Jared Austin, J.D. | Article

Driving While License Suspended (Dwls)

In Michigan, you can be guilty of the offense of Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) if you operate a motor vehicle on a public roadway or areas generally accessible to the public, if any of the following are met:

• your driver's license has been suspended
• your driver's license has been revoked
• you applied for a driver's license and were denied
• you have never applied for a driver's license
• you permit someone to operate you vehicle who fall into one of the above mentioned categories

What are the penalties for driving on a suspended, revoked, or denied license?

First Offense:

• 93 days in jail
• $500 in fines
• Registration plates canceled
• One year probation
• Additional license suspension
• $1,000 driver's responsibility fees ($500/year for two consecutive years)

Second Offense:

• One-year in jail
• $1,000 in fines
• Registration plates canceled
• Two years probation
• Additional license suspension
• $1,000 driver's responsibility fees ($500/year for two consecutive years)

A second offense is one that occurs within seven years of your first offense.

All subsequent offenses have the same penalty as the second offense except the vehicle immobilization period becomes longer.

DWLS Causing Serious Injury:

• Five years in prison
• $1,000-$5,000 in fines
• Vehicle immobilization or forfeiture
• Five years probation

DWLS Causing Death:

• 15 years in prison
• $2,500-$10,000 in fines
• Vehicle immobilization or forfeiture
• Five years probation

What sentence am I likely to receive?

Even though jail is a possibility, it is still rare for a regular DWLS conviction. Although, with each conviction jail becomes more likely. Most jurisdictions are likely to sentence you to probation plus fines and court costs. Keep in mind that each judge and jurisdiction is different so it pays to have a lawyer who is familiar with that area so you can have a better idea of what the sentence will be.

Are there defenses to DWLS? Yes, like any law there are defenses which is why you should have an experienced criminal lawyer scrutinize the police reports for any deficiencies or problems that could be used to either dismiss the case or reduce the charge to a lesser charge or even a civil infraction. Some possible defenses include:

• Invalid or Illegal Stop-- The police must have reasonable suspicion to pull your vehicle over as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. The stop cannot be a pretext, or a fishing expedition for the police. They must have observed you committing some infraction of the motor vehicle code such as speeding, crossing the center line, running a stop sign, etc. or have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. If they cannot articulate that, then the stop would be illegal meaning that any evidence the police obtained from that stop would be “fruit of the poisonous tree” and therefore inadmissible.

• Emergency-- If circumstances dictated that you had to drive in order to save your life or the life of someone else, then the case may be dismissed if this can be verified. Keep in mind that the situation has to be a true emergency and not merely something that was really important.

• No Actual Knowledge that Your License was Suspended-- The prosecutor has the burden of proving that your license was suspended and you knew or should have known that your license was suspended. If the Secretary of State can demonstrate that they mailed you a notice to your address that was on file and it was never returned, you are presumed to have received that notice unless you can prove otherwise. If you changed addresses and didn't inform the SOS that is not their fault. It is your duty to keep them informed of your whereabouts.

There may be other mitigating factors that could persuade a prosecutor to reduce the charge, give you a civil infraction, or dismiss your case. That is why you need an experienced criminal attorney representing you.

What are possible plea deals? It all depends on the location and what that particular prosecutor's office usual policy is. They may be willing to negotiate down to Allowing an Unlicensed Driver to Operate Your Vehicle or a civil infraction of No Valid Operator's License or “No Ops.” This will also depend on how much leverage can be garnered from the police report.

What about driving on an expired license? Thanks to a recent Court of Appeals holding, we now know for certain that an expired license doesn't fit into any of the categories listed in the DWLS statute. The reason is because someone with an expired license is different from someone with a revoked, suspended, or denied license because they are not considered an unsafe driver. The statute was clearly passed to sanction unsafe drivers. Driving on an expired license is a civil infraction of $150 with driver's responsibility payments of $150 for two consecutive years.

If you have been charged with DWLS, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible.