Pursuant to MCL 257.904 and MCL 257.212, a person is guilty of driving while his or her operator's license is suspended or revoked, or "DWLS", if the prosecutor can prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The person was operating a motor vehicle, meaning he or she was driving or had actual physical control of it.
- The person was operating that vehicle on a highway or other place open to the general public.
- The person's operator's license was suspended or revoked.
- The Michigan Secretary of State gave notice of the suspension or revocation by first-class, United States Postal Service mail addressed to the defendant at the address shown by the record of the Michigan Secretary of State at least five days before the date of the alleged offense.
If a person is convicted of Driving While License Suspended or Revoked in Michigan, they are subject to the following consequences:
- For a first offense, a person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail or a fine up to $500.00, or both. Additionally, vehicle registration plates will be cancelled. There will also be 2 points added to that person's driving record, additional license sanctions and Driver Responsibility Fee of $500.00 for two consecutive years.
- For a second or subsequent offense, a person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000.00, or both. Additionally, vehicle registration plates will be cancelled. There will also be 2 points added to that person's driving record, additional license sanctions and Driver Responsibility Fee of $500.00 for two consecutive years. There may also be license plate confiscation and vehicle immobilization consequences.
- For a person who operates a motor vehicle while license suspended or revoked and causes the serious impairment of a body function of another individual is guilty of felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison or a fine between $1000.01 and $5000.00, or both. Your license will be revoked and 6 points will be added to your driving record.
- For a person who operates a motor vehicle while license suspended or revoked and causes the death of another person is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison or a fine between $2,500.01 and $10,000.00, or both. Your license will be revoked and 6 points will be added to your driving record.
There are several reasons why someone's operator's license may become suspended or revoked, which include but are not limited to:
- Accumulating 12 or more points on your Michigan driving record;
- Being convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, reckless driving, driving without insurance, joyriding or driving while your license is suspended;
- Being convicted of a felony offense that involves the operation of a motor vehicle, which requires either license suspension up to one year or revocation;
- Failing to pay fines and costs on traffic tickets or failing to appear in court;
- Failing to pay child support, or;
- The Michigan Secretary of State determined after valid legal processes that the person is physically or psychologically unable to drive safely.
A person whose license is suspended as a result of traffic convictions will often be required to pay Driver Responsibility Fees or reinstatement fees before the license can be restored. These costs are often very high and too expensive for most Michigan families to pay, so the license tends to remain suspended indefinitely while the balance is outstanding. Under those circumstances, people will often take the risk of driving with a suspended license simply to accomplish daily tasks like going to work or transporting children to daycare. As a result, driving while license suspended is one of the most common criminal offenses charged in the State of Michigan.
Very often, if the defendant is charged with a second or subsequent DWLS, the prosecutor will frequently offer a plea bargain to a reduced charge of first-offense DWLS. If the defendant is charged with a first-offense DWLS, the prosecutor will frequently offer a plea bargain to a reduced charged of No Valid Operator's License on Person, colloquially referred to as "No Ops" or "No Valid Ops". While No Ops is still a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or up to $100.00 fine, or both, it does not carry the additional penalties of mandatory license sanctions, driving record points or Driver Responsibility Fees.
Many prosecutors view this charge as a slam dunk. Likewise, many defense attorneys see these kind of cases as unwinnable and advise their clients to accept a reduced charge. However, prosecutors are still required to prove all elements beyond a reasonable doubt and they often do not produce all of the evidence required to secure a conviction since these charges are not high priority for their time and resources. Here are a few examples:
- MCL 257.905(15) states it is a defense to DWLS for a person "who operates a vehicle solely for the purpose of protecting human life or property if the life or property is endangered and summoning prompt aid is essential". The prosecutor has the burden of proof in showing that the defendant DID NOT operate the vehicle for these purposes.
- In People v Patman, unpublished per curiam option of the Court of Appeals, issued March 18, 1997 (Docket No. 191039), the defendant's conviction for DWLS was reversed where the prosecutor presented only evidence of the defendant's driving record but no evidence of any proof of notice by the Michigan Secretary of State concerning the suspension.
- In People v Nunley, 491 Mich 686; 821 NW2d 642 (2012), the Michigan Supreme Court held that the prosecutor may produce a certificate of mailing created at the same time as the notice without producing a witness from the Michigan Secretary of State to authenticate it since it is a record created in the course of governmental business. However, if the certificate of mailing was created sometime later (e.g. for the purposes of prosecution), then it may be considered testimonial and a witness from the Michigan Secretary of State may have to verify its authenticity for admission into trial.
The prosecutor should be held to their standard of proof at all times. If a defendant accepts a plea bargain, it should be after all defense options are explored and an informed decision can be made that the deal is better than the risk of going to trial. If you or a loved one are faced with charges of operating a vehicle while license suspended or revoked, do not hesitate to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC.