Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License in Michigan – Part 2 – What Happens in Court

In the first Blog post of this 2-part series, we examined the differences between Suspended and Revoked Licenses in Michigan. In this second part, we will look at how these each of these cases is usually handled in Court, and what a Lawyer can do to help the Client avoid the negative consequences that go along with each.

Whatever the reason or reasons, the most common Misdemeanor Driving Charge is Driving While License Suspended, or DWLS. Driving While License Revoked, or DWLR, while not as frequently cited a charge as DWLS, is still a common Misdemeanor Driving Offense. Here’s where things can get strange.

Judge.jpgRemember how, in part 1, we learned that DWLS and DWLR are part of the same statute (law), and carry the same penalties for violation? While that’s true, in the real world of Courts and Judges, they are often looked at very differently, and a violation for DWLS is often treated much more leniently than a violation for DWLR. Here’s why:

As we noted in the first Blog post of this series, most (but not all) License Revocations result from an accumulation of alcohol-related (or sometimes drug-related) Driving Convictions. When a person is cited for DWLR, it often means they are what’s known as a “Habitual Offender” of Drunk Driving (of DUI) Laws and has had their license Revoked. In part 1 we saw that we can compare having a License Suspended to being suspended from school, and having a License Revoked to being expelled from school. From a Judge’s point of view, a Revoked Driver causes the biggest concern, because not only do they (often) have a demonstrated record of DUI convictions, they also demonstrate a lack of ability to follow the law even after their license has been yanked.

My job in representing a Client in this type of case is to demonstrate that, aside from whatever caused their License to be Revoked in the first place, the Driver is not nearly as defiant as the charge may at first make them appear.

Look, we live in Michigan, and, truth be told, there are really no options to get around without driving. If we’re going to be honest, remember that this is the state where the automobile was invented. There is no big city or Metropolitan area anywhere that has less mass transit than we do. The whole point of this “Motor City” thing was to get everyone driving. Michigan, in general, and the Detroit-area, in particular, is about the worst single place in the Country to try and live in without driving.

Sure, there is some, limited bus service, but there’s at least a debatable impression that its main users, whether by design or circumstance, are people of lower income and means. We can spin it anyway possible, but the bottom line is that it’s very hard, and perhaps beyond humbling, to get people who are used to driving for themselves to stand at a series of bus stops in order to get around.

As a result, and whether right or wrong, many people take their chances and drive.

Now, imagine you’re a Judge. You are dealing with two License cases. The first involves a person who didn’t pay a Traffic Ticket or two, wound up getting a License Suspension because of that, and got caught driving. The second involves a person who has 2 Drunk Driving convictions within 7 years, and had their License Revoked. Even though this person became eligible to have their License Restored some time ago, they have not done so, and were “Revoked” at the time they got pulled over.

What’s the difference between these two cases, even though each Driver is charge with violating the same law?

The second Driver’s Drinking and Driving convictions. No matter how you cut it, the second Driver looks more dangerous than the first. Driver’s whose Suspension or Revocation arises because of DUI charges are, in practice, treated more severely than Driver’s whose Suspension or Revocation arises from pretty much anything else. I could write all day about why that’s the case, but this would go from being a Blog article to a textbook, and the bigger point here is just that it is what it is.

So how does a Lawyer handle these cases, and what can be done about them?

Let’s go back to our “You’re the Judge” example. The first Driver got caught Driving on a Suspended License because he or she had some unpaid Traffic Tickets that resulted in an “FCJ” or “Failure to Comply with Judgment” Suspension, meaning that because the Tickets were unpaid, they went into Default.

If possible, I’d want the Driver to “clear up,” or pay the outstanding tickets before we go to Court on the DWLS case. If the Client can afford to do that, then they will be given “clearances” which are essentially receipts showing that the outstanding Tickets have been paid.

If my Client does that, I am usually able to negotiate with the Prosecutor to reduce the charge from Driving While License Suspended to what’s called a “No Ops,” which means Driving without and/or Failing to Display a Valid Operators License. This reduced charge avoids lots of the penalties that result from a conviction for DWLS:

First, it carries no points, while a DWLS carries 2 points.

Second, it avoids a “Mandatory Additional Suspension” which must be imposed when a person is convicted of DWLS. “Mandatory Additional Suspensions” are just that: a mandatory period of additional suspension. No Restricted License cans be given during that period.

Third, a “No Ops” does not trigger any Driver Responsibility Fees to the Secretary of State, whereas a DWLS conviction, on top of everything else (Court fines, License Suspension), means that the Driver will also have to pay $500 to the Secretary of State for 2 years in a row.

If a Client needs a little time to get up the money to first pay off their outstanding Tickets, I am usually able to get the Prosecutor and the Court to agree to adjourn the case for a while (typically, about 30 days) so that they can come back to Court with their “Clearances” which will enable me to work out the reduction from the DWLS to the “No Ops.”

To continue with our “You’re the Judge” example, the second Driver was charged with Driving While License Revoked because he or she had 2 DUI convictions within 7 years. What can be done in that case?

This same Plea Bargain down to a “No Ops” can often still be worked out even if a Driver has a DWLR charge. Of course, there is no “Clearance” to get for a Revoked License, but if, for example, the Driver is eligible to apply to the Secretary of State for License Restoration, then the Prosecutor might require, as a pre-condition to any “No Ops” Plea Bargain,that they at least file their application and get the License Restoration process underway.

In those cases where a Driver is not yet eligible to apply for Restoration of Driving Privileges, and depending on the circumstances surrounding the DWLR charge (for example, the person is caught driving to work as opposed to being caught going to the movies on a Saturday night), it is still possible to have a DWLR charge reduced to “No Ops.” It is, of course, easier to do that with a First Offense than with a Second or Third.

Although a Jail Sentence is easy to avoid in either case for a first offense, the DWLS Driver will still likely see a less serious outcome than the DWLR Driver. Remember, most DWLR Drivers have at least 2 prior DUI’s on their record, so even a First Offense DWLR is at least their 3rd Misdemeanor Charge. The DWLS Driver may never have had a Criminal Charge before.

In many DWLS cases where there has been a reduction to “No Ops,” the Driver is assessed some fines, and may be placed on Probation; in some Court’s if they’re luck that can even be Non-Reporting Probation. The DWLR Driver is far more likely to get Reporting Probation than the DWLS Driver.

Part of how any case will play out has to do with where the Charge is brought. In other words, a DWLS Charge in one city may have a very different outcome in a different city. Because I limit my practice to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, I am able to give my Clients a pretty accurate assessment of what I think can be done with their case and what I think the likely outcome will be. In general, that involves minimizing the negative consequences for the Client. In particular, it means that if a Jail sentence is a realistic possibility, I do whatever is necessary to avoid that. In any case, good “lawyering” can make a huge difference in outcomes and can save the Client thousands of dollars and additional License Suspensions, much less any possible Jail time.