The Difference Between Driving While License Revoked and Driving While License Suspended in Michigan

As a driver’s license restoration and DUI lawyer, a lot of my clients are people whose licenses are suspended or revoked. In the real world, it turns out that a lot of people use the terms “suspended” and “revoked” incorrectly and often interchangeably. About the biggest mistake is the use of the term “suspended” for a license that has actually been revoked. This mistake is even made by the police when they write someone up for a driving offense. The reason this is not always (but sometimes can be) a big deal is that driving while license suspended and driving while license revoked violate the very same rule of law. Even so, the implications beyond the courtroom and potential criminal penalties are hugely different. This article will examine those differences.

Thumbnail image for Apples and Oranges 2.1.jpgA long time ago, I used to be a stickler about the terminology of drinking and driving offenses. I would rush to point out the Michigan has no crime named “DUI,” meaning driving under the influence. Instead, we used to have “OUIL,” or operating under the influence of liquor. That was replaced, several years ago, with “OWI,” meaning operating while intoxicated. We still have “OWVI,” which stands for operating while visibly impaired, along with a host of other drinking and driving offenses, all part of the alphabet soup of what everyone else just calls “DUI.” Eventually, I just gave in and figured, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Now, I use the umbrella term “DUI” for everything drunk-driving related.

The situation is similar, if not the same, for suspended and revoked license charges. Some people with whom I speak use the terms precisely, but the majority of people, including a lot of Judges and police, just use the term “suspended license” to refer to either suspended or revoked license offenses. Because a large part of what I do is restoring driver’s licenses (another not-quite-correct terms that is imprecisely used for this is “reinstate”), the distinction between suspended and revoked licenses is very important to me. In fact, it should be important to everyone, because the difference between having a suspended versus a revoked license will have a lot to do with when, how, and even if you will be able to drive again.

A revoked license is serious business. Most often, a person’s license is revoked after multiple DUI’s. Whatever the reasons for the revocation, the upshot is that once your license has been revoked, you don’t ever get it back until you file and win a driver’s license restoration appeal hearing in front of the Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) of the Michigan Secretary of State. By contrast, a suspended license is reinstated after a specific period of time, and/or upon the payment of specified monies. You never have to file a restoration appeal with the Secretary of State for a license that has been suspended.

One thing that can make this confusing is that in all 1st offense DUI cases, there is a period of time during which your license will be suspended; sometimes this is a “hard” suspension, meaning that you cannot drive at all, while most of the time you will have a restricted license during that “suspended” period. At the end of the suspension period, you pay a $125 reinstatement fee to the Secretary of State, get your picture taken, and get a new license to slide back in your wallet with full driving privileges.

In other cases, outstanding tickets can cause your license to be suspended, as can a conviction for a drug crime, too many points, along with a whole host of other potential reasons. Think of your driver’s license like being in high school. When everything is fine, it’s fine. If you get in trouble, you can be suspended, meaning not allowed back in school for a specified period (like 1 week), or until you do something (like write an essay). If you get in really bad trouble, you get kicked out of school altogether; in school, this is called expulsion, or being expelled. In the world of driver’ license penalties, this is called a revocation, or being revoked. You cannot ever go back to school after you’ve been expelled unless you get the whole school administration to reverse the decision. You cannot ever get your license back after it has been revoked unless you get the Secretary of State to reverse its decision after a hearing.

Thus far, we’ve outlined that the difference between the offenses is what has happened prior to make your license either suspended or revoked. While perhaps interesting (or not), as another old saying goes, “That ain’t the half of it…”

Of course, none of this stuff matters a bit unless and until you get pulled over and wind up charged with a suspended/revoked license charge. It’s one thing to be at home and discuss the academic difference between a suspended and a revoked license. It’s quite another to face one of these charges, however, because the consequences can go from not so bad, too bad, and all the way to worse. To be clear, I’m not talking about jail or anything like that. For purposes of this article, we will assume that your lawyer can handle keeping you out of jail and all that mess without much difficulty. With very few exceptions, if you’re worrying about those things, you need a new lawyer. Let’s begin with the idea that you’ve hired well enough to obviate those concerns.

The farther-reaching considerations in these cases involve the potential additional suspension or revocation of your license. We’ll dissect this shortly, but here, let’s jump to the conclusion: Your license could potentially be revoked again – meaning there will be no way to get it back – for an additional 1 or 5 years if you get convicted of driving while license revoked.

By law, if you are convicted of either driving while license suspended (DWLS) or driving while license revoked (DWLR), the Secretary of State must impose what is called a “mandatory like additional” penalty, meaning that however long your license had originally been under suspension or revocation when you were caught driving, another suspension or revocation of the same period will be tacked on.

Let’s clarify one issue that becomes a common question before we move on: It does not matter that the original period or suspension or revocation had already been served and that you had simply not gotten your license reinstated or restored. From the Secretary of State’s point of view, if your license had originally been suspended for 30 days, and all you had to do thereafter was pay a reinstatement fee, but you never did, and you got caught driving 2 years later, your license was still suspended. If you’re caught driving, your license is going to be suspended for another “like” period of 30 days.

The same thing holds true for a license revocation. If Dan the driver has his license revoked for 1 year in 2007 after his 2nd DUI, meaning that he would have been eligible to at least have started the license restoration process back in 2008, but he did not, and he gets caught driving again in January of 2015, he will get another “mandatory like additional” 1-year revocation tacked on to his driving record, leaving him ineligible to even start the license restoration process until 2016.

Our first lesson, then, is that getting convicted of DWLS or DWLR will basically reset your whole suspension or revocation period all over again.

With this in mind, many real lawyer and endless “do-it-yourself” types who play lawyer will make the mistake of “dealing” and making some kind of plea bargain to a charge lesser than DWLS or DWLR. About the most common “deal” that isn’t really a deal is when the prosecutor can be convinced to offer a plea reduction from a DWLS or a DWLR to the charge of “No Ops,” meaning driving with no valid operator’s license on person. This trap is easy to fall into because the “No Ops” charge does not carry any criminal license penalty. In other words, the charge of “No Ops” does not, by itself, carry any penalty to your driver’s license. This is the sucker’s bet, and it’s a trap that catches swarms of the unwary, many of whom call me after they find out they’re stuck back in Suspension Ville or Revocation Valley all over again.

Here’s the problem; if you are caught driving with a suspended or revoked license (and remember, it could not matter less that you were “eligible” to reinstate or file for restoration of your license at the time) and ANY moving violation whatsoever goes on your driving record, the Secretary of State is going to slap you with the administrative penalty of a like additional suspension or revocation. This means that if you get charged with driving on a suspended license, and your lawyer works out what seems like an awesome deal and you plead responsible to a no-point traffic violation, once the Secretary of State gets notice of the conviction, it will know that you were driving during a period of suspension or revocation, and you’ll get hammered with that “mandatory additional.”

So much for that awesome deal…

I know this all too well, because, as I noted a few sentences earlier, once these poor souls get a notice about the “mandatory like additional” from the Secretary of State, they hop on the computer, start doing some research, and then call me in the hopes that there is some mistake. Almost without fail, I’ll hear something like, “But my lawyer told me….” Then I have to explain all this.

There are “deals” that can be worked out to avoid these “mandatory additionals,” but how that’s done is an ever-changing recipe that takes into account, amongst other things, why your license was suspended or revoked to begin with, where the offense happened, who the prosecutor is, and what, if anything, you have done, are doing, or will do, toward getting it back. In other words, “it depends.”

The point to all of this is that while we can sling around the terms “suspended” and “revoked” with little thought as to the difference between the them, there is a difference, and it is profound, and has serious implications for a person’s ability to drive again in the near (or even distant) future.