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You walk to your mailbox and in addition to all of the junk mail, solicitations and bills, you receive a letter from the Florida DHSMV. (Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles) “I wonder what this can be” is the first thing that runs through your mind as you rip it open and read the words, “As of such and such a date, your driving privileges will be suspended as a Habitual Offender for the next five years.”  How did this happen? Can I get a hardship license?  Can I fix this? As these questions run through your brain you plop down on the sofa and see visions of buses, begging rides or loss of your job.

Although there are many ways to have your driving privilege suspended or revoked, Florida law allows the DHSMV to suspend a driver’s driving privilege as a Habitual Offender if they amass a total of three qualifying offenses within any five-year period.

First, let’s answer some of these questions.

What does a Habitual Suspension do?

A habitual suspension means that a person cannot drive for a period of five years. It doesn’t matter if you need to get to work, go food shopping or get to the doctor; You cannot drive.

What is a qualifying Offense?

There are three traffic offenses that can result in a Habitual Offender suspension. DHSMV counts all DUI’s, all criminal DWLSR (Driving while License Suspended or Revoked) violations and civil DWLSR Without Knowledge violations if you are adjudicated guilty. Any combination of three of the above offenses, within a five-year period, will result in you being designated a Habitual Offender. DHSMV also counts Vehicular Manslaughter, Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Injury/Death, any Felony Where a Motor Vehicle was Used and DWLSR Commercial Vehicle, but these are not the topic of this article.

Is there any way to avoid this Habitual Suspension?

Thankfully yes. Dui’s count toward your “three strikes” if they fall within the five-year window. If you have an attorney representing you for a pending DUI, one way that they can help you avoid “disaster” is that they can attempt to have the charge reduced to a Reckless Driving. Although very difficult to achieve, this will avoid this particular conviction from counting towards your three strikes.

If you have a pending criminal DWLSR charge, there is a second way that your attorney can help you avoid “disaster.” Your attorney can attempt to have the State Attorney (prosecutor) amend the charge to a charge of NVDL or “Driving without a Valid Driver’s License.” Although this charge still carries criminal sanctions with it, it is not one of the “qualifying offenses” and therefore will not combine to result in a habitual suspension.

The third and last charge that can result in a Habitual Suspension is the civil citation DWLSR Without Knowledge. DHSMV will only count this as a “qualifying offense” if the driver is “convicted.” Unfortunately, this is the area where we see many people make a serious mistake that results in the dreaded Habitual Suspension.  Most people are unaware of the consequences of simply paying one of these tickets. If you pay a DWLSR Without Knowledge citation the DHSMV will adjudicate you guilty and if this is your third qualifying offense they will suspend your license for five years. A third way that you can avoid “disaster” is to have your attorney seek a Withhold of Adjudication from the judge. As mentioned above, the DHSMV will not count this offense if adjudication is withheld.

There may an additional way to avoid a conviction on a DWLSR which involves seeking what is known as a “Clerk’s Withhold.” That is a subject for another day and a subject to discuss with an attorney.

Is there anything that can be done if I already received the Notice of Habitual Suspension?

If you receive a letter telling you that your license is being suspended as a result of paying a DWLSR Without Knowledge ticket, an attorney can draft a Motion to Withdraw Plea. This is done to seek to set aside the adjudication of guilt. THIS MOTION MUST BE FILED WITHIN 60 DAYS OF PAYING THE TICKET. If that time has already passed, it may be possible in some jurisdictions to seek to have an older DWLSR Without Knowledge conviction set aside by filing a motion, but that usually requires the agreement of the State Attorney and a judge willing to do so. Please contact us for a review of your driving record to see if any of these remedies may apply to your situation. If you have received a Habitual Suspension, DO NOT DRIVE! An arrest will result a 3rd degree felony charge punishable by up to (5) five years in prison and a five-thousand dollar fine. Your driver’s license is a precious thing that you must do everything within your power to protect.

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