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called a “no ops”), only to receive notice from the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) informing them that their has been revoked for another 1 or 5 years.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SOS must slap on what’s called a “mandatory additional” revocation for the same length of time for which your license was revoked in the first place.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?