Florida’s law punishing habitual offenders who drive with a suspended license comes with a loophole. Simply by not bothering to apply for a driver’s license, an individual can escape a felony charge if stopped. Unfortunately for Willie Maurice Floyd, 37, the Florida Court of Appeal last week ruled that the loophole does not work for someone who applied for a learner’s permit.
Floyd’s license has been suspended fifteen times, which would seem at first to more than qualify under the state law designating habitual offenders. This time, Floyd was allegedly speeding in Escambia County on March 25, 2014. He failed to appear for his court hearing on felony charges of driving without a license, but prosecutors decided to drop that charge and focused on whether Floyd should receive the enhanced punishment under the habitual offender statute.
“By its own terms, the statute applies only if a ‘driver license has been revoked,’ and the Florida Supreme Court has confirmed that the statute does not apply to those who never had a license in the first place,” appellate Judge Allen C. Winsor explained.
Floyd insisted that the learner’s permit is not a driver’s license, so he should not be charged with a felony because he never had a license. Escambia County Circuit Court Judge Thomas V. Dannheisser disagreed and found Floyd guilty on January 11, 2016. Floyd was sentenced to just under three years in prison. The three-judge appellate panel agreed that this was the appropriate outcome.
“Although Floyd (and perhaps others) refer colloquially to a ‘learner’s permit,’ the Florida legislature chose to classify what Floyd held as a ‘learner’s driver license,'” Judge Winsor wrote for the panel. “A ‘learner’s driver license’ indeed authorizes a holder to drive a motor vehicle, albeit with certain restrictions… Floyd correctly notes that the license ‘does not allow someone to drive a car by themselves,’ but it does allow someone to drive a car. The statutory definition of ‘driver license’ includes learner’s licenses like the one Floyd once held.”
Floyd served two years in prison and was released on January 23. His first run-in with the county was in 2009, when the court fined him $542 for his first driving without a license conviction. He received an automatic driver’s license suspension for failing to pay the fine — except he was only driving on a learner’s permit without a licensed driver with him in the car.
A copy of the decision is available in an 80k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Floyd v. Florida (Court of Appeal, State of Florida, 11/20/2018)