Florida Court Discusses Penalties for Traffic Violations

While people often think of traffic offenses as minor infractions, they can often result in significant penalties. Additionally, the sentencing guidelines for traffic violations carry the same weight as other crimes, and if a court fails to provide them their due regard, it may result in the reversal of a sentence. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida opinion issued in a traffic case in which the State appealed the sentence imposed on the defendant as illegal. If you are charged with a traffic offense, it is critical to retain an assertive Clearwater traffic violation defense lawyer to help you protect your rights.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the police stopped the defendant for running a stop sign. During the stop, the officer learned that the defendant’s license was suspended. As such, the defendant was arrested and charged with driving with a suspended license. The traffic citation and probable cause affidavit indicated that the defendant had three prior convictions for driving with a suspended license.

Reportedly, however, the information only listed on a prior conviction for driving with a suspended license. The defendant entered a no-contest plea in exchange for a sentence of payment of court cost and an adjudication. The State objected, arguing that the statute defining the offense required a mandatory ten-day jail sentence for third and subsequent convictions. The court denied the State’s objections, adjudicated the defendant guilty, and required him to pay court costs. The State then appealed, arguing the sentence was illegal.

Mandatory Sentences in Traffic Violation Cases

On appeal, the court found in favor of the State, vacated the sentence, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The appellate court noted that pursuant to the law defining the offense of driving with a suspended license, a third or subsequent offense can be classified as a felony in certain situations. Even if it is charged as a misdemeanor, however, it carries a minimum penalty of a ten-day jail sentence.

Here, the trial court refused to impose the jail sentence on the grounds that it believed the 2019 amendment to the applicable law to include the mandatory sentence was an ex post facto law as it applied to the defendant’s prior convictions. The appellate court found that the trial court erred in applying the ex post facto rule, however, noting that the amendment did not change the elements of the crime or the State’s burden of proof. Instead, it merely increased the penalty. Thus, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Trusted Clearwater Attorney

Traffic violations can result in weighty civil and criminal punishments, including, in some cases, jail time. If you are charged with committing a traffic violation, it is advisable to speak to an attorney about your potential defenses.  William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a trusted Clearwater criminal defense attorney who can advise you of your rights and aid you in seeking the best legal outcome available under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Hanlon through the online form or by calling 727-897-5413 to set up a meeting.

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