Felony driving while license suspended is a criminal charge that is taken seriously by prosecutors in Broward County. A person charged with driving with a suspended license may benefit greatly by hiring a skillful Broward County criminal defense attorney. In a recent Florida appellate decision, the court considered a conviction for felony driving while license suspended. The case arose when the defendant was charged with a violation of Florida Statute section 322.34(5). Under this law, habitual traffic offenders who drive with a license revoked under section 322.264 face a third-degree felony penalty.
The defendant filed a sworn motion to dismiss. He argued he hadn’t possessed a Florida driver’s license and so he couldn’t be convicted under section 322.34(5). The lower court granted the defendant’s motion and reduced the charge to driving without a valid driver’s license. The government appealed.
The Third District affirmed the lower court’s order on the grounds that possessing a driver’s license is a prerequisite for a section 322.23(5) offense. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the Third District. It explained that under Florida Statute section 322.34(5) anybody whose driver’s license was revoked due to her being a habitual offender under section 322.264 and who drives a motor vehicle upon roads of Florida while the license is revoked is guilty of a third-degree felony. Habitual traffic offenders are people who have accumulated several criminal convictions for specified offenses.
In order to have the felony penalty apply under section 322.34(5), an offender needs to have his or her driver’s license revoked as a habitual traffic offender. The driver’s license is a certificate that authorizes driving subject to various legal requirements under section 322.01(17). There can be no revocation of a license that doesn’t exist. The Court reasoned you cannot be charged with violating section 322.34(5) if you never had a driver’s license.
The government contended that the court had to look at other sections of Chapter 322 to figure out the plain meaning of driver’s license under section 322.34(5). The government claimed that driver’s license should be considered interchangeable with driving privilege. The Court explained the statutory construction sought by the government wouldn’t be property because there was nothing ambiguous in section 322.34(5). Even if it were, the rules of statutory construction wouldn’t support the interpretation sought by the government. The principle of in pari materia says that laws that have similar subjects should be read together to synchronize the meaning, and effectuate the Legislature’s intent. Additionally, meaning should be given to every word rather than interpret words as being extraneous or repetitive of other words.
The Court explained that in Florida someone operating a motor vehicle is supposed to possess a valid license issued by the state or meet an exception to operate without the state-issued license. There are exceptions for federal government employees operating government vehicles for official business. The Court explained that the defendant had driven without getting a license or meeting an exception, and had no driving privilege. The defendant was guilty of violating section 322.03, a second-degree misdemeanor. The law at issue set forth enhanced penalties for those who keep driving after having their driver’s license revoked.
The Court concluded that a defendant who hasn’t possessed a driver’s license can’t be charged under section 322.34(5). It approved the appellate court’s decision.
If you are charged with felony driving while license suspended or another traffic offense in Broward County, you should not assume a conviction is assured. It is crucial to pay attention as best as you can during an arrest and investigation, and retain an experienced Broward County criminal defense attorney with experience handling traffic offenses. Call The Hoffman Firm at (954) 524-4474 or (800) 223-1866, or contact us via our online form.