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

Home Blog Driver's License Restoration Handling a Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) Charge in Michigan

A conviction for driving with a suspended license (Driving While License Suspended, or DWLS, for short) can really screw up a person’s ability to drive legally. The Michigan Secretary of State MUST impose some kind of additional suspension if a person is convicted for DWLS. A suspended license charge is the most common type of all cases in the local courts of the Greater-Detroit area (meaning Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and the surrounding counties). It’s also something that needs to be properly handled.

Suspended license charges MUST be handled properly.Ironically, is is also the most likely charge to NOT be handled in a way to produce the best outcome. Because people are so freaked out about jail, both lawyers and clients can easily lose sight of the other consequences that this offense carries. As Michigan driver’s license lawyers, my team and I know how to avoid those penalties, and that is critical to the “properly handling” a suspended license case. Usually, after being cited for DWLS, most people go online and look for information.

That’s a good thing – to a point. Unfortunately, though, much of what they’ll find is often nothing more than a lot of legal marketing and self-promotion. To be sure, lawyers are only able to maintain a website or blog like this by getting hired, taking on cases and earning a living. However, endless claims like “We’re the best,” or “We’re #1” aren’t going to help someone understand the law and what can be done to make his or her suspended license situation better.

In this article, we’re going to examine and explain suspended license (DWLS) cases in simple terms, and then see how they can be resolved in the most favorable way possible. To be clear, we mean both staying out of jail (which isn’t usually likely, anyway) AND protecting a person’s ability to drive or to reinstate his or her license sooner, rather than later.

Let’s begin by talking about the law. For all the word salad it contains, a suspended license charge can be explained rather simply: It is illegal to drive in Michigan if one does not have a valid driver’s license. The law itself applies to 4 situations, the first of which will be our focus in this article:

  • First, if a person’s driver’s license has been suspended,
  • Second, if a person’s driver’ license has been revoked,
  • Third, if a person’s application for a license has been denied,, and
  • Fourth, if a person never applied for (and therefore never obtained) a license.

Over the course of 30-plus years, my team and I have handled thousands of suspended license charges. We’ve also handled a number of cases for people who have never formally obtained a license. However, and to the best of my recollection, we have never seen a case where someone’s application for a license has been denied. It wouldn’t matter anyway, because as far as the court is concerned, any 1 of the 4 situations cited above triggers the same law, and the same potential penalties.

In fact, it doesn’t specifically matter how the charge is written up, either. In some cases, even though a person’s license had actually been revoked, he or she may told they’re facing a “suspended license” charge. My team and I have handled cases where an officer has written out the full law – “Driving While License Suspended, Revoked or Denied.”

That said, the overwhelming majority of people wind up facing a suspended license charge because, whether they knew it or not, their driving privileges had been suspended by the Michigan Secretary of State. Exactly why it was suspended is important, because the reason a person doesn’t have a license always figures into the case.

Here’s the bad news, and it often gets overlooked by those who don’t work with the nitty-gritty of the driver’s license laws:

Even if a person facing a suspended license charge gets a plea bargain to one of many lesser offenses, if ANYTHING goes on his or her driving record, he or she will be suspended all over again for the same amount of time as the original suspension. This is called a “mandatory additional” suspension.

If that suspension was indefinite, then he or she will be suspended for an another 30 days.

In other words, anytime the Secretary of State learns that a person has been driving during a period of suspension, it MUST impose an additional suspension.

Not surprisingly, our firm gets calls all the time from people who hired some other lawyer who went to court, got a plea bargain that dismissed the suspended license charge, yet still wound up getting their license suspended all over again. They’re understandably frustrated because they thought that avoiding a conviction for DWLS would also avoid the additional license suspension.

Of course, they want to know what they can do. Unfortunately, there is only one, simple answer when that happens: Wait it out. There is no workaround once that kind of mistake has been made. That’s the cost of NOT having properly handled the case and avoiding ANY conviction that could go on a person’s driving record.

The key, then, is for us to do whatever is necessary to keep anything from going on our client’s driving record. Although we almost always manage to get that done, it’s far easier to accomplish in some cases, rather than others.

Let’s talk about the worst-case scenario, which is something my team and I deal with all the time:

Assume that Dave the Drinker had his license suspended for a DUI. One day, he’s pulled over and winds up getting a suspended license charge.

The court and the prosecutor are going to know that Dave was suspended for a DUI It may sound cold, but the simple reality is that, almost without exception, people lose their licenses for 1 of 2 reasons:

  1. Drunk driving, and
  2. Everything else.

No matter what, it’s just better if a person facing a suspended license charge is doing so for any reason other than a DUI. Whether it’s because of a previous DWLS case, or because he or she owes money on a judgment, or even because his or her license wasn’t timely renewed, not having a DUI-related suspension is just better. Why this is so is pretty obvious.

Let’s circle back to Dave the Drinker’s case:

If Dave is in a position to reinstate his license, we can often negotiate a really good plea bargain that will spare him from the dreaded “mandatory additional” suspension. Sometimes, this will require a return trip to court, when we can offer proof that he took care of his outstanding issues and now has his license reinstated.

Other times, we can bypass that, and manage to get that same kind of good deal right out of the gate, if we show up thoroughly prepared to make our case to the prosecutor.

Now, for contrast, let’s compare Dave the Drinker’s situation to Forgetful Fannie’s.

For whatever reason, Fannie forgot to renew her driver’s license, and wound up with a suspended license charge. Other than that, she has a decent driving record.

Because the reason for her suspension is NOT alcohol-related, she’s going to be seen as MUCH LESS of a risk on the road, and it will be way easier to get her case wrapped up in a way that keeps her from getting any kind of mandatory additional suspension. In fact, in most courts, I’d expect to resolve her case so that nothing goes on her driving record rather quickly.

We could get lost in the weeds here, but the point I’m trying to make, without putting the reader into information overload, is that there are all kinds of legal nuances and things we can do to successfully resolve a suspended license charge. I often point out that in the DUI world, there is no “secret sauce” that one lawyer has to the exclusion of all others. The best results in DUI cases are had through good old fashioned hard work, concentrated in the fundamentals.

That mostly applies to suspended license charges, as well.

Mostly – but not completely, because there is a kind of “secret sauce” that can be used here, and it’s a combination of experience and extensive, granular knowledge of the law regarding licensing issues. To be sure, it’s great for a lawyer to have handled a lot of suspended license charges, but that’s not what I mean.

Instead, as genuine Michigan driver’s license restoration and DUI lawyers, my team and I spend pretty much all day, every day, working with the Motor Vehicle Code (the driving laws) of Michigan. We regularly deal with certain “details” of the law that many lawyers don’t even know exist.

In point of fact, many prosecutors and Judges – even though they regularly deal with suspended license charges – do NOT understand the scheme of separate administrative penalties the Secretary of State must impose in these cases. The simple truth is that they don’t need to. The law provides for certain criminal penalties, and sets out what a court can do following a conviction for DWLS, or any other traffic offense.

For example, a court CANNOT suspend a person’s license, nor can it shorten any mandatory period of suspension. Those sanctions are handled exclusively by the Secretary of State. The laws governing that are different from those that will be at issue in court.

Although they’re different sets of rules, both still apply in every suspended license case. Think about taxes: The state gets its share, both of income and property taxes, and so does the city. So also do the Feds. Although they’re all taxing authorities, they are also all different. You can’t call up the city’s property tax depatrment and get any help with your federal income tax, nor can you call the Feds and argue about your city property tax.

The IRS does not need to know anything about property taxes, in the same way that the assessor who values your home doesn’t need to know anything about allowable deductions on your federal income taxes.

To really stretch out that hypothetical, my team and I are like a combination of IRS agents, state treasury investigators, and city tax assessors.

Our working knowledge of both the criminal legal issues presented by a suspended license charge AND the administrative nuances of the driver’s license rules often enables us to work out very kind of lenient plea deals for our clients that might otherwise be unknown, and therefore unavailable to them. This is how we protect our clients’ ability to drive, or get their license back sooner, rather than later.

Now, that paragraph is certainly NOT short on self-promotion, something I complained about early on, but I present it here for informational purposes more so than self-praise.

If you’re facing a suspended license charge, be a smart consumer and read around. Pay close attention to how different lawyers explain the law as well as how they work with and around it.

This blog is a great place to begin – it is fully searchable and updated each week with a new article. Here, the reader can learn about every aspect of DUI cases, driver’s license restoration appeals, and suspended (DWLS) and revoked driver’s license issues.

When you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person, and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you call our office. If your case is pending in the Greater-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or one of the surrounding counties, make sure you give us a ring.

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 and explain things. We encourage everyone to call around and compare lawyers, and invite them to call us back, even if just to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has said.