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Driver’s License Required for Conviction as Florida Habitual Traffic Offender

by David Reutter

The Florida Supreme Court held that possession of a driver’s license is a prerequisite to a conviction as a habitual traffic offender under section 322.34(5), Florida Statutes.

Daryl Miller was charged with a third degree felony on May 21, 2014 for violating § 322.34(5) by driving with a license that had been revoked. Miller argued he could not be convicted under the statute because he never possessed a valid Florida driver’s license. The trial court agreed, and it reduced the charges to driving without a valid license. The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed, but it certified conflict with decisions from the Second, Fourth, and Fifth District Courts of Appeal.

The Florida Supreme Court accepted review of that certified conflict. Siding with the Third and First Districts, the Court determined that the plain language of the statute is not ambiguous. The law “provides that an offender must have had his or her driver license revoked as a habitual traffic offender in order for the felony penalty to apply,” the Court’s majority wrote. “The State cannot revoke a license that never existed.” Therefore, the Court concluded “a person cannot violate section 322.34(5) without ever having obtained a driver license.”

The Court rejected the State’s invitation to find “driver license” and “driver privilege” are interchangeable because there is no ambiguity in § 322.34(5). Even if it went down that road, the Court said that “[i]ndividuals like Miller, who drive in Florida without ever having obtained a license or having an exemption to licensure, do not have any ‘driving privilege.’”

“Individuals like Miller are guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor for violation of Section 322, 03, Florida Statutes,” the Court explained. “The statute under review, Section 322.34(5), Florida Statutes, only provides enhanced penalties for individuals who continue to drive after having had a valid drive license revoked.” According to the Court, the legislature could have included individuals who do not have a license in § 322.34(5), but it did not do so.

Accordingly, the Florida Supreme Court approved the Third District’s decision and disapproved the conflict cases to the extent they are inconsistent with its opinion.

See: State v. Miller, 227 So.3d 562 (Fla. 2017). 

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