Within my Practice as a Criminal and DUI Lawyer, I handle Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) charges quite frequently. DWLS is perhaps one of, if not the single most common “Criminal” charges to go through the Court system. This article will be about the run-of-the-mill, Joe-basic DWLS charge.
In previous blog articles, I have explained the various categories of DWLS charges, from 1st to 2nd (or subsequent) Offense. I have also examined how DWLS is different from Driving While License Revoked (DWLR), even though the two Offenses carry essentially the same penalties, and are part of the very same provision of the Law.
Here, we’re going to concentrate on the everyday, garden-variety DWLS charge. This is the kind of case that shows up regularly in my Office, and in Lawyer’s Offices everywhere. To be clear, much of what we’re going to examine applies to 2nd Offenses and to DWLR charges, but to keep this article down to manageable size, we’ll restrict our focus to those cases in which the charge is DWLS.
Note that I did not use the term “DWLS 1st Offense.” A person may have had a prior DWLS charge, or even a few. That, however, does not mean that they are always subsequently charged with a 2nd Offense. In fact, in many cases, a person with 1 or more prior cases winds up simply charged with “Driving While License Suspended (DWLS).”
And that’s as good a place as any to jump off and ask why that’s the case? Why are there so many DWLS cases in the first place, and why do so many people with prior Offenses NOT get charged with a 2nd or subsequent Offense?
Not surprisingly, the answer boils down to one word: Money. DWLS charges are money-makers for municipalities. In fact, if you want to be a bit cynical about it, they’re pure money. While some have (not incorrectly) called DUI cases “cash cows,” DWLS cases might comparatively be called “pure profit pigs.”
It goes beyond the scope of what I want to cover here to delve too deeply into that, but it is worth noting that while DUI cases are relatively easy money, there is a certain amount of necessary work and expense involved in processing those cases. There is a mandatory alcohol assessment test required in DUI cases, and it must be given and scored by a Probation Officer. Court staff must report any number of things to both the Secretary of State and the State Police, and there are always, because of the mandatory alcohol assessment, at least 2 separate Court dates.
DWLS charges can be, and often are, with proper legal guidance, wrapped up in one quick Court appearance. There is no alcohol assessment, and if the case is resolved in certain ways, the Court staff need do nothing, or at least very little, compared to even the easiest DUI.
Still, DWLS is a “Criminal” Offense.” It’s understandable that some people describe finding themselves in this situation by saying something like “this is bull$h**.” Those feelings are no doubt stronger in those cases where a person’s License has been Suspended for an unpaid Ticket or unpaid Driver Responsibility Fees. Still the Law is the Law, and as everyone finds out, excuses like “I didn’t know my License was Suspended,” or “I never got anything in the mail” don’t fly. As the saying goes, “it is what it is.”
Since complaining about how unfair this situation is doesn’t help, we need to look at what can be done to make it better. And here’s the first, biggest lesson anyone will learn about a DWLS case: They are never just “dismissed.” Once the system has sunk its teeth into someone, it doesn’t let go. Not ever.
That said, and as I noted earlier, with proper legal help, this situation can often be made to all but go away. In many Courts, a DWLS charge can be reduced to what’s called a “No Ops,” meaning No Valid Operators License on Person. This reduced charge carries no Points, carries no Driver Responsibility Fees, and, most importantly, requires no further Suspension of the Driver’s License.
In a few Courts, I have worked it out where the Client has had the whole DWLS Offense dropped in exchange for agreeing to pay a Ticket for Impeding Traffic, which is basically a $150 Parking Ticket.
Typically, the better “deals” are had in Macomb and Wayne Counties. As in every kind of Criminal charge, Oakland County Courts are simply tougher. There are exceptions. In one Oakland County Court, I have had the last 3 DWLS cases I’ve handled there dropped to Impeding Traffic Tickets.
With only a few exceptions, it is most common for a DWLS case to be Pled out (meaning resolved by some kind of Plea deal) and wrapped up the same day. This means there is no separate return trip to Court for Sentencing. And in every DWLS case I can think of, no Jail time has ever been Ordered. Here is where it is important to bear in mind that we’re talking about DWLS, or Driving While License Suspended, and NOT DWLR, or Driving While License Revoked, which is an Offense that typically occurs because a person has had their License Revoked for multiple DUI’s.
It is not uncommon for the primary concern of a new DWLS Client to be staying out of Jail. That’s understandable, but hardly my primary concern, given that I know they won’t be going to Jail in the first place. Instead, I need to focus on what can and will happen in a real-world case. Since Jail is such an unlikely outcome that it’s not even worth wasting any time over, I have to make sure that I help avoid the other, for-real consequences that person can avoid, if things are done right.
For example, if a person simply goes into Court and Pleads straight-up guilty to DWLS, they will get 2 points placed on their Driving Record, be required to pay Driver Responsibility Fees to the State for 2 years, and, worst of all, will have a mandatory additional Suspension of their Driver’s License.
If, however, a person has taken care of whatever outstanding issue caused their License to be Suspended in the first place (like an unpaid Ticket, or unpaid Driver Responsibility Fees), and the Lawyer convinces the Prosecutor to reduce the charge to “No Ops,” then the person will NOT have any points assessed against their Driving Record, will NOT have to pay any Driver Responsibility Fees, and, most importantly, will NOT have any additional License Suspension.
In those cases where a deal to “Impeding” is worked out, the person just pays the $140 or $150 fine, and that’s it. No Record, no points, no anything.
Even though DWLS is technically a “Criminal” Offense, the majority of people who find themselves facing this charge are hardly “Criminals” in any sense of the word. Most often they are tax-paying, law-abiding citizens who let something get away from them. Fortunately, most Courts see it this way, as well.
Still, it is a cold, hard lesson in reality when a person is pulled over and is asked “did you know you’re License is Suspended?”
And while I can empathize with anyone’s anger or impatience over finding themselves in this situation, it does no good to argue about what was, or what is. Instead, hire the right Lawyer, and concentrate on what will be, and, every bit as important, what is not to be.