Driving Without a License in Michigan
There are countless ways that you can be caught driving without a driver’s license in Michigan. While all of the penalties are severe, the specific penalties vary greatly depending on the facts and circumstances of each offense. As an example, the penalties for simply forgetting your license at home are significantly different from those for knowingly driving after your driver’s license has been revoked. If you’re pulled over without a driver’s license, you have to begin defending yourself immediately. We encourage our clients to avoid speaking with law enforcement and to reach out to us right away. Should you choose to partner with the experienced driver’s license attorneys at Grabel & Associates, we’d encourage you to do the exact same thing.
Driver’s License Requirement
Under MCL 257.301(1), “a person shall not drive a motor vehicle upon a highway in this state unless that person has a valid operator’s or chauffeur’s license with the appropriate group designation and indorsements for the type or class of vehicle being driven or towed.” Relatedly, under MCL 257.904(1), “[a] person whose operator’s or chauffeur’s license or registration certificate has been suspended or revoked, whose application for license has been denied, or who has never applied for a license, shall not operate a motor vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, within this state.” MCL 257.310e then goes on to provide a variety of requirements with respect to driver’s licenses.
Because you are required to have a valid driver’s license on your person while driving a car in Michigan, there are penalties that can result if you fail to do so. Although people often think of “driving without a license” as meaning your license was taken away, there are actually four different scenarios where we typically see someone charged with a crime for not having a valid driver’s license:
- they had a valid driver’s license, but it wasn’t with them at the time they were pulled over,
- they were driving with their driver’s license, but it was expired,
- they were driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license, or
- they were driving but had never applied for or received a driver’s license in the past.
Penalties For Driving Without A License
As alluded to above, the specific penalties you can face for driving without a valid driver’s license depends on many factors, including your criminal and driving history.
A first-time offender caught driving without a valid driver’s license—including driving while license suspended (DWLS) or driving while license revoked (DWLR)—can result in up to 93 days in jail and a fine up to $500. In addition to those significant penalties, you’ll have a criminal record and could receive two points on your driving record. But it’s important to keep in mind that these penalties depend a lot on the underlying facts and circumstances. If, for example, you simply forget your driver’s license at home, it’s certainly possible for you to avoid jail. If you knowingly drove on a suspended or revoked license, though, all of those penalties could be on the table.
A second offense for driving without a valid driver’s license can lead to significantly harsher penalties, including up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1000. In addition, your vehicle can be immobilized for 180 days. A third or fourth offense carries with it the same potential penalties, but it’s more likely you’ll face close to the maximum amount of time in prison and fines as well as 180-day vehicle immobilization and confiscation of your license plate. And a fifth offense can lead to the same penalties but also include up to three years of vehicle immobilization and license-plate confiscation.
These penalties are generally the same regardless of whether you are charged with DWLS or DWLR. But the practical ramifications between the two can be quite different. You could have your driver’s license suspended for a variety of reasons, including having 12 points on your driving record, failing to pay child support, driving without automobile insurance, a first-offense OWI, and stealing gasoline. If your license is revoked, however, it almost always has something to do with multiple convictions for operating while intoxicated (“OWI”). This often means that someone caught driving on a suspended license has a much more sympathetic position compared to someone who is caught driving on a revoked license.
As most experienced attorneys know, however, aggressive representation can often result in the reduction of a DWLS or DWLR charge to a non-abstractable offense. A non-abstractable offense is a civil infraction or criminal offense that, unlike a DWLS or DWLR, is not reported to the Secretary of State. There is also a low likelihood of probation and no additional points on your record. So, if you can’t obtain a full dismissal of the charge or charges against you, negotiating a reduction to a non-abstractable offense can be one of the best outcomes you can achieve.
Of course, if you have a valid driver’s license but, for whatever reason, didn’t have it with you when you were pulled over, there are many other possibilities available as well. Sometimes, officers may just give you a warning. Other times, you could be charged with having no operator’s license on your person (a so-called “no ops”), which is a misdemeanor and, depending on the county, could be a civil infraction. For example, in Kent County, the civil infraction comes with a $265 fine, but that amount can be reduced to a $75 fine if you are able to produce a valid driver’s license.
Penalties For Other Crimes While Driving Without A License
Although the penalties for driving without a license are significant, those penalties are drastically worse when you commit another crime while doing so. For example, if you are involved in an accident that causes a serious injury or death while driving without a valid driver’s license, you can be charged with a felony. In cases causing serious impairment of a body function of another person, you could face up to 5 years in prison and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000. And if a death results, you could face up to 15 years and a fine between $2,500 and $10,000.
Other Penalties You Need To Know
It’s also against the law to knowingly allow a person to operate your vehicle if he or she does not have a valid driver’s license. And, if an injury or death results, you can be criminally responsible as the vehicle’s owner. For cases involving an injury, you could face up to 2 years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine. For cases involving death, you could face up to 5 years and a $5,000 fine as well.
A Successful Defense
The unfortunate reality is that many people are often surprised when they’re charged for a crime based on driving without a valid license. A successful defense to charges like this often depends entirely on experience. An experienced 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 attorneys 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 properly defending any charge like this.
Rely On Our Experience
Driving without a valid driver’s license can end up resulting in a variety of different penalties. In addition to the potential for incarceration and hefty fines, you can also have your vehicle immobilized and your license plate confiscated. All of these can have an extraordinary impact on your life and the lives of your loved ones. If you or a loved one is caught driving without a driver’s license, consider whether you want the experienced attorneys at Grabel & Associates on your side. Like they have for so many clients before, they’re ready to aggressively defend you and ensure the best possible resolution of the charges against you. Contact us online or call us at our 24/7 defense hotline at 1-800-342-7896 right away.