Driving Without a License in Michigan
Driving Without A License Attorney in Michigan
In Michigan, if you drive while your license is suspended or revoked, you’re liable for “driving while license suspended” or “DWLS” (the terms “driving while license suspended” and “DWLS” are often used synecdochally even when your license was revoked or you never had a license in the first place). MCL 257.904. Importantly, DWLS is a misdemeanor—not a civil infraction like a speeding ticket—punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. So if you’re convicted, you’ll have a criminal record. And DWLS is not expungable, so it will remain on your record forever. Second and subsequent DWLS convictions are punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
What if you have a valid license but just forgot it?
That’s a misdemeanor, too, usually called “failure to display a valid license” or “no operator’s license on person” or “no ops” for short. It’s punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $100. MCL 257.311; MCL 257.901. We know what you’re thinking—“Really, I can be charged criminally just for forgetting my license?” It sounds crazy, we know. In practice, though, the charge will usually be dismissed or reduced to a civil infraction if you later show a valid license.
If I never received notice that my license was suspended or revoked, can I still be prosecuted for driving without a license in Michigan? Yes, you can be prosecuted for DWLS in Michigan even if you have not received notice of the suspension or revocation. This wasn’t always the case. Before 2015, the law required prosecutors to prove that the Secretary of State mailed notice of a suspension or revocation. Apparently, that was too much work for prosecutors, so the law was changed. Now, you can be convicted of DWLS even when the Secretary of State admits that they failed to send you notice.
Still, lack of notice isn’t worth nothing. In a case where you had good cause to be unaware that your license was suspended or revoked, an attorney can often persuade the prosecutor to reduce the charge. That said, most prosecutors have heard “I didn’t know my license was suspended!” about a million times. So the onus is on you to show that your lack of knowledge was reasonable.
What is a good outcome if I’m charged with driving while license suspended in Michigan?
There are a couple likely outcomes if you’re charged with DWLS in Michigan. Let’s be honest—in the typical DWLS case, you’re probably not going to have a good defense to the charge. In other words, there’s going to be no legitimate way to dispute (1) that you were driving and (2) your license was suspended or revoked. So in most cases, your attorney will primarily be angling for a favorable deal.
What kind of deal? In a routine DWLS case, the prosecutor and your attorney can usually work out a deal allowing you to plead to one of two reduced charges. The first is no ops (see above). It’s still a misdemeanor, but the fines are less, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars. The second charge is allowing an unlicensed driver to drive under MCL 257.904 (it’s meant for situations where someone knowingly allows an unlicensed driver to drive their car, but in this context, you are the unlicensed driver you let drive your car). It’s a misdemeanor as well but with one advantage—it doesn’t “abstract” (go on) your driving record. This distinction is particularly important for people getting ready to apply for reinstatement of their driver’s license. If a new offense or civil infraction abstracts onto their driving record, they’ll typically have to wait another year before they can apply for reinstatement.