Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License in Michigan - Part 1 - The Different Charges and Meanings

September 16, 2009

Most people don't know that the terms DWLS, DWLS/R/D, Driving While License Suspended and Driving While License Suspended, Revoked or Denied are all violations of the same Law. A person arrested for Driving on either a Suspended or Revoked License goes home with a Ticket that has one of the above-mentioned terms written on it. As a Criminal Defense Attorney who handles Driving Cases of every kind, from Traffic Tickets and Criminal Charges to Reinstatements and Restorations, I am often asked why someone's Ticket says "Revoked" when their License was only "Suspended?"

Fortunately, that's an easy question to answer. By answering that question, we learn quite a bit about the whole subject of Suspended and Revoked Licenses, and what can be done about them. Because there is no quick explanation of all this material, we'll divide the discussion into two parts. In this first of the two-part series examining these Charges, we'll learn about these terms and what they mean. In the second part, we'll look at what can be done in the Court case involving on of these Charges.

First, let's clarify the difference between the terms:

12878.jpgSuspended License means the driver has a License, but driving privileges have been suspended. Think of it like you would a student in school. A suspended student is still a student at the school, but is not allowed to come back for a specified period of time. The same is essentially true with Licenses. The vast majority of suspensions have a "From-To" date, meaning, for example, the Driver's privileges have been suspended from September 1, 2009 through July 4, 2010. This means that on July 5, 2010, the Driver can go to a Secretary of State Branch Office and get their License reinstated, usually upon payment of a $125 Reinstatement Fee.

Sometimes, although less often, a Driver's License has been Suspended "Indefinitely." Unlike the usual "From-To" suspension, there is no absolute duration for this type of suspension, although there can be a minimum period of suspension. Instead, the Driver can have their License Reinstated upon the completion of or the happening of some event. This most often involves something like the payment of outstanding Court fines and Secretary of State Driver Responsibility Fees (more on those later). To use our school example again, a Driver with an Indefinite Suspension is like a student who has been suspended until they complete a certain, specific task, like write an essay or turn in a bunch of overdue homework assignments. The sooner whatever needs to be done gets done, the sooner they're back "in."

Revoked License means that a Driver once had a License, but it has been taken away, or "Revoked" by the Michigan Secretary of State. Using our school example again, a Revoked Driver is the same thing as a student who has been expelled. That person is no longer a student, and they may not return to school until they re-apply and are approved for readmission. In the case of both the Revoked Driver and the expelled student, there is no automatic reinstatement or readmission after a specific date, or upon the happening or completion of some particular thing. Instead, both the Driver and the Student must start from "square one" by reapplying and proving that whatever got them in trouble in the first place is no longer a problem. In the world of Michigan Driver's Licenses, this is done through the process of License Restoration.

A Denied License, in the real world, means the Driver never had a license in the first place. Technically speaking, the title of the Statute (the legal term for a law) that governs these offenses uses the term denied, while within the body of the law itself, anyone who never applied for a license, but drives anyway, is likewise considered in violation. In my nearly 20 years of handling Criminal and Traffic Cases, I have never encountered a case where someone applied for license (as opposed to applying for reinstatement or restoration) and was denied. I have, however, encountered a number of Drivers, usually younger, who never obtained a license in the first place.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, I am often asked "how can they charge me with having a Revoked License when my License is only Suspended?" To answer that, we need to look at the statute which defines this offense. That law is MCL 257.904. The most common violations of that law are contained in sections 1, 2 and 3 (a) and (b).

As you can see, the statute essentially lumps Driving while License Suspended, Revoked, or Denied (as well as driving when no license was ever applied for) all in the same category. Therefore, a Driver who drives while their License is Suspended is violating the same law as someone who drives after having their License has been Revoked. Someone who never applied for a License, and therefore never got one, violates that very same law if they drive.

Most violations of this law are for Driving While License Suspended. Driving While License Revoked charges, while not uncommon, happened somewhat less frequently than those for Driving While License Suspended. Driving While License Denied (or never applied-for) cases are relatively rare.

Most Driving While License Revoked charges occur because the Driver has lost his or her License after receiving 2 alcohol or substance abuse-related convictions within 7 years (this gets a minimum Revocation period of 1 year), or 3 or more of those same convictions within 10 years (this nets a 5 year minimum Revocations period). In some cases, the person is driving during the minimum period of revocation, while in others, that period has passed but the driver has not gone through the License Restoration process.

Suspended License charges can result from all kinds of things. Drug and alcohol charges carry periods of License Suspension, although Restricted Driving Privileges are usually available in First Offense Drunk Driving and Drug Possession Cases. A common reason for a License Suspension is the existence of unpaid Traffic Tickets, called an "FCJ," or Failure to Comply with Judgment Suspension. Sometimes, a License Suspension results from what's called and "FAC," or Failure to Appear in Court Suspension. In either case, it means the Driver has not cleared up some outstanding Traffic Ticket(s).

An increasing number of Driving While License Suspended Charges result from a Driver's failure to pay their Driver Responsibility Fees to the Secretary of State. These fees are assessed for a variety of reasons, but they all trace back to some "qualifying" Driving Offense, or accumulation of Points. In a prior Blog post, I examined how these Driver Responsibility Fees can be paid off over time, now up to 24 months.

In the next section (Part 2) of this blog article, we'll examine what the Lawyer can do to help a client facing one of these charges, and how things can be made much better than they might at first seem. We'll discuss Plea Bargains and ways to avoid the penalties associated with DWLS and DWLR Charges.