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Driving While License Invalid or Suspended - DWLI Charges

Driving While License Invalid offenses are called DWLI cases.  Often times you may be mistaken about why your license is invalid as you thought you had taken care of everything.  Unfortunately, DWLI cases can get complicated quickly.  There are many things to consider including suspension periods, surcharges and underlying tickets that may be out there.  Because it is complicated to figure out a DWLI on your own, you need to hire a lawyer that has experience with these types of cases.  Call 512-454-7548 to hire Jason English to help get your license cleared up, as well as, take care of the pending DWLI charge. 

What are some common reasons for your license to be suspended?

Having unpaid traffic tickets that you may have forgotten about is a very common reason.  Also, if you received ticket(s) for not having insurance there is a chance that your license was affected.  Some people may have unpaid surcharges relating to the Texas Driver Responsibility Program.  Also, convictions for some offenses (DWI and Drug cases) will result in a suspension of your license for a period time.  Sometimes you did take care of your tickets but you just need to pay your reinstatement fee to correct the issue with your license.    

I thought I had paid my tickets, why is my license suspended? 

Search your Driver Eligibility Status at https://txapps.texas.gov/txapp/txdps/dleligibility/login.do

Sometimes it could be that you failed to pay the reinstatement fee.  For individuals who are required to submit compliance documents (i.e. certificate of completion, SR-22, etc.), their driver eligibility status will change from “ineligible” to “eligible” on the License Eligibility website once all documents have been processed and fees have been paid. It is easy to check your driver eligibility to find out what is affecting your license to drive, however it is important to hire a qualified lawyer to help get it fixed.  Even if you get your license reinstated, you will still have the criminal case for DWLI pending - it will be best to have a lawyer help guide that process to reduce the chance that your license would be suspended again based upon a conviction starting the cycle over again.  Another concern is that DWLI convictions will enhance any future DWLI charge; should you drive in the future making them more serious than a ticket. 

What is the overview of the Texas Law for DWLI?

Texas state law found in the Transportation Code provides two provisions that criminalize the act of driving while one's license is suspended, canceled, revoked, or otherwise invalid (DWLS) [see Transp. C. § 521.457, suspension under general law governing licensing of drivers versus Transp. C. § 601.371, suspension under financial responsibility law]. The statutes form two separate offenses. A charging instrument that charges a person with either one of them must provide the statute under which the offense is charged, or else it is fundamentally defective [Tave v. State, 546 S.W.2d 317, 318 (Tex. Crim. App. 1977)].

To win its case in a prosecution for driving while license suspended, the prosecution must prove that the defendant drove a motor vehicle on a highway and either (1) that the defendant had an unexpired driver's license that was suspended at the time the defendant was driving, or (2) that the defendant had a license that expired during a period of suspension [Transp. C. §§ 521.457(a)(2), (3), 601.371(a)].

If the defendant's license was not under suspension when it expired, a conviction for driving with a suspended license cannot stand [Cathy v. State, 402 S.W.2d 743, 745 (Tex. Crim. App. 1966) construing former Article 6687b]. However, if a person has a driver's license that is expired, then the Transportation Code makes driving a motor vehicle with an expired license an offense under section 521.026, it is just not an offense for Driving While License Suspended / Invalid. 

There was a period of time that people were still charged with DWLI after the suspension period ended if they had not paid the reinstatement fee.  However that changed in 2000 by a case, Allen v. State that provides a conviction for driving while license suspended cannot be upheld if the period of suspension has expired even if the defendant has not paid a $100 reinstatement fee provided by Tex. Trans. Code 724.046, [Allen v. State, 11 S.W.3d 474, (Tex. App., Hous. [1st Dist.] 2000, pet. filed)].

Does a DWLI Conviction create Additional Suspensions?

Unfortunately, individuals who drive a motor vehicle while their driver license is suspended, revoked, denied or cancelled are subject to an additional suspension for the same period of time as the original suspension.

What if the reinstatement fees are too much for me to afford?

Occupational License

Individuals may be eligible to apply for an occupational license while their driver license is suspended or revoked.  This limited purpose license will allow you to drive for school, employment and necessary household errands on a limited basis.  Also, some prosecutors will dismiss a criminal DWLI case upon a person either getting their license reinstated or obtaining an occupational license. 

DWLI under the General Law

Under the general statute governing driver's licenses [see Transp. C. § 521.001 et seq.], a person commits an offense if the person operates a motor vehicle on a highway under any of the following circumstances [Transp. C. § 521.457(a), (b)]:

  1. After the person's driver's license has been canceled under the general statute if the person does not have a license that was subsequently issued.
  2. During a period that the person's driver's license or privilege is suspended or revoked under the general statute or several other enumerated statutes [see also §§ 128.02[4], 128.05[3]].
  3. While the person's driver's license is expired if the license expired during a period of suspension imposed under the general statute or any of the enumerated statutes.
  4. While the person is the subject of an order prohibiting the person from obtaining a license, if the order is issued either under the general statute or under the statute requiring suspension or denial of a license when a person arrested for an intoxication offense refuses to provided a blood or breath specimen as required by law [see Transp. C. § 724.031 et seq.].
  5. After renewal of the person's driver's license has been denied for failure to appear to answer a traffic law violation, and the person does not have a subsequently issued valid driver's license [former R.C.S. Art. 6687b § 34(a) as amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 434, § 4; see R.C.S. Art. 6687d].

Generally, the offense requires proof of the following elements [Clayton v. State, 652 S.W.2d 810, 812 (Tex. App., Amarillo 1983, no pet.)]:

  1. A person's license or driving privilege has been cancelled, suspended, or revoked.
  2. The person drives a motor vehicle on the highways of Texas while the license or driving privilege is cancelled, suspended, or revoked.

Commission of the offense does not require any culpable mental state [Clayton v. State, 652 S.W.2d 810, 812 (Tex. App., Amarillo 1983, no pet.)].

The offense is generally punishable by a fine of $100 to $500 and confinement in county jail for not less than 72 hours nor more than six months [Transp. C. § 521.457(e)]. If the person has previously been convicted of this offense or of driving while suspended under Transportation Code Section 601.371(a), the offense is a Class A misdemeanor [Transp. C. § 521.457(f); see Transp. C. § 601.371(a); [2], above]. A conviction for an offense that involves operation of a motor vehicle after August 31, 1987, is considered a final conviction, regardless of whether the sentence for the conviction is probated [Transp. C. § 521.457(g)].

It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution for this offense that the person did not receive either actual or presumed notice of the cancellation, suspension, revocation, or prohibition order relating to the person's license. Notice is presumed if the notice was mailed in accordance with law [Transp. C. § 521.457(d)].

However, it is not a defense that the person did not receive notice if the suspension was imposed as a result of a conviction for an offense under Transportation Code Section 521.341 [Transp. C. § 521.457(c); see Transp. C. § 521.341, automatic suspension following conviction of certain offenses].

For example, a defendant was not entitled to an instruction on lack of notice under the following circumstances: (1) the defendant had been convicted of DWI; (2) the defendant did not complete the required educational program, and (3) the suspension letter was sent to the defendant's last known address [see Davis v. State, 811 S.W.2d 956, 957 (Tex. App., Houston [14th Dist.] 1991, no pet.)].

DWLI Statute for General Law

Texas Transportation Code Sec. 521.457. DRIVING WHILE LICENSE INVALID. (a) A person commits an offense if the person operates a motor vehicle on a highway:

(1) after the person's driver's license has been canceled under this chapter if the person does not have a license that was subsequently issued under this chapter;

(2) during a period that the person's driver's license or privilege is suspended or revoked under any law of this state;

(3) while the person's driver's license is expired if the license expired during a period of suspension; or

(4) after renewal of the person's driver's license has been denied under any law of this state, if the person does not have a driver's license subsequently issued under this chapter.

(b) A person commits an offense if the person is the subject of an order issued under any law of this state that prohibits the person from obtaining a driver's license and the person operates a motor vehicle on a highway.

(c) It is not a defense to prosecution under this section that the person did not receive actual notice of a suspension imposed as a result of a conviction for an offense under Section 521.341.

(d) Except as provided by Subsection (c), it is an affirmative defense to prosecution of an offense, other than an offense under Section 521.341, that the person did not receive actual notice of a cancellation, suspension, revocation, or prohibition order relating to the person's license. For purposes of this section, actual notice is presumed if the notice was sent in accordance with law.

(e) Except as provided by Subsections (f), (f-1), and (f-2), an offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

(f) An offense under this section is a Class B misdemeanor if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the person:

(1) has previously been convicted of an offense under this section or an offense under Section 601.371(a), as that law existed before September 1, 2003; or

(2) at the time of the offense, was operating the motor vehicle in violation of Section 601.191.

(f-1) If it is shown on the trial of an offense under this section that the license of the person has previously been suspended as the result of an offense involving the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, the offense is a Class B misdemeanor.

(f-2) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor if it is shown on the trial of the offense that at the time of the offense the person was operating the motor vehicle in violation of Section 601.191  and caused or was at fault in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in serious bodily injury to or the death of another person.

(g) For purposes of this section, a conviction for an offense that involves operation of a motor vehicle after August 31, 1987, is a final conviction, regardless of whether the sentence for the conviction is probated.

DWLI Under the Financial Responsibility Laws

A person commits an offense by driving while the person's license has been suspended pursuant to the Texas Safety Responsibility Law [see Transp. C. § 601.371].

This financial responsibility license suspension offense can occur when the person operates a motor vehicle on a highway either (1) during a period when the person's license or privilege to drive has been suspended or revoked under the Act; (2) while the person's license is expired, if the expiration occurred during a period of suspension under the Act [Transp. C. § 601.371(a); see Transp. C. § 601.001(4), (5), definitions of “motor vehicle” and “highway”]; or (3) by knowingly permitting any motor vehicle owned by the person to be operated on a highway during a period in which the person's registration has been suspended under the financial responsibility law [Transp. C. § 601.371(b)].

Under the first two ways a Financial Responsibility License Suspension of a Drivers License, the prosecution must prove that the person was intentionally driving the vehicle and knowing that the license has been suspended or revoked under the act [see Bryant v. State, 643 S.W.2d 241, 243 (Tex. App., Fort Worth 1982, no pet.)] even though the statute does not specify a culpable mental state. However a Financial Responsibility Vehicle Registration Suspension requires proof of the driver knowingly permitting their vehicle to be operated while the registration is suspended. 

What is the punishment for Driving While License Suspended?

This offense is generally punishable by a fine of $100 to $500 and confinement in jail for not less than 72 hours nor more than six months [Transp. C. § 601.371(d)].  However, If a person has previously been convicted of driving while license suspended under either the financial responsibility statute or the general statute, the offense is punished as a Class A misdemeanor [Transp. C. § 601.371(e)]. Even probation counts as a prior conviction for an offense that involves the operation of a motor vehicle after August 31, 1987, as such is deemed to be a final conviction whether or not the sentence is probated [Transp. C. § 601.371(f)].

What if I never received actual notice that my license was suspended or revoked?

It is an affirmative defense that a person had not received actual notice of a suspension or revocation order. However, notice is presumed if it was mailed in accordance with the statute to the last known address of the person as shown by the records of the Department of Public Safety [Transp. C. § 601.371(c)].  So it is presumed that you received the notice if it was sent to the address on your license. 

Financial Responsibility Suspension Statutes

Sec. 601.051. REQUIREMENT OF FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY. A person may not operate a motor vehicle in this state unless financial responsibility is established for that vehicle. 

Sec. 601.191. OPERATION OF MOTOR VEHICLE IN VIOLATION OF MOTOR VEHICLE LIABILITY INSURANCE REQUIREMENT; OFFENSE. (a) A person commits an offense if the person operates a motor vehicle in violation of Section 601.051.

Sec. 601.231. SUSPENSION OF DRIVER'S LICENSE AND VEHICLE REGISTRATION. (a) If a person is convicted of an offense under Section 601.191 and a prior conviction of that person under that section has been reported to the department by a magistrate or the judge or clerk of a court, the department shall suspend the driver's license and vehicle registrations of the person unless the person files and maintains evidence of financial responsibility with the department until the second anniversary of the date of the subsequent conviction.

 As you can tell there are a lot of issues at play in a DWLI case.  Contact our office at 512-454-7548 to get the experience you need and game plan on how to stop the cycle and get your license cleared. 

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