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Florida Supreme Court Alters Habitual Traffic Offender Prosecutions

In July of last year, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that’s certain to have lasting consequences for defendants facing charges for DUI and other traffic offenses. Florida, like many other states, has what’s known as a habitual traffic offender statute. Under this law, anyone who commits repeated (three or more) motor vehicle offenses in a five-year period – including DUI, vehicular manslaughter, driving with a suspended license, hit-and-run, or other similar offenses – faces a five-year suspension of his or her driver’s license. Florida also has a more general prohibition on driving with a suspended license. Under that law, anyone who operates a motor vehicle while his or her license is suspended is guilty of a moving violation and subject to appropriate penalties. Suppose, then, that someone who is a habitual traffic offender is caught driving with a suspended license. Suppose further that the district attorney’s office decides to bring a prosecution against that person under Florida’s general driving with a suspended license statute. Our hypothetical person is found guilty and sentenced appropriately. Can the state, having gotten its conviction, now bring another prosecution against the same defendant seeking to have his or her license suspended for five years under the habitual traffic offender statute? Or would such a prosecution be (as discussed in another post) duplicative?

The Decision

The Florida Supreme Court confronted (and answered) these questions in the case of Gil v. State. In that case, the facts were exactly as outlined in our hypothetical scenario above. The defendant had been caught driving with a suspended license several times before. Nevertheless, he chose to drive again. When he was caught yet again, he confessed his misdeeds to the officer, who arrested him. The state then charged him with driving with a suspended license, and he was convicted. Several months later, the state sought to bring another prosecution against him for being a habitual traffic offender, arguing that he should have his license suspended for the next five years. The defendant’s attorney, however, contended that this prosecution could not proceed, both because it was inconsistent with the plain terms of the statutes that defined the crimes and inconsistent with both the Florida and United States Constitution’s prohibitions on double jeopardy.

Florida’s courts of appeals were divided on the issue, with three of them holding that the prosecutions were duplicative and one of them holding that they were not. In Gil v. State, the Florida Supreme Court resolved the split by ruling definitively that these prosecutions were duplicative. The Court pointed out that the suspended license statute explicitly provides that it doesn’t apply to habitual traffic offenders, who should be prosecuted under that law. The Court also ruled that the prosecutions violated the prohibition on double jeopardy, since they required proof of essentially the same elements.

Get an Attorney Who Knows the State of the Law

If you’re facing motor vehicle charges, it’s important to have an attorney who understands these changes in the law and who can make sure that the government isn’t able to obtain multiple convictions against you for your violation. Call a seasoned traffic violations attorney like Fort Lauderdale based Kevin. J. Kulik.

 

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