This is an important fact that I will explain below.
TWO TYPES OF TICKETS
Florida, tired of taking large numbers of drivers to jail, changed the law and now there are two types of "Driving On A Suspended Drivers License" offenses that we can receive. The first is the original criminal citation (possible jail) and it is the one that says we "had knowledge" that our license was suspended. The second, newer, kinder citation (possible a fine) is the one that says we did not have knowledge that our license was suspended. The first one we will call the "with knowledge" citation and the second we will call the "without knowledge" citation.
Regardless of which of these citations we receive we should remember that if we did not know our license was suspended when we were pulled over it is okay and we should tell the police that we did not know. If we knew our license was suspended and decided to drive anyway the offense is potentially criminal and we should remain silent if asked about the status of our license. We all have rights when law enforcement asks us potential incriminating questions when you are not free to leave.
Example if we did not know our drivers license was suspended:
OFC: Ma'am, did you realize your license is suspended?
US: Sir, I did not know that.
(Do not go into any explanation of what potentially could be suspending the license. Simply indicating that you were without knowledge is enough.)
Example if we knew our drivers license was suspended when we are pulled over:
OFC: Ma'am, did you know your license is suspended?
US: Sir, I'm going to remain silent. If you wish to continue to question me regarding this issue I would like to have an attorney present.
(Note: Do not be afraid to answer this way because there is a good chance we will be arrested or given a court date anyway. Moreover, answering "yes, I know" is an admission that will be used against us and will destroy any defenses we may have.)
WHAT DO WE DO WHEN WE RECEIVE THE CITATION
Regardless of whether we receive a citation for a "without knowledge" ticket (looking at possibly a fine) or we receive a "with knowledge" ticket (looking at receiving a ticket with a court date or going to jail) we always need to remember not to take this ticket lightly and do not just pay the ticket or plead guilty to the charge.
Florida has a sneaky trick in the law that basically says that if we just pay the fine for a "without knowledge" ticket or just plead guilty for a "with knowledge" ticket then those tickets will count toward what is called a " Habitual Traffic Offender" status. If we just pay or plead guilty for three of these type tickets within a 5-year period then Florida will take away our drivers license for 5-years. For this reason, if we find ourselves in this situation we need to address the situation in the correct manner.
Each variation of this citation has a method for addressing it with the Clerk of Court. (See the link to s. 318.14, Fla. Stat.) Each requires that we obtain a valid drivers license first before 30 days have passed. With our valid drivers license in hand, the law allows us to pay a smaller fine with the Clerk of Court and obtain a withhold of adjudication and, more importantly, not have Florida count it towards a Habitual Traffic Offender status. Again, this must be done within 30 days of receiving the citation. The problem is that the Clerk of Court typically does not know this method or resolves it incorrectly.
HOW DO WE AVOID THIS DISASTER
We can avoid this by finding an attorney that is knowledgeable in this area of the law and is not going to scare us into such a frenzy that we hire them at any cost. Although the law is complex for non-lawyers (and lawyers that do not practice in this area), for lawyers that are experienced this can be a routine matter that usually results in a successful outcome.
A successful outcome is we are not on a 5-year suspension, we have our valid drivers license, the "without knowledge" ticket may be dismissed, the "with knowledge" ticket is amended, and we now know how to handle the situation in the future and, more importantly, how to avoid it.
This is not to say we cannot do this ourselves. Below I have listed several links to help us understand the law. Included are some of my webpages with additional links regarding suspended licenses. One concern we should consider is that these situations are easier to address by a lawyer the earlier they can get in on the case. Undoing the mistakes of clerks and others makes the situation more involved and thus more time consuming.