Criminal Defense Attorney Malcolm Anthony talks about the realities of driving while a license is suspended.
Mark Leach: What’s the worst that can happen if one of your clients gets convicted?
Malcolm Anthony: Here is a common scenario that I see, which is devastating and is a shot from left field into a person’s life. A young couple, good girl, meets screwed up boy. Boy has driving problems. He has a suspended license because he hasn’t paid a bunch of traffic tickets. He’s been pulled over several times, but he’s just going through life and doesn’t pay the tickets. Eventually he meets nice girl. Girl says, “We ought to fix everything in your life,” just like they try to do with everything in men’s lives. They get on this path to paying off some old tickets.
Finally they save enough money and they go in and they pay off all these old tickets. Boy gets shiny new driver’s license hasn’t had a good one in three years. He’s paid off all his tickets. He walks out with a smile on his face, with a shiny new driver’s license with his picture on it. Everybody’s happy. About 30 days, he gets a letter in the mail from the state of Florida, Department of Highway Safety Motor Vehicles, informing him that he his driving privilege is about to be suspended for 5 years.
You ask yourself, how can this happen? Here’s the dirty little secret. DMV suspends you for 5 years if you get three convictions within 5 years of Driving on a Suspended License or a DUI or a combination. We call them strikes. If you accumulate three strikes within 5 years, you get a 5 year suspension under the Habitual Traffic Offender statute, commonly called HTO.
Our boy who just fixed everything was unaware that as he paid the fines on his Driving on a Suspended License tickets he was getting strikes – all in one day – the day he paid the fines counts as his conviction date. Let’s say I don’t pay some traffic fines and I get pulled over and discover my license is suspended because I didn’t pay those tickets. The officer cites me for Driving on a Suspended License (unknowingly). When I go pay that ticket, I get a strike, a conviction under the Habitual Traffic Offender statute. I get a conviction for that. If you get 3 of those within 5 years, the HTO 5 year suspension is imposed automatically. So when our boy went and paid off all his tickets, he had 3 suspended license charges in there, and some speeding, and some other things. He paid them off, but he got his 3 predicate convictions within 5 years, so that gave him his 3 strikes, so that gave him the 5 year suspension. They don’t tell you that when you go and pay these off. I have a thriving practice at undoing 5 year suspensions because it hits people from left field. It’s called the habitual traffic offender or HTO statute, 322.264.
Mark Leach: Is that what you’re known for?
Malcolm Anthony: I fix a lot of driver’s license problems, yes. I pioneered the strategy to set aside, or “undo” the Suspended License convictions to remove the HTO 5 year suspensions from driving records. There is now an actual “set-aside” day in traffic court just for those seeking to “undo” the strikes. We go in and we set aside some of these convictions to get people their license back. It’s been a nice little adjunct practice of mine. HTO is a dirty little secret. I attempted to get the Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DMV), who sends out the HTO suspension letters to provide the names and addresses to me of the intended recipients of the HTO letters so I could try to contact these unfortunate people to let them know we can help get them driving again, but DMV they won’t let me do that because of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. This HTO 5 year suspension coming from out of nowhere, especially after paying and fixing everything; it is not common knowledge. It’s something you never knew about – the surprise 5 year suspension after you fix everything.
Mark Leach: What 2 to 3 questions do these prospective clients typically ask you then?
Malcolm Anthony: When they have these kinds of problems, suspended licenses, first, I don’t let them ask. When they just tell me that they’ve got a suspended license, I run their license record and assess problem for a license consultation fee of $200. Once we know the problem I can strategize a plan and quote a fee for what needs to be done to make it happen. The strategy is different for everyone, depending on when, where, and what convictions are giving them the strikes. For example, if the client has a criminal Driving on a Suspended License charge, meaning it was “knowingly” even if the court withholds adjudication of guilt and doesn’t convict him, it still counts as a “conviction,” a strike, under HTO.
It is more difficult to “undo” a criminal prior than an “unknowingly” civil charge. The strategy may involve going to several jurisdictions for several different types of charges to get some strikes removed. Once I get them to 2 strikes, the HTO 5 year suspension is lifted from the driving record and they can go get a driver’s license. Basically, they come in, I tell them what their driver’s license looks like and what the problems are and propose a plan to fix it. People just don’t know how to read their records. It is complicated, especially figuring out which charges are civil and which are criminal. I review it with them, tell them what the problem is, propose a solution, and then quote them a fee to fix it.
Mark Leach:Do your prospective clients ever attempt to resolve this on their own?
Malcolm Anthony: They do and they end up with more suspensions. That’s like going to pay your tickets and getting the problem in the first place. I tell people, “Don’t go pay all those tickets. Let me look at it first because if there are suspended license tickets in there, we want to get a court date and get you out of those without strikes first.” Let me tell you another little secret. When you get caught driving on a suspended license, if you hire me, I fix the license problem first. You get a good driver’s license before we resolve it in court. Then when we go to court, the state will change the charge so that you can plead to what’s called a No Valid Driver’s License charge, which doesn’t count as a strike, because the last thing we want to do is give you strikes that can lead to a 5 year suspension. A whole lot of headache and financial distress can be avoided if they just hire us first. Trying to do it on their own, they can get into the matrix.
I call getting a suspended license getting into the matrix. Sometimes even the smartest people can’t get out of it. DMV and the clerks have made this matrix so confusing, it is sad to sit in court watching unrepresented people just falling into the matrix. If they go on their own and say, “Well, let me go pay this ticket,” and they pay their ticket, they get the conviction, they get a strike, maybe it is their third, and they get into the matrix, and DMV’s no help at telling you what you need to do to get out. Only an expert can read that driving record and tell you exactly what needs to happen and how to do it, and then know what needs to be done to fix it, and then go to court and handle it properly.
Mark Leach: Why would working with an attorney like you greatly improve their chances?
Malcolm Anthony: Several reasons. Knowledge of the law, experience with the court system, knowledge of driver’s license law, and just expertise in dealing with DMV, driving records, and state attorneys, prosecutors, and judges, and knowing the law, and the procedure. Let me give you an example. I got hired to represent a guy on a felony charge of Driving on a Suspended License because a third charge a Felony punishable by up to 5 years in the Florida State Prison. I get the case. The state attorney offers him a year in prison. Now mind you, His crime is DRIVING (albeit with a suspended license), but still, the crime was DRIVING. His most recent conviction was for driving on a suspended license. Now he’s charged again a year later, and the state attorney offers him a year in prison; a year in jail for driving on a suspended license. I get the file. I look at it. I look at his prior.
The last time he had a lawyer, he was in court and he was charged with driving with a suspended license. When I look at the record closely, I discover that when he pled guilty the year earlier he was only 8 days away from being eligible to get a license. If I had been his lawyer then I would have continued the case to get him a license and he would never have been convicted. He was only 8 days short of eligibility for a license. I would have got him a driver’s license. I would have been able to then get the charge amended to a charge of No Valid Driver’s License, and it wouldn’t have counted as a strike, and he wouldn’t have the new felony and he wouldn’t be facing a year in jail, but I wasn’t his lawyer the prior year, so there we were. You know what I did?
Mark Leach: What did you do?
Malcolm Anthony: I went to two separate jurisdictions where he had priors and successfully overturned them – got them set aside, or “undone,” temporarily. This removed the HTO suspension and it removed the prior convictions being used to support the new felony charge and client was able to get a driver’s license. The state amended the felony to the misdemeanor of No Valid Driver’s License and the client paid a fine. We then appeared in the other set aside cases with a license and also received fines for No Valid Driver’s License charges. My point is the attorney previous to me pled him to a felony 8 days before he was eligible to get a driver’s license. That’s an example of the bad and the good of how hiring the right attorney on license cases is crucial.
Malcolm Anthony is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Jacksonville, Florida. Malcolm is very experienced and has very high success rates in license offense cases.
You can find more out about Attorney Malcolm Anthony at: http://www.malcolmanthony.com.