In Florida, if you are designated as a “Habitual Traffic Offender” (HTO), the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is authorized to automatically revoke your license for a period of FIVE years. You are probably wondering, “What the heck is a HTO?” To put it simply, a person convicted of three charges for “Driving While License Suspended or Revoked” (DWLS) within a five-year period will be classified as a “Habitual Traffic Offender”. DWLS charges can be either criminal or civil in nature. A criminal DWLS is when someone is driving with a suspended license with knowledge. The first criminal DWLS is classified as a second-degree misdemeanor, the second criminal DWLS is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor and additional criminal DWLS can be classified as a felony depending on the reason for the suspension of the license itself. In criminal DWLS cases, even if adjudication is withheld, meaning that a person is charged but not convicted, it will still count as one strike toward habitualization. A civil DWLS is when someone is driving with a suspended license without knowledge. On the bright side, if adjudication is withheld on a civil DWLS, it will NOT count toward habitualization.
It gets trickier, did you know that you could be designated as a HTO without even knowing it? Often times people are unaware that by just simply paying a citation for a civil DWLS, adjudication is NOT withheld and so, that civil DWLS is factored in as one strike toward habitualization. At this point, you are probably wishing there was a magic spell to go back in time and fix this, right? Well, we have good news for you – there is! In fact, a common legal remedy to avoid designation as HTO is by petitioning the county court to withhold adjudication on a prior civil DWLS. Like a vanishing spell, this remedy makes one of the predicate convictions necessary for HTO status DISAPPEAR!
There is a catch though . . . not everyone can use this magical spell. In its recent opinion the Fifth District Court of Appeals held that the office of the Public Defender is statutorily prohibited from using this legal remedy to assist their clients. Meaning, only private attorneys have the power to use this legal remedy to modify the adjudication of guilt in a client’s earlier civil traffic infraction case. Thus, if you have been charged with a criminal DWLS and are facing a license suspension or revocation, or have already had your license suspended or revoked, you NEED to obtain a private attorney. Better yet, obtain an experienced private attorney like Michael Panella, who has handled over 100 DWLS cases, many of which included serious felonies. Panella Law Firm understands that the loss of the privilege to drive is costly, embarrassing, and creates serious burdens on family, friends, and the ability to work. Call us today for a free consultation to determine if we can get you back on the road moving forward.