Driving on a Suspended License Defense in Michigan

No one should drive while his or her driver’s license is suspended or revoked. But the reality is that people in Michigan are charged with driving while license suspended (“DWLS”) or revoked (“DWLR”) practically everyday. Although the best legal advice is and always will be to avoid driving while your license is suspended or revoked, that advice often isn’t enough because driving, especially in Michigan, is essential to everyday life. And the penalties for driving without a valid license can be significant—both in the short term and the long term.

If you or a loved one is charged with driving while license suspended or revoked, it is very important that you take steps to defend yourself right away. Hiring a successful driver’s license attorney will help your chances greatly. The information below will get you started in that preparation process.

When Your License Might Be Suspended Or Revoked

Michigan allows for the suspension or revocation of a driver’s license in a variety of situations, and most people aren’t aware of all of them. For example, your driver’s license could be suspended

  • if you were convicted of certain misdemeanor and felony offenses,
  • if you failed to pay fines and costs as a result of traffic tickets,
  • if you failed to appear for or answer certain criminal charges,
  • if you failed to appear for a child-support hearing or comply with a child-support order,
  • if you accumulated too many points on your record for other driving violations, or
  • if the Secretary of State has determined that you are physically or mentally unable to drive safely.

Proving Guilt

To be convicted of driving while license suspended or revoked under MCL 257.904, the prosecutor must prove three things beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • that you were operating a motor vehicle,
  • that you were operating that vehicle on a highway or in another place open to the public, and
  • that your driver’s license was suspended or revoked at the time.

The prosecutor will also have to demonstrate that you knew (or should have known) that your license was suspended or revoked. This often requires proof that the Secretary of State notified you of the suspension or revocation by first-class mail addressed to your registered address at least 5 days before the charged offense.

Proving these things can be straightforward. As a simple example, imagine a police officer pulling you over while you are driving down the highway with a license you admittedly knew was suspended. But the proof can also be complicated. For example, some courts have held that people were “operating” a motor vehicle on a highway even though they were found pulled over on the side of the road. Whether your situation is straightforward or complicated, an experienced attorney from Grabel & Associates can often help you take the necessary steps to avoid some of the significant penalties Michigan imposes for these offenses.

Possible Penalties for DWLS or DWLR

The possible penalties for driving while license suspended or revoked can be severe. And that’s especially true when you have been convicted of driving while license suspended or revoked before.

For first-time offenders, you can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and could face up to 93 days in jail, up to a $500 fine, or both. For second-time offenders, you could face up to a year in jail, up to a $1000 fine, or both. And, in addition to these penalties, you could face cancellation of your registration plates, continued license suspension or revocation, and, often, lengthy probation. And people with three or more of these offenses will face similar-but-harsher penalties as well, including mandatory additional suspension, confiscation of your license plate, vehicle immobilization, and other potential penalties.

These already-significant penalties grow even more severe when someone kills or injures someone else while driving with a suspended or revoked license. If you cause the death of another person while driving without a valid driver’s license, you can be found guilty of a felony and could face up to 15 years in prison, a fine between $2,500 and $10,000, or both. If you cause “the serious impairment of a body function of another person,” you can be found guilty of a felony and could face up to 5 years in prison, a fine between $1,000 and $5,000, or both.

In addition to these penalties, if your license is suspended, you’ll be required to pay a $125 reinstatement fee, as well as hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars in driver’s responsibility fees, in order to maintain a valid driver’s license again. And if your license is revoked, the process is even more expensive and complicated. You’ll be required to file an appeal with the Secretary of State. Those appeals are often filled with paperwork, hearings, and other issues, and, most importantly, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to successfully reinstate your driving privileges.

A Successful Defense for Driving While License is Suspended or Revoked

The unfortunate reality is that many people are often surprised by charges for driving while license suspended or revoked and, as a result, don’t take them as seriously as they need to until it is too late. A successful defense to charges like this often depends entirely on experience. An experienced driver’s license attorney will investigate whether law enforcement may have violated your constitutional rights, whether you were actually “operating” a motor vehicle as interpreted by Michigan caselaw, whether you were on a highway or in a place that Michigan courts have determined to be “open to the general public,” and the circumstances surrounding the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license.

Experienced lawyers will also know to focus on whether you knew (or should have known) that your driver’s license was suspended or revoked at the time. Likewise, they will appreciate the need to understand—and prove—why you might have been driving despite having a suspended license, especially if you were responding to an emergency situation. Specifically, under MCL 257.904(15), “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” cannot be prosecuted for driving while license suspended or revoked. Understanding what specific facts and circumstances meet this statutory exception is essential to property defending any charge like this.

Attorneys who have handled charges of driving while license suspended or revoked know exactly what questions to ask. And the answers to those questions can often be the difference between prison sentences or significant fines and the chance to get your driver’s license back.

Unfortunately, not all cases can end in a straightforward dismissal. And in those circumstances, it’s possible that the best outcome might be negotiating a plea agreement. Frequently, we see cases where we’re able to successfully reduce a first-offense charge to a charge for operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license (“No Ops”) under MCL 257.301. While this offense is still a serious misdemeanor, it does not come with the required license suspension, won’t add additional points to your record, and likely will not require probation. In many cases, and especially those where dismissal of the charge is not an option, a “No Ops” plea can be the best-case scenario for our clients.

Rely On Our Experience

If you’ve been charged with driving while license suspended or revoked, it’s important that you take action immediately. We’ll work with you to learn what led to the charges, we’ll investigate and explain the potential strategies and possible consequences, and we’ll rely on our decades of experience to ensure the best possible outcome for the charges against you. Contact us online or call us at our 24/7 defense hotline at 1-800-342-7896 right away.


Please note: Recently DLAD/DAAD changed their name to the Administrative Hearings Section (AHS). Common use of the name AHS has not yet been widely accepted and the entity responsible for driver’s license hearings is still referred to as DLAD/DAAD in almost all legal areas, which is why we continue to use the term “DLAD/DAAD” throughout our website. More information about this change can be found at the Michigan Secretary of State’s website here.

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