Facing a Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) Charge in Michigan

An inevitable and significant part of being Michigan DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers is that we handle a lot of suspended license cases. Driving while license suspended (DWLS) is one of, if not THE most common criminal charges processed through the local district courts of the Metro-Detroit area (meaning Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties). Depending on a variety of factors, the impact of a DWLS on a person’s life can range anywhere from a minor expense all the way to a major setback.

vectorstock_11956725-300x300Here’s the good news: For most people, a DWLS charge is something that, if addressed promptly and properly, can be resolved rather painlessly. Although far from any kind of hard and fast rule, it’s often the case that clients who worry the most about a suspended license charge are those who have the least to fear, while those who take things lightly have the most to lose. It’s not uncommon for 1st or 2nd time DWLS offenders to freak out over the potential legal consequences, while those with a lot of prior suspended license convictions (and who has never done any jail time for them) aren’t very worried at all.

A big and common problem with suspended license cases is that people often tend to keep racking up one after another, and therefore keep getting their licenses suspended further and further into the future. It’s not that hard for a person to get stuck on a kind of treadmill of never being able to regain a valid license because they keep get caught driving with a suspended license. Before they can ever reinstate their license, they then pick up a new DWLS case, only to get suspended again, for even longer, creating an almost never-ending cycle. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The fact is that people need to and will drive, even if they don’t have a license. That’s the reality of the situation, but no matter how much someone needs to drive, doing so without a license is still illegal, as plenty of otherwise law-abiding people find out the hard way when they suddenly find themselves in need of a criminal lawyer.

To be sure, though, a DWLS charge is far from the end of the world.

Most courts are generally “understanding” in 1st and even 2nd offense DWLS cases, meaning that, in the real world, the prospect of going to jail for such a charge is more of a threat than anything else.

To be sure, every court is unique, and some can be far tougher on DWLS defendants than others.

That said, there are only so many breaks even the luckiest person can get until, as the saying goes, “the $hit hits the fan.” In other words, someone who keeps racking up DWLS charges will eventually exhaust the patience of even the most understanding Judge.

As I noted, this isn’t usually a big problem for someone facing a 1st of 2nd offense, but that doesn’t mean that anyone facing a DWLS charge shouldn’t take it seriously and make sure that his or her case is handled properly.

DWLS cases almost always start small. Often enough, things begin with something rather innocent, like a person forgetting to pay a ticket. There are, of course, lots of other reason why someone’s license may wind up suspended and sometimes, a person may honestly not even know it has been.

Therefore, a very important part of our job in DWLS cases is to carefully review a person’s driving record to find out precisely why he or she was suspended the first place, and then figure out what to do about it.

Let me illustrate by using a not-so hypothetical example drawn from our real life experiences as driver’s license attorneys handling DWLS cases:

Assume that Bad Luck Brenda receives a speeding ticket. She isn’t sure if she should just pay it, or hire a lawyer to fight it. Brenda puts it aside, intending to decide what to do before the required date, but then, life being what it is, she forgets about it.

Everything goes fine, until one day, Brenda gets stopped for a traffic violation, only to find out that her unpaid ticket has resulted in the suspension of her driver’s license. She gets charged with DWLS – a misdemeanor – and promises herself that she’ll find a lawyer to handle this in the next few days.

Even though she knows she can’t drive in the meantime, Brenda has nobody to get her to work and back, or at least not anyone who wouldn’t be really put out having to do so. Thus, she decides to take her chances, promising herself that she’ll drive like a little old lady and not do anything illegal on the road.

Bad luck seems to follow poor Brenda, and her way to work a few days later, while waiting at a red light, she gets rear-ended by Tom the Texter, because he was distracted. When the police show up, they find that Brenda has a suspended license, and she gets arrested all over again, and winds up facing another DWLS charge in a different city.

As often happens, the court date for her 2nd charge comes up first, before the court date for the 1st DWLS even gets scheduled.

Brenda, finally ready to take care of things, calls our firm.

When we speak, we make clear to Brenda that in order to get out of this as easy as possible, we’ll need to resolve both DWLS cases AND the unpaid ticket matter.

Brenda responds that she’s most worried about the 2nd DWLS case, because the court date for that has already been set, while she hasn’t yet heard anything about the 1st DWLS matter, and nothing about the unpaid ticket, either.

We then explain to her that the exact order of the court dates isn’t as important as simply getting all of these cases resolved, and that it’s best to try and do so as a “package deal” with the various prosecutors and courts, even though none of the cases are in the same jurisdiction.

After being hired, we help Brenda decide whether it’s worth the time and money to try and reopen and fight the traffic ticket she forgot about, or if she should just pay it.

Whatever that decision, once that forgotten ticket and the associate fees have been resolved, Brenda will be given a clearance and her license will be reinstated.

This means that her suspension will be lifted – even though she has 2 new pending DWLS charges – precisely because they are pending charges, and not convictions.

Having a pending suspension for something like an unpaid ticket or other unresolved matter can be a rather big obstacle to getting the best break possible in a subsequent DWLS case.

Accordingly, the first order of business for anyone facing a DWLS charge should be to clear up whatever caused his or her license to be suspended in the first place.

Prosecutors, for their part, are a lot more inclined to work with the lawyer for someone who has already cleared up whatever matter caused the original suspension far more than they are willing to deal with someone who has left it unresolved.

If, in our hypothetical, we can manage to adjourn and delay Brenda’s 2nd DWLS charge (from being rear-ended at the red light) long enough, it will help us negotiate a plea bargain in the first case, when it eventually comes up.

Not only would this spare Brenda any potential further license suspension(s), but it could also be used to help us negotiate a similar deal in that 2nd case, so that she could avoid a conviction for DWLS in that matter, as well.

In other words, we try to work through all the cases as a “package deal” and get a plea bargain in each case to a charge that is less serious than DWLS, and that will avoid another mandatory license suspension.

What if the prosecutor for the 2nd case won’t agree to an adjournment?

In fact, he or she might not, because, sometimes, in a situation like Brenda’s, a prosecutor for the 2nd case, even knowing the 1st case hasn’t been scheduled yet, may be willing to work out a really sweet deal to avoid a DWLS conviction anyway.

This is especially true if the lawyer can honestly say he or she has been retained for and is handling both cases, and the person has already cleared up the ticket that originally caused his or her suspension.

For anyone facing a single DWLS charge, the same general idea applies: The first order of business is to fix whatever outstanding matter caused the original suspension.

Of course, when I say to fix it first, I also mean to fix it fast.

One of the key benefits of doing this is that it helps the lawyer negotiate a plea bargain in the DWLS case that will avoid any further mandatory license suspension(s).

Driving While License Suspended is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to 93 days in jail, a fine of up to $500 (plus court costs), and will result in 2 points being added to a person’s driving record.

Everyone’s first concern is about jail, but for the most part, 1st and 2nd time DWLS offenders aren’t often seriously looking at jail, and even 3rd time and subsequent offenders can avoid getting locked up if things are handled correctly.

Naturally, this is easier to accomplish when a person has little or no record, rather than a long and bad one.

Thus, some guy with 6 prior DWLS convictions is in a much worse position than Bad Luck Brenda.

Moreover, the reason for a person’s original suspension matters, as well. Having lost one’s license for drunk driving, or because of horrible driving record is much different than having had it suspended for merely failing to pay a single traffic ticket.

Whatever a person’s DWLS situation, it is imperative that the legal strategy to resolve it be specific to it.

In the real world, what’s even perhaps more important than the potential legal penalties outlined above is that a conviction for DWLS will definitely result in 1 of 2 driver’s license penalties:

1. A mandatory 30 day additional suspension of a person’s license, if the underlying suspension was for an indefinite period of time, or,

2. What’s called a “like” mandatory additional period of time if the person was caught driving while his or her license suspended for a fixed period of time. Here’s what that means:

In Bad Luck Brenda’s case, her original suspension was indefinite because the only thing keeping her from reinstating her license was the unpaid ticket. In other words, paying the ticket and fees lifts the suspension completely and immediately.

Thus, Brenda could have cleared the matter up the day after the suspension had taken effect simply by paying her ticket, and her license would have been reinstated.

However, if she left the ticket unpaid for the next 70 years, the suspension would remain in effect that whole time. A suspension for an unpaid ticket ONLY goes away by paying the ticket and associated costs.

For comparison’s sake, imagine the case of Drunk Driver Dave, who was recently convicted of a 1st offense DUI, and who, after his arrest, refused to provide a breath or blood sample, and was cited for refusal to submit to a chemical test.

As a result of his Implied Consent refusal, his drivers’ license was suspended for 1 year, and Dave did not bother to go to court to seek a hardship license.

If Dave gets caught driving at any time during his mandatory 1-year suspension and is ultimately convicted of DWLS, the Michigan Secretary of State will have no choice but to tack on another “like” suspension, meaning that he will be suspended for another year whole year, starting at the end of his original 1-year suspension.

Now, if Dave gets charged with a DWLS and hires a lawyer who manages to negotiate a plea bargain to a lesser offense, then, just like Bad Luck Brenda, he will avoid the mandatory additional 1-year “like” suspension of his license.

And that brings us back to the main point of this article – that depending on the underlying situation, a DWLS charge can turn out to be anything from little more than a matter of expense and inconvenience all the way to a major hassle.

This is why it’s important to take such a case seriously, and get good legal help from a lawyer who is experienced in driver’s license matters.

If you are facing a DWLS (or DWLR) charge and looking for a lawyer, be a wise consumer and read around. Look for real information. Read how lawyers explain things, and how they explain themselves

When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person.

If your case is pending anywhere in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning in any court located in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair or Washtenaw Counties, we can help. All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call.

My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.

We can be reached Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.