Mandatory Jail for Suspended License

From the Tampa Legal Team News Service

Now drivers with suspended licenses face mandatory jail for driving.  Judges lose discretion at the hands of the Florida Legislature.
Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

               A whole raft of new laws is coming into effect on October 1, 2019, as part of the Criminal Justice reform bill that was passed by the legislature in July.  Getting the most attention are measures that are being applauded as forward thinking and progressive, providing for alternatives to incarceration, new drug courts and other means that take into consideration mental health and substance abuse problems of those being released from prison.

One of the new laws that will get unanimous support allows veterinarians to report suspected incidents of animal abuse.  Why didn’t somebody think of that before?

               While most of the news laws look to be forward-thinking, progressive measures  which call for less jail time and give more discretion to judges, one of the news laws that is not being talked about much appears to require more incarceration, not less, and takes away discretion of judges when dealing with misdemeanor driving cases.

               A version of what are called the Laws of Florida, Chapter 2019-167, and on October 1, 2019 will go into effect as Florida Statute 322.34 that has been edited to get right to the point states as follows:

               “(2) Any person whose driver license or driving privilege has been canceled, suspended, or revoked… or who does not have a driver license or driving privilege…who, knowing of such cancellation, suspension, or revocation, or suspension or revocation equivalent status, drives a motor vehicle…commits:

               (b)          1. A misdemeanor of the first degree … upon a second or subsequent conviction…

                              2. A person convicted of a third or subsequent conviction, except as provided in paragraph (c), must serve a minimum of 10 days in jail.”

               The statute goes on to say that under some circumstances, a third or subsequent conviction of driving while license suspended may be charged as a felony.  But if upon a third conviction it is not charged as a felony, the defendant must go to jail for ten days.

               Lawyers and judges in county court are faced with the problem of handing out justice to misdemeanants and traffic offenders.  In contrast to circuit court, where more serious, often violent offenders reside, persons charged with misdemeanors are frequently wrestling with difficulties of a much more mundane existence.

While a driver’s license may be suspended for committed a serious offense such as driving under the influence, a driver’s license may also be suspended for failure to pay traffic fines or falling behind on child support.  If a traffic fine is not paid within a certain time period, the fine is increased by a whopping 40 per cent, which often puts the fine out of reach for some defendants.

               Faced with bills to pay and children to feed, people often take the risk of driving without a license just to keep their job, and if caught take the risk of being placed on probation.  Even a cursory observation of daily life in county court would show that defense lawyers, judges, even prosecutors, try hard to find alternatives to incarceration.

               Enter the Florida legislature.  Now, upon a third conviction of driving while license suspended, you MUST go to jail for TEN DAYS.  

               COMMENTARY:  The legislature should be commended on the 2019 version of the Crime Reform Act.  It is a solid effort to move forward on many issues, including mass incarceration, treatment of juveniles and non-violent offenders.  However, of the three branches of government, it is this lawyer’s opinion that the judiciary tries the hardest to uphold the Constitution and staunchly refuses to give in to political pressure or the whims of lobbyists.   If a person in government should hold the power of incarceration over a citizen, it ought to be a man or woman wearing a robe and blindfold.