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DWLS and DWLR - Standard Version

Driving on a suspended license (DWLS) and driving on a revoked license (DWLR) are part of the same law, and are probably the most common offenses seen in Michigan’s district courts. My team and I quite literally handle these cases all the time.

Driving on a suspended or revoked license is misdemeanor criminal offense. 

Fortunately, in most of the local, Greater-Detroit area (meaning the courts of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties), DWLR/DWLR are considered “bread and butter,” revenue-generating offenses rather than particularly dangerous criminal behavior. 

The garden-variety DWLS case often goes something like this: A person fails or otherwise forgets to pay a ticket, and his or her license gets suspended. Often, enough, the person may not even know this until he or she pulled over.

But then it happens, and suddenly, the person finds him or her self facing a misdemeanor criminal charge.

The first thing a person should understand is that while a DWLS charge is nothing to sneeze at, there is no reason to freak out. DWLS and DWLR charges can usually be handled rather easily and painlessly. 

Technically speaking, there are actually 4 kinds of “suspended license” offenses that fall under the same law: 

1. Driving while one’s license is suspended (DWLS), 

2. Driving after one’s license has been revoked (DWLR), 

3. Driving if one’s application for a license has been denied, or 

4. Driving if one has never even applied for a license.


In practice, these offenses are often identified somewhat inaccurately; most people use the word “suspended” no matter what the actual charge against them, often using terms like “suspended license charge,” “driving on a suspended,” or “DWLS.” 

Under the law as written, it is a crime for a person to drive if his or her license has been “suspended or revoked, whose application for license has been denied, or who has never applied for a license.”

Somewhat surprisingly, there are more than a few people who get caught driving and who have never held a valid license.  This can happen in 1 of 2 ways:

1. If a Michigan resident has simply never applied for a driver’s license, or 

2. If a person who now lives in Michigan, but who once had a license from another state, let it expire without ever having obtained one here.

The law also prohibits driving if one’s application for a license has been “denied,” although that’s an extraordinarily rare situation.

For all of that, it’s most likely that anyone reading this is concerned about either a suspended or revoked license situation.

Driving while license suspended or revoked are by far the most common of all criminal traffic offenses, and carry the very same potential penalties:

For a 1st offense, a person faces the following potential penalties:

1. Up to 93 days in jail, and
2. A fine of up to $500.

For a 2nd offense, a person faces the following potential penalties:

1. Up to 1-year in jail and
2. A fine of up to $1000.

In most cases, a DWLS and DWLR charge can be plea-bargained down, and in the vast majority, as far as potential penalties go, jail can be completely avoided. 

This is also generally true in DWLR cases, but things do get a bit trickier there, specifically because the most common reason for a person’s license to be revoked (as opposed to suspended) is as the result of multiple DUI convictions.

It’s important to understand the 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 one specific date to another specific date in the future, or until he or she pays an outstanding fine. 

This means, for example, that a person can have his or her license suspended for 6 months, from January 1 of some year to June 1 of that same year.

On June 2, his or her license will effectively be “un-suspended.” 

In the case of an unpaid traffic ticket, once a person pays the court fine (and any additional costs), he or she will receive a “clearance” that “un-suspends” their license. 

Whatever the length, a person whose license has been suspended will get it back either on a certain date, or upon paying an outstanding fine.

A revoked license is similar to having been expelled from school, whereas a suspended license is like being suspended from school for a few days, or a week, or whatever.

It helps to think of it this way: Once a student has been expelled, he or she cannot come back to school until and unless the school board approves his or her application for re-admission. Of course, any application for re-admission can also be denied. 

Similarly, a revoked driver must go through the whole Michigan drivers’ license restoration process in order to be considered for reinstatement of driving privileges.

Driver's license restoration is a very deep subject in its own right, and any reader whose license has been revoked should check out that section of our site, and my blog, as well. The driver’s license restoration section has hundreds of detailed and informational articles, and the blog updated with 2 new installments every week.

Although we’ve seen that suspended and revoked license charges are part of the same law, and carry the same potential legal penalties, DWLR cases are often thought of as more serious, and for good reason.

A revoked license is almost always the result of multiple DUI’s. In Michigan, anyone convicted of 2 DUI’s within 7 years, or 3 (or more) DUI’s within 10 years is legally categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender,” and, as such will have his or her license revoked.

In the real world DWLS and DWLR offenders fall into 1 of 2 categories:

1. Those who don’t have a license as the result of a DUI, or, worse yet, multiple DUI’s, and

2. Everybody else.

 
In the context of DWLS and DWLR cases, it's always better to be lumped in the everybody else category. Anyone who gets caught driving after having lost his or her license as a consequence of of drunk driving is simply seen as more dangerous, and in a sense, more of a “criminal” than a person whose license has been suspended for something like an unpaid ticket.

This distinction becomes relevant at the very first moment of police contact, and continues throughout the case as it goes through court..

This is significant when a person hires a lawyer to represent him or her in a DWLS or DWLR case. 

As a general rule, the lawyer for a person whose license was suspended because of unpaid tickets can usually plea-bargain away the DWLS charge, and have it reduced to a lesser offense. 

This matters a lot, because when someone is convicted of DWLS, the Michigan Secretary of State MUST impose what’s called a “mandatory additional” period of suspension, meaning the person’s license will be suspended even further. 

The "mandatory additional" is an administrative penalty, and is automatic. 

If the lawyer can reduce the DWLS to a lesser charge, then the client can avoid the imposition of that mandatory additional suspension.

This kind of plea bargaining requires more effort in revoked license cases. Again, this is because most revoked license charges are the result of the person having lost his or her driving privileges after racking up multiple DUI’s, and such offenders aren’t really going to get the same degree of sympathy as someone whose license was suspended because he or she merely forgot to pay a ticket. 

For all that, it is still quite possible to plea-bargain down a revoked license charge in many courts to avoid any“mandatory additional” penalties. My team and I do it all the time.

That’s a big deal, because in any DWLR case, the mandatory period of additional revocation is either an additional 1 or 5 years. The additional revocation period that must be imposed had to be identical to whatever period of revocation had most recently been imposed on the person, and it applies even if the person would have otherwise been eligible to file a license appeal.

Anyone facing a suspended or revoked license charge would do well to click around the “Revoked and Suspended Driver's License” section of my blog for information relevant to his or her case. The articles there provide a detailed analyses of DWLS and DWLR cases (including both 1st and 2nd offenses).

Within them, I examine things like the benefits of a plea-bargain from a DWLS/DWLR charge down to the lesser offense of known as “no-ops,” and how that kind of deal can save the day by avoiding any points on a person’s record, as well as any administrative license sanctions, like the dreaded “mandatory additional” mentioned earlier.

The first order of business in a typical DWLS case is to pay any outstanding ticket(s) or fine(s) that was the initial reason for the suspension. My team and I use this to help in negotiations with the prosecutor, and allows us to show - and not just say - that our client is genuinely “taking care of business.”

Unfortunately, there really is no corollary to paying off outstanding fines and fees in a DWLR case. 

That said, it’s always better if a person caught driving on a revoked license was at least eligible to file a license restoration appeal. 

In addition, it’s also helpful if we can explain to the prosecutor that even though he or she was driving when they weren’t supposed to be, our 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 and helps us make things better for the client.

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.

In that regard, about the worst thing anyone can do is to show up to court on their own and plead “guilty.” 

Instead, the best thing a person can do is be a good consumer, call around, and compare lawyers. Ultimately this will almost always mean a person winds up hiring a driver’s license attorney, meaning one who concentrates in DUI and/or driver’s license restoration cases, and who is also familiar with the court where the charge is being brought. 

Honesty is important, and a person should always look for a lawyer who has the confidence and integrity to tell them what they need to hear, rather than merely what they want to hear

Our firm does.
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