DWLS and DWLR - Standard Version

Driving on a Suspended License is about the most common Offense that I see. Fortunately, in most Courts, it is often considered a “bread and butter” kind of revenue-generating Offense, and not seen as a particularly dangerous violation of the law. There are plenty of exceptions, however, and we’ll get to those later.

In the usual, garden-variety DWLS case, a person fails to or otherwise forgets to pay a Ticket, and their License is Suspended. Often, they either don’t know this, or forget about it, until they are pulled over. And while it’s true that, once in a blue moon, a Ticket that was actually paid somehow doesn’t show up as paid, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the outstanding Ticket simply was NOT paid.

There are really 2 kinds of charges that fall under this law, although they are often identified incorrectly, or interchangeably. Under the actual provision of the relevant law, it is a crime to drive with a License that has been “Suspended, Revoked, or Denied.” In other words, Driving on a Suspended License violates the very same law as Driving on a Revoked License. Cases involving a License that has been “Denied” are so rare, they’re not even worth talking about.

There is a significant qualitative difference between a Suspended and a Revoked License. A Suspension is just that; it means that a person has lost the privilege to drive from a specific date to a time-certain in the future. This means that a person can have their License Suspended for 6 months, for example, from January 1 of some year to June 1 of that same year. On June 2, their License will effectively be “un-suspended.” In the case of an unpaid Traffic Ticket, once a person pays the fine at the Court, they will receive a “Clearance” that “un-suspends” their License. In other cases, a period of Suspension can only be terminated by the payment of a “Reinstatement Fee,” or outstanding Driver Responsibility Fees to the Secretary of State. The point is, whatever the period of Suspension, the person will get their License back either on a certain date, or upon simply doing (and that usually means paying) a particular, specified thing (like a fine).

A Revoked License is similar to having been expelled from school. If a Suspended License can be compared to being Suspended from school for a few days, or a week, or whatever, then a Revoked License essentially equates to being expelled. A student cannot come back to school until and unless the school board approves his or her application for re-admission. And that also means that he or she can be denied in a such a case. Similarly, a Revoked driver must go through the whole Drivers’ License Restoration process in order to be considered for such a Restoration. In order to win, they must meet certain, specified criteria, like being Sober, and being likely to remain Sober.

Revoked Licenses are almost always the result of multiple DUI’s, or at least some combination of DUI’s and drug, or drug-related driving charges. While they violate the very same law that forbids driving on a Suspended License, they are often thought of as more serious, even though the potential consequences of the 2 Offenses are the same. And that’s for good reason.

There are really 2 levels of DWLS/DWLR type Offenses:

  1. Those that are the result of a DUI, or, worse yet, multiple DUI’s, and,
  2. EVERYTHING ELSE.

To put it simply, a person who lost their License for DUI is seen as far more dangerous, and certainly more “criminal” than a person whose License has been Suspended for unpaid Tickets. This distinction becomes relevant at the very first moment of Police contact, and continues through the whole process and progress of the case.

This is most relevant when a person hires a Lawyer to Represent them in a DWLS or DWLR case. As a general rule, and with relatively few exceptions, a person whose License was Suspended because of unpaid Tickets (or even too many points) can have their Lawyer plea-bargain away the DWLS charge, and have it reduced to a lesser charge. This is huge, because anyone convicted of DWLS must suffer through what’s called a “mandatory additional” period of Suspension, meaning that, even if they pay the outstanding Ticket, their License will be Suspended for an additional period, anyway.

If the person can have their Lawyer reduce the charge, then they can avoid the imposition of that mandatory additional Suspension, meaning that they’ll be able to drive legally from the get-go.

This kind of plea bargaining is more difficult in Revoked License cases. Again, this is because most Revoked License charges are the result of the person having lost their License because of multiple DUI’s. Even if the new charge clearly involves no alcohol, the driver is more or less viewed as a “scofflaw,” meaning someone who thinks they’re above the law and will do what he or she pleases.

For all that, it is quite possible to plea-bargain down a Revoked License charge in many Courts in order to avoid the imposition of a “mandatory additional” Revocation. And the mandatory additional in a DWLR case stings; the period of additional Revocation is usually at least a full year.

While there are deviations from this, it can generally be understood that facing one of these charges in Oakland County is the worst-case scenario, while Macomb is usually the best. Wayne County splits the bill, so to speak, by having Courts that are incredibly lenient, and a few which are quite the opposite. In a very real way, how well or badly one of these cases plays out is more a matter of sheer geography, rather than anything else.

In my blog, I have very detailed analysis of DWLS 1 and 2nd, or Subsequent Offenses, as well as DWLR 1st and 2nd Offenses. I have also detailed the benefits of a plea-bargain down to the lesser charge known as “no-ops,” and how that kind of deal can “save the day.” Anyone facing any of these charges would do well to read those articles carefully.

Rewinding a bit, in the typical DWLS case, the first order of business is to pay whatever outstanding Ticket or fine (and this could include outstanding Driver Responsibility Fees) that caused the License to be Suspended in the first place. This allows the Lawyer to meet with the Prosecutor and demonstrate that the Client is now “taking care of business.”

There really is no corollary in a DWLR case. Unless a person is (or was) at least eligible to file a License Restoration Appeal, the Lawyer is left pointing out to the Prosecutor whatever he or she can to refute the idea that the Client is that proverbial “scofflaw.” This can mean, for example, that the Lawyer explains that the Client was caught driving to work, and not to some midnight party. While that doesn’t make the driving any more legal, it sure looks better.

In those Courts well-know to be super-tough, sometimes the only kind of bargaining to be done is reaching a deal to avoid Jail. If that’s the best that can be done, it still beats the heck out of the alternative. As noted before, this variation in approaches to these cases is mostly a matter of Court location.

If properly handled, many, if not most, or even all of the negative consequences of a DWLS or DWLR charge can be avoided, or at least minimized. About the worst thing anyone can do is to show up on their own and plead “Guilty.” By contrast, the best thing they can do is to call around, and find the right Lawyer for the job. This will almost always mean hiring a Lawyer who specializes in DUI and/or License cases, and will also mean the Lawyer is familiar with the Court and the Judges of the Court in which the charge is being brought. Beyond that, any Lawyer who is “interviewed” should automatically tell the person what it is that they need to hear, as opposed to simply trying to sell them what they want to hear. The truth may not always be pleasant, but an unpleasant surprise is even worse.

>>Next: Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) and Driving While License Revoked (DWLR) - Revisited.