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Archive for September, 2015

DON’T PLEAD GUILTY TO DRIVING WHILE LICENSE REVOKED…At least not yet.

***Update***

In a Technical Corrections bill, the legislature modified the law so that charges filed before 12/1/15 will still be considered moving violations, and the revised law will only apply to offenses on or after 12/1/15.  Therefore, there is no benefit to delaying your plea until after 12/1/15.

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In the near decade Mahlum Law Office has been representing people charged with Driving While License Revoked charges, or DWLR, we have seen just about every cause of revocation.  The single most common, and the most frustrating, relates to time and money.  For an example, let’s talk about our made-up defendant Pete:

Pete received a seatbelt ticket a few weeks ago after forgetting to put it on.  He has court on Friday.  Unfortunately, Pete doesn’t have the money to pay the ticket right now, and he also can’t afford an attorney.  Pete decides he will go to court himself to continue the case, but his boss calls at the last minute and tells him he has to work or he will be fired.  Pete misses his court date to save his job. 

A seatbelt ticket is an infraction, so Pete won’t get arrested, but DMV will be notified that he failed to appear in court.  A few weeks later, Pete receives a letter from DMV telling him his license will be suspended soon if he doesn’t resolve the seatbelt ticket.  Determined to handle things properly, Pete travels to court on his day off to handle the seatbelt ticket.  Unfortunately, when he gets there he is told he also has to pay an additional $200 fee for Failing to Appear.  Since Pete wasn’t aware, and only makes $8 an hour, he can’t afford the fee right now.  He has wasted his day off and still hasn’t resolved the ticket because of the additional $200. After a few more weeks, Pete’s license is revoked.  Pete still has to go to work to support his family, so he still has to drive.  One day, Pete goes through a traffic checkpoint, and receives a DWLR charge since his license is now revoked.  His court date is in a month.

Fortunately for Pete, he was able to work some overtime and save up a little money.  He decides to use the money to take care of his seatbelt ticket so he can drive legally again.  Pete heads to the courthouse and pays the seatbelt ticket, plus the $200 FTA fee.  He then goes to DMV and pays the $110 restoration fee and receives his license.  Pete, having learned his lesson, goes to court for the DWLR charge.  The district attorney graciously agrees to allow Pete to plead to a lesser charge, which Pete does. 

Since this is the first time through the system for Pete, he doesn’t know all the ramifications to his actions.  The judge orders him to pay court costs and a $25 fine and Pete thinks he is done.  Unfortunately for Pete, a week later he gets another letter from DMV.  Because he pled guilty to a moving violation (when the DWLR was reduced to the lesser charge) that occurred while his license was suspended, DMV has revoked his license for a full year.  If Pete continues to drive and gets caught, his next suspension will be for two years, and a third conviction would be a permanent revocation.  Pete is in a bit of a mess that is all too common in North Carolina.

 

We have talked about the Driving While License Revoked suspension cycle before.  This time around, we have better news.

On August 5, 2015, the Governor signed the North Carolina Drivers License Restoration Act.  The goal of the Act is to break the suspension cycle, and it is a great step towards accomplishing that goal.  Now, instead of two different DWLR offenses, one for impaired revocations and one for non-impaired revocations, there will be four different offenses.

  1. Driving While License Revoked (DWLR-non impaired), Class 3 Misdemeanor, NOT a moving violation
  2. Driving While License Revoked for Impaired Revocation (DWLR-impaired), Class 1 Misdemeanor, Moving Violation
  3. Driving Without Reclaiming License, Class 3 Misdemeanor, NOT a moving violation
  4. Driving after Failure to Appear (for an impaired driving offense), Class 1 Misdemeanor, Moving Violation

The significant change applies to DWLR and Driving Without Reclaiming License.  DWLR for a non-impaired revocation is the most common charge for those with revoked licenses.  It happens when a court date is missed, fines aren’t paid, or a variety of other reasons (much like Pete).  The “without reclaiming” offense applies specifically to those who were charged with an implied consent offense (usually DWI) and received a Civil Revocation.  At the end of the civil revocation (usually 30 days), the defendant pays a $100 fee and their license is returned.  If that $100 fine isn’t paid after 30 days, and they are caught driving, this is the charge they will receive.

Starting with cases resolved after December 1, 2015, these offenses will no longer be considered moving violations and will no longer trigger additional suspensions.  In the above example, Pete won’t face the additional one year suspension, and he will be able to keep his license that he worked to have restored.  In effect, this change will stop the suspension cycle that is keeping many North Carolinians from driving legally.

While this is a big help for many, the Driving after Failure to Appear is a new offense that can hurt some others.  If a driver is charged with Driving While Impaired and fails to appear in court, the driver hasn’t been convicted and is not revoked for an impaired offense, only for not appearing in court.  After December 1, that driver could be charged with Driving after Failure to Appear, a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Undoubtedly, this will catch a few revoked drivers off guard.

What does this mean for you? If you are revoked for a DWI or other impaired driving offense, not much.  However, if you have been caught in the suspension cycle, and don’t have an impaired offense conviction, the Restoration Act may be your ticket to breaking the cycle after December 1.  And, if you currently have a Driving While License Revoked charge, DON’T PLEAD GUILTY…Yet.