In Michigan, while the charges of driving while license suspended (DWLS) and driving while license revoked (DWLR) violate the same rule of law and are subject to the same criminal punishment, there is a huge difference in what will actually happen to your future ability to legally get back on the road. If you’re facing a DWLR (revoked) license charge, what at first sounds like a great plea bargain can wind up having terrible long-term consequences for you. To put it simply, a “revoked” license charge needs to be carefully – and skillfully – handled.
One of the more ironic aspects of my practice as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer is the number of calls and emails I receive from people after they’ve thought they had gotten some great plea deal dismissing a driving while license revoked (DWLR) charge (the usual “bargain” here is a plea to the lesser charge of failure to display a valid license, often called a “no ops”), only to receive notice from the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) informing them that their has been revoked for another 1 or 5 years.
A big problem is that too many lawyers do not understand the critical difference between administrative and legal penalties. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard a story that begins something like this: “My lawyer told me….” Here, I can supply the ending that the lawyer didn’t tell, because he or she didn’t know: If you plead guilty to ANY moving violation or reportable (meaning the court sends an abstract to the Secretary of State) offense while your license is revoked, the SOS must slap on what’s called a “mandatory additional” revocation for the same length of time for which your license was revoked in the first place. This means that, despite their being no criminal license penalty listed for the reduced charge that is presented as a “plea bargain,” the Secretary of State must and will another term of either 1 or 5 years’ revocation to your license. This is the real hidden cost to what, at first, sounds like a deal. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch…
If your license is revoked, it’s almost always due to multiple DUI convictions. By contrast things like too many points, or failure to pay traffic tickets results in your license being suspended, not revoked. Revoked means you don’t get it back, ever, until you file a driver’s license restoration appeal before the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) and win after a full hearing.
It makes no difference that you may have been legally eligible to apply for restoration (some people mistakenly say “reinstatement”) of his or her license. If your license has been revoked, and even if you were eligible to have it restored years ago, until it actually is restored (and that can only happen after a successful license appeal hearing in front of a Michigan Secretary of State Driver Assessment and Appeal Division hearing officer), it is still revoked. In other words, you either have an actual, valid license, or not. If you haven’t won a license appeal hearing, then your license is still revoked, and it couldn’t matter less that you are or have been “eligible” to get it back.
In fact, being or having been “eligible” literally means nothing, and confers no different legal status beyond still being “revoked.” Lots of people, for example, are “eligible” to apply for and ultimately obtain a concealed pistol license (CCW), but that doesn’t mean that such a person can carry a gun. If you don’t have a valid CCW in your wallet, it’s a crime to conceal a pistol on your person. Being eligible for a license, as opposed to actually having it, are two very different things.
So what should you do?
It is important to first note that is no “workaround” available for this situation except to strike a plea deal that provides for a dismissal of the revoked license charge, and then make sure that any plea bargain you accept will not carry a Secretary of State administrative penalty. And to repeat, the plea bargain that is most commonly (and often most mistakenly) worked out, “no ops,” legally requires that the SOS tack on an what is called an additional “like” period of revocation, meaning that if your license was originally revoked for 1 year or 5 years, you MUST get another 1 or 5 years’ revocation added on. This applies even if, for example, you were originally revoked for 1 year back in 2006, meaning that you became eligible to file a license appeal in 2007, but didn’t do so. Thus, a plea bargain to no ops is not any kind of “bargain” at all.
This is a frequently misunderstood aspect of the law. When your license is revoked for either 1 or 5 years, it really means that it is revoked for a minimum of either 1 or 5 years. Until both that minimum period has elapsed and you’ve filed for, and thereafter won a formal driver’s license appeal hearing in front of the Michigan DAAD, you’re license is still revoked. In other words, the time frame of a revocation merely specifies how long you must wait before you can apply for a license appeal hearing. If you get caught driving at any time before you’ve done that, and your license is formally restored, the Secretary of State must impose another license revocation of the same period beginning from the date of the conviction of the new driving offense. Thus, a person revoked for 1 year in 2006 but who never got his or her license back (even though he or she could have filed an appeal in 2007), and who subsequently gets pulled over in 2014 and convicted of something like “no ops,” will be revoked again for another (minimum) 1 year, meaning he or she cannot even apply for a license restoration hearing until 2015.
Beyond all that, things even get a bit worse, because the DAAD doesn’t take kindly to anyone who continues to drive after it has revoked his or her license. In the real world, this means that even when you next become eligible to file a license appeal, the DAAD is going to put the screws to you about having driven when your license was revoked. There is a lot to this, but here, the point to be made is that getting caught driving while your license revoked makes it harder to win your license back even after you do become legally eligible to proceed with a license appeal.
To be very clear about it, if you are facing a DWLR charge, how it is handled and how it works out will have profound implications for your ability to get your license back. The most important thing to do is avoid screwing up your chances to get back on the road sooner, rather than later.
As I noted above, lots of people learn these rather subtle but critically important details after they subsequently receive notice from the Secretary of State that a “mandatory additional” revocation is being imposed upon their driving record for pleading guilty to an offense that they were led to believe would avoid precisely this situation. They find my site, or one of my blog articles, and immediately call or email me, explaining that their lawyer assured them that this would all work out. By the time I am contacted, the person has a fading (albeit lingering) hope that perhaps I can tell them that the SOS has somehow made a mistake. Unfortunately, I almost always can’t do that.
The cold truth is that there really is no way to know what your lawyer does not know. I could rather cynically say that if you hire me, you won’t have this happen, and that’s true enough, at least locally, but that doesn’t help anyone who doesn’t have a revoked license charge in the Detroit area, where I practice, or for whom it’s already too late. One way to find out (and obviously this only has any value beforehand) if your lawyer understands the important nuances of all of this is to ask him or her if the “plea bargain” that is being proposed requires that an abstract be sent to the SOS. If so, then that means the SOS will find out that you have been driving, and you will absolutely have to suffer an additional mandatory revocation. If your lawyer doesn’t understand the question, or isn’t sure of the answer, then whatever else, you should not blunder forward. When you’re dealing with the precise distinction between administrative and criminal penalties, imprecise reassurances like “you should be okay ” don’t work. These consequences are fixed in stone, and there is no “hopefully” or “should” about it.
If you’re facing a Michigan driving while license revoked (DWLR) charge in the Detroit area, meaning in any local court in Macomb, Oakland, or Wayne County, I can help. As we’ve seen, these water runs a little deeper than might first appear to be the case, and, if you make an ill-informed decision, you won’t find that out until it’s too late, and wind up getting “soaked” with another 1 or 5 year additional license revocation tacked on to your record, and face an even steeper uphill battle when you do, eventually, become eligible to file a license appeal.