In Florida, it is a crime for a person to drive a motor vehicle if his/her license is suspended and he/she knows it is suspended. That last part is important because it is only a civil traffic infraction to drive with a suspended license in Florida if the driver is not aware of the license suspension. In many cases, for first time violators, whether a person gets the civil citation or a criminal charge for driving with a suspended license will depend on how the officer who pulls the driver over feels.
If the state believes the driver knew he/she had a suspended license and drove anyway, the state will charge the driver with a crime. Normally, it is a misdemeanor crime. However, if a person has two or more prior convictions for driving with a suspended license, the state can charge the person with a third degree felony. For the first or second violation, the penalties are usually minimal, especially if the defendant can obtain a good license while the case is pending. Additionally, the state will often charge a person with the misdemeanor crime even if he/she has a few prior convictions because most prosecutors understand there are much more serious cases that should occupy their time. However, once a person gets several of these convictions or once the person has been charged with a felony, jail time and/or future felony charges are a real possibility for subsequent violations.
A person’s driver’s license can be suspended for a few reasons, including a DUI, a marijuana possession conviction, unpaid tickets, too many points on the driving record, auto insurance issues and other reasons. Judges often consider driving on a suspended license more or less serious, and more or less deserving of jail time, depending on the reason for the underlying suspension. For instance, many judges in Florida will generally order jail time if a person is driving while his/her license is suspended due to a recent DUI conviction. On the other hand, judges usually are not too concerned about suspensions due to unpaid tickets, especially if they are paid in a reasonable period of time.