No matter which kind of charges you are facing, it is important for a person accused of a crime in Florida to understand that prosecutors have the burden of proving your guilt. Specifically, they have to convince a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the specific crime with which you were charged. As a recent case out of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal makes clear, it is the prosecutors’ fault if they charge you with the wrong crime.A defendant was charged with two counts of violating a state law that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to drive a car while knowing that your driver’s license or driving privilege has been canceled, suspended, or revoked. He pleaded no contest to the charges but then filed a motion to dismiss them. The defendant argued that he could not be convicted because he never had a driver’s license. In other words, the defendant said his driving privileges had never been canceled, suspended, or revoked. A trial judge denied that motion, finding that the defendant could have had his driving privileges revoked even if he never had a license in Florida. But the judge also invited the First District to weigh in.
The appeals court eventually sided with the defendant. The First District said the law was ambiguous on this particular question because the state legislature didn’t define the term “driving privilege.” It noted, however, that a separate law requires anyone operating a motor vehicle in the Sunshine State to have “a valid license issued by the State of Florida or fall under an exception to licensure.” As a result, the court said the term driving privilege referred to anyone who can lawfully operate a vehicle in Florida, even if they don’t have a driver’s license. Since the defendant didn’t have a license and didn’t fall under one of the exceptions to the license requirement, the court said he should have been charged with driving without a license rather than driving with a revoked license.
“If the State’s position were correct and people had an innate privilege to drive, there would be no need for obtaining a license and persons could not be punished for driving without one,” the court explained. “Florida courts have consistently stated that a license to drive is a privilege, not a right that is subject to regulation.”