DWLS & No Valid Driver’s License
Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) and No Valid Driver’s License (NVDL) are common traffic offenses, yet their consequences are often underestimated and misunderstood.
The charge of No Valid Driver’s License refers to driving without a proper license. A valid license does not necessarily have to be issued by the state in which you receive the citation. If you meet certain requirements, a driver’s license from another state or another country may be valid as well. Some people are surprised to learn that NVDL is actually a criminal offense, so being charged with this offense can lead to a permanent criminal record.
Driving with License Suspended is generally a more serious charge. In Florida, a driver’s license may be suspended for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Failure to pay a traffic fine
- Failure to pay child support
- Failure to maintain insurance
- Reckless driving
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Accumulation of traffic points (e.g. 12 points within a year results in a 30-day suspension)
You can be charged with DWLS either with knowledge, or without knowledge
DWLS Without Knowledge
If you are found driving with a suspended license without your knowledge, then your charge of DWLS is only a traffic infraction and you must pay a fine; it is not a criminal charge. Nevertheless, DWLS without knowledge can still have serious consequences because it can contribute to your designation as a “Habitual Traffic Offender,” which we will cover below.
DWLS With Knowledge
A person driving with a suspended license with knowledge of the suspension can be charged with a criminal offense. A first offense will result in a second degree misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a fine of $500. Subsequent offenses may result in a first degree misdemeanor, or even a third degree felony in some cases. DWLS with knowledge can also lead to a designation of a “Habitual Traffic Offender.”
HABITUAL TRAFFIC OFFENDER
An individual who receives three convictions (or “three strikes”) of certain offenses within any five year period may be designated by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) as a Habitual Traffic Offender. These offenses include:
- Driving with License Suspended (with or without knowledge)
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Vehicular Manslaughter
- Fleeing and Eluding
You can also be labeled a Habitual Traffic Offender if you receive traffic points for fifteen moving traffic offenses within a five-year period.
If you are designated a Habitual Traffic Offender, then your license will be suspended for five years, with the ability to apply for a hardship license after the first year. This is why defense lawyers will often try to reduce your sentence from Driving with License Suspended to No Valid Driver’s License. Even though NVDL is a criminal offense, it will not count toward Habitual Traffic Offender status. However, even DWLS without knowledge (which is a civil offense, not criminal) can count as a “strike” against you.
If you are labeled a Habitual Traffic Offender, a skilled lawyer can help you contest this charge:
- You can claim your right to an administrative hearing within 30 days of receiving a notice of an HTO designation. This is a hearing in front of the DHSMV, where you (or your lawyer) can challenge the legal grounds for the designation.
- A lawyer can move to vacate one or more of your prior convictions if the lawyer makes the motion within two years of the conviction. Your lawyer will challenge the grounds on which you were convicted. A successful motion to vacate means your conviction will essentially go away. If without this conviction you no longer have “three strikes,” then your designation as a Habitual Traffic Offender must be removed.
- Additionally, a lawyer can help you apply for a hardship license after the first year of being an HTO. If this is successful, you will receive a restricted license that allows you to drive to work, school, and church for the remainder of the suspension.
PENALTIES FOR DWLS AND NVDL
The penalty for driving with No Valid Driver’s License is a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Driving with License Suspended without knowledge is a traffic infraction. Because it is not criminal, you will only be penalized with a fine.
DWLS with knowledge, however, is a criminal offense:
- First offense: second degree misdemeanor—punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine
- Second offense: first degree misdemeanor—punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine
- Third and subsequent offenses without forcible felony on your record—first degree misdemeanor
- Third and subsequent offenses with forcible felony on your record—third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine
Getting three convictions of any DWLS charge (among other eligible offenses) in a five year period can result in your designation as a Habitual Traffic Offender, with a license suspension of 5 years.
GETTING YOUR LICENSE REINSTATED
If your license is suspended, there may be steps you can take to reinstate your license and be able to drive again. However, these only apply if you are not considered a Habitual Traffic Offender.
What’s Suspending My License?
Go to the DMV and ask for a printout of your Suspensions or go to the DMV’s website at https://services.flhsmv.gov/DLCheck/ and enter in your Driver’s License Number for a list of the Suspensions.
Outstanding Tickets Suspension
You will need to pay the outstanding tickets and an additional $60.00 D-6 reinstatement fee for each ticket:
- Contact the county court(s) and arrange to make payment. You will have to check with the court(s) for the amount owed. (Ask them if they will “Withhold Adjudication” on your tickets or for a “Clerk’s Withhold.” They may say no, but it never hurts to ask.)
- If the court does not collect the reinstatement fee, you can either take the D-6 clearance form from the court and a check for $60.00 to your local DMV office.
- Already paid the tickets? The court has not notified the DMV that you have handled that matter. Please provide the DMV with court documentation to update your record and remove the suspension. Acceptable documentation includes:
- A D-6 clearance form with stamped court seal (provided at the time of payment)
- A letter from the court stating the ticket number, date of payment and having a stamped court seal
Make sure that your insurance is current and valid. Then take proof of insurance to your closest DMV Office or call (850) 617-2000 and use the automated system to update your insurance. If you no longer own the vehicle, surrender the Florida tags and registration immediately upon canceling the Florida insurance.
Child Support Suspension
You will need to obtain an affidavit from the Department of Revenue, Child Support Enforcement (1-800-622-5437) and pay a $60.00 reinstatement fee to clear each suspension of this type. Take the affidavit to the DMV; it must be dated within 30 days of reinstatement and state:
- You have paid the delinquency or you have reached a written agreement for payment; or
- A court has entered an order granting relief and ordering the reinstatement of the license and motor vehicle registration; or
- You have complied with the subpoena, order to appear, order to show cause, or similar order, order to appear for genetic testing.
For all other suspensions, visit http://www.flhsmv.gov/ddl/faqsuspend.html or call the DMV Customer Service Center at (850) 617-2000 Monday through Friday 7am – 5pm, EST.
DEFENSE FOR DWLS AND NVDL
There are a number of defenses a skilled attorney can employ to help your case if you are charged with Driving with License Suspended or No Valid Driver’s License.
Lack of Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause
Law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion that you were committing crime, or probable cause that you were committing a traffic infraction, before they can pull you over. If not, then your constitutional rights were violated and your charge of DWLS or NVDL may be dismissed.
Lack of Knowledge of License Suspension
Unless you admit you had knowledge of the suspension of your driver’s license or sign a notice from the DHSMV of your suspension, it can be difficult for the prosecutor to prove that you were Driving with License Suspended with knowledge. If the prosecutor fails to do so, then your charge turns into a civil infraction and it will not go on your criminal record.
Valid Driver’s License
If you are charged with DWLS but your license was supposed to be reinstated, then either the court or a State made a mistake in the reinstatement of your license. If your lawyer can show that your license was actually valid when you were pulled over, then you should not be convicted of Driving with License Suspended.
A lawyer can also contest a charge of No Valid Driver’s License by showing you had a valid license. For example, an officer might have mistaken a foreign license to be invalid, but if the license is shown to be lawful then the charge of NVDL may be dropped.
Read more about how to beat your DUI ticket here.