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Necessity Could be a Defense to Driving With a Suspended License in Florida

Driving with a suspended license is normally a misdemeanor crime in Florida. However, it can still carry serious penalties such as jail time and an additional, very long suspension of driving privileges. If a person has enough prior driving with a suspended license (DWLS) convictions, the state can charge a new DWLS offense as a felony that could carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Most driving with a suspended license cases are fairly straightforward. The state only has to prove three things: 1) the defendant’s driver’s license has been suspended or revoked, 2) the defendant knew his/her driver’s license was suspended or revoked at the time of the arrest and 3) the defendant was driving while his/her driver’s license was suspended or revoked. The third element is fairly easy to prove as practically all DWLS cases are initiated after a police officer stops the defendant while he/she is driving. The first element can easily be proven with records from the DMV. The second element can be somewhat difficult to prove, but normally, when the DMV suspends a driver’s license, they send a notice to the driver, and that may be sufficient to establish that element.

However, even if the state can easily prove its DWLS case, there can be a defense to the charge. If a defendant charged with DWLS can establish that it was reasonably necessary to drive while his/her license was suspended or revoked, the defendant may not be guilty of the driving with a suspended license charge even where he/she was clearly driving with a suspended license. To prevail using a necessity defense, whether to a DWLS charge or another applicable criminal charge, the defendant has to establish that his/her conduct was reasonably necessary to deal with an emergency situation that he/she did not create. One obvious example would be if the defendant had a serious injury or was helping someone with a serious injury and was going to the hospital for emergency treatment.