In our capacity as Michigan DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, we regularly encounter misunderstandings about the difference between a suspended and a revoked driver’s license. As life goes, this difference often doesn’t matter at all to someone – until it suddenly becomes an issue in his or her life. In this article, I want to explain how and why a suspended license is different than one that has been revoked in the most straightforward way possible, without getting lost in the weeds, so to speak.
The biggest source of confusion about the 2 terms stems from the fact that most people use the term “suspended license” to describe any and every kind of loss of driving privileges. To be sure, most of the time a person can’t drive IS because of a suspended (rather than a revoked) driver’s license, but in the real world, people also use the term “suspended” when what they’re really talking about is a license that has been “revoked.” A revocation is very different from (and somewhat more serious than) a suspended license, and that’s why proper use of the terms can be important, and what we’ll examine below.
This lack of precision regarding what really amounts to the overuse of the term “suspended license” knows almost no limits. For example, even police officers will sometimes write “suspended” on a citation despite the fact that they are actually writing up someone who has been caught driving on a revoked license, and people in the court system will often refer to either a DWLS or DWLR case as a “suspended license” matter. Before the reader wonders if that has any effect on the charge (“can I get out of this because they listed the wrong offense?”), let me be clear: it does not.
This is because the offenses of driving while license suspended (DWLS) and driving while license revoked (DWLR) are covered under the very same rule of law, and carry identical potential criminal penalties. For as technical as the law can be, in the context of suspended/revoked driving offenses, the mistaken over-use of the word “suspended” doesn’t actually change what will ultimately happen in court, or to a person’s ability to otherwise fix his or her license situation.
Consider the chronic and common misuse of the term “DUI”:
In Michigan, there is, technically speaking, no DUI law.
Nowhere in Michigan law does the acronym DUI nor the term “driving under the influence,” exist, yet EVERYONE nevertheless uses the term “DUI” as it relates to drunk driving.
Therefore what every calls “DUI” is, in the state of Michigan, actually called “operating while intoxicated,” or “OWI.”
Technically speaking, that’s the only legal term we have for drunk driving, and there is no “DUI,” “OUI,” “DWI” or anything other than just “OWI.”
As I pointed out before, although driving on a suspended license is different than driving on a revoked license, both offenses (DWLS and DWLR) are covered under the very same law, and more important, carry the same potential criminal penalties, so using one term over another, even on a citation, doesn’t change the charge itself, or the criminal sanctions that can be imposed for it.
This makes more sense when we actually look at the language of the written law. As can be seen from the relevant excerpts of the statute reprinted below, the language used always “speaks” in terms of a person’s license having been “suspended or revoked.” Here are the first 3 sections of the law; the first 2 essentially define the offense, while the 3rd, broken into 2 sub-parts (a & b)) outlines the potential criminal penalties:
(1) A person whose operator’s or chauffeur’s license or registration certificate has been suspended or revoked, whose application for license has been denied, or who has never applied for a license, shall not operate a motor vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, within this state.
(2) A person shall not knowingly permit a motor vehicle owned by the person to be operated upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state by a person whose license or registration certificate is suspended or revoked, whose application for license has been denied, or who has never applied for a license, except as permitted under this act.
(3) Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person who violates subsection (1) or (2) is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable as follows:
(a) For a first violation, by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both. Unless the vehicle was stolen or used with the permission of a person who did not knowingly permit an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle, the registration plates of the vehicle shall be canceled by the secretary of state upon notification by a peace officer.
(b) For a violation that occurs after a prior conviction, by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both. Unless the vehicle was stolen, the registration plates of the vehicle shall be canceled by the secretary of state upon notification by a peace officer.
Now, the reader might wonder, “If the criminal penalties are the same, then why does it matter at all if a person is caught driving on a suspended, rather than a revoked license?”
The simple answer is that there is a HUGE difference between the administrative penalties for DWLS and DWLR.
Administrative penalties are different than criminal penalties. Administrative sanctions are consequences automatically imposed by the Michigan Secretary of State if a person is convicted of either offense (DWLS or DWLR).
They are independent of and completely unrelated to anything the court does (or does not) do, and are completely based upon whether a person is formally convicted of either DWLS or DWLR.
Specifically, the administrative penalties that are ultimately imposed upon a person’s driver’s license, or any limitations placed on his or her ability to even try to get a license back down the road, depend entirely on whether, at the time he or she was caught driving, the person’s license was either suspended or revoked.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how much anyone confuses or misuses the terms “suspended” or “revoked” in a DWLS or DWLR case. Instead, what matters is what the actual status of the person’s license was when he or she got busted – meaning, was it suspended, or was it revoked?
Remember, the administrative penalties set out below have nothing to do with the court, and are automatically imposed by the Secretary of State upon notice of a person’s conviction for any moving violation:
(10) Subject to section 732a(11)(c), upon receiving a record of a person’s conviction or civil infraction determination for the unlawful operation of a motor vehicle or a moving violation reportable under section 732 while the person’s operator’s or chauffeur’s license is suspended or revoked, the secretary of state immediately shall impose an additional like period of suspension or revocation. This subsection applies only if the violation occurs during a suspension of definite length or if the violation occurs before the person is approved for a license following a revocation.
(11) Upon receiving a record of a person’s conviction or civil infraction determination for the unlawful operation of a motor vehicle or a moving violation reportable under section 732 while the person’s operator’s or chauffeur’s license is indefinitely suspended or whose application for a license has been denied, the secretary of state immediately shall impose a 30-day period of suspension or denial.
Note that anyone convicted of driving on either a suspended or revoked license will receive “an additional like period of suspension or revocation.” This is often called a “mandatory like additional.”
Under Michigan law, a person’s license can generally only be revoked for either 1 or 5 years, and a revocation almost always results from multiple DUI convictions:
- If a person is convicted of 2 DUI’s within 7 years, his or her license will be revoked for life, and the person can not even file an appeal for 1 year.
- If the person is convicted of 3 DUI’s within 10 years, his or her license will also be revoked for life, and he or she will be unable to file an appeal for at least 5 years.
To simplify things, lawyers and Judges often refer to these as either a “1-year revocation” or a “5-year revocation.”
There are a few other nuances to the 1-year and 5-year revocations, but they’re not that common, so we’ll skip any analysis of them here.
This means that, generally speaking, anyone who is found to have driven while his or her license is revoked license will automatically have their privileges revoked all over again for either another 1 or 5 years (whatever is “like” his or her original period revocation, and that depends on whether he or she either racked up 2 DUI’s within 7 years, or 3 within 10 years).
In practical terms, here are 3 hypothetical examples that help illustrate what all the really means:
1. Bad Luck Brenda had her license revoked for 1 year back in 2012 as a result of her 2nd DUI. Although she would have been eligible to file a license appeal quite some time ago, Brenda did not do that. Therefore, when she was pulled over in January of 2021, Brenda’s license was still revoked.
If she is convicted of ANY moving violation whatsoever, Brenda’s license will be re-revoked for another full year, making her completely ineligible to even file a driver’s license restoration appeal until that “mandatory like additional” (1-year) revocation has run.
2. Assume that, instead of 2 DUI’s within 7 years, Brenda had racked up 3 within 10 years, getting her 1st in 2009, her 2nd in in 2012, and her 3rd in 2018. As a result, her license was revoked for 5 years, making her ineligible to even file a driver’s license restoration appeal until 2023.
In 2021, Brenda gets caught driving. If anything goes on her driving record as a result (meaning any criminal driving offense, civil infraction, or anything else that otherwise indicates she was driving), she will receive another “like” mandatory additional revocation.
Since her original revocation was for 5 years, this means another 5 years will be tacked on from the time of her conviction (in 2020). This will prevent her from being able to file any kind of license appeal until 2026.
3. Forgetful Freddie was given a speeding ticket back in 2019, but didn’t remember to pay it. As a result, his license was suspended. Had Freddie paid his ticket at any time before getting pulled over in 2021, his license would have been reinstated (and therefore, not suspended when he was pulled over).
If Freddie winds up being convicted of ANY moving violation as a result of his 2021 traffic stop, he will receive a mandatory 30-day additional suspension.
There are more examples I could present, but the 3 above reflect the most common situations that occur.
By way of recap, then, we’ve seen that both suspended and revoked license charges (DWLS and DWLR) violate the same law, and carry the same potential criminal penalties, and those are imposed by the court.
In addition to those, a conviction for DWLS or DWLR will also result in administrative penalties are different that are both mandatory and automatically imposed by the Michigan Secretary of State.
Getting caught driving on a suspended license generally results in an additional 30 day suspension, whereas getting caught driving on a revoked license will result in having one’s license revoked all over again for another 1 or 5 years.
There is one last thing: because a revoked license is almost always results the result of someone having racked up multiple DUI’s, anyone caught driving while revoked just looks worse than someone whose license may have been suspended merely for merely forgetting to pay a ticket.
To put this another way, going back to our examples above, Forgetful Freddie may simply be forgetful; he forgot to pay a ticket.
Even if he is charged with DWLS, he can go and pay his underlying ticket and that will end his suspension.
That, in turn, will help his lawyer potentially negotiate a plea bargain in his DWLS case to a lesser offense, saving him from having his license suspended further (meaning he won’t get a mandatory 30-day administrative penalty) and saving him a lot of other grief, as well.
When someone like Bad Luck Brenda gets caught driving, however, and specifically because she had her license revoked for being what the state designates as a “habitual alcohol offender,” she just looks worse, even though she was stone-cold sober when she got pulled over for DWLR, and may very well have been driving for an entirely legitimate reason, like going to work.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it takes more work to procure leniency and sympathy in DWLR cases, and that’s where hiring the right lawyer becomes important.
At the end of the day, there is a difference between driving while license suspended (DWLS) and driving while license revoked (DWLR), even though the general term “suspended” is frequently (and inaccurately) used to describe either situation.
If you are facing a DWLS or DWLR (or even a DUI) charge and looking for a lawyer, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read around and see how lawyers explain the legal process that applies to your kind of case, and their approach to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually speaking with a live person. If your case is pending anywhere in the Greater-Detroit area (meaning a court anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair or Washtenaw County) our firm 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.