Florida Supreme Court Rules Correct Address and Notice Enough to Support Suspended License Conviction – Anderson v. State

March 21, 2012 by David S. Seltzer

As a Miami-Dade suspended license lawyer, I know how easy it is to be charged with driving on a suspended license here in Florida. Our state legislature has made many things punishable with a driver’s license suspension, from typical offenses like too many points to an unrelated problem like a child support dispute. A particular problem for Florida drivers is the fact that notices of license suspensions go through the mail, making them easy to miss when the intended recipient has moved or something goes wrong with the mail. So I was interested to read about a recent Florida Supreme Court decision that clarifies when notice of a suspended license can be considered legally sufficient. In Anderson v. State, the court said drivers are considered to know about their suspensions when the state follows correct procedures and the address is proven correct.

Prior to the license suspension, Candie Marie Anderson pleaded guilty to burglary, grand theft and falsification of ownership to a pawnbroker. She received a five-year sentence that was suspended as long as she paid restitution, completed two years of community control and served probation. However, she failed to pay the restitution by a deadline, and this was both a violation of her probation and a trigger for automatic suspension of her driver’s license. The probation officer was informed that Anderson was driving despite the suspension and arrested her at their next probation meeting after she admitted driving there. She claimed she had received no notice of the suspension. After the arrest, she paid the restitution and had her license restored, but still faced the criminal charge. At her probation violation hearing, her attorney argued that the mere fact of mailing the notice to Anderson’s correct address did not support finding she knew of the suspension. The trial court disagreed and reinstated her five-year sentence.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed, finding that compliance with the notice process outlined by Florida statute is sufficient to show actual knowledge, along with proof that the address is correct. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed again. The law creates a rebuttable presumption that a notice sent to the driver’s current address creates knowledge in most situations, but not in situations like Anderson’s, in which the suspension comes from a failure to pay a fine. Earlier Fourth and First District rulings required prosecutors to prove actual knowledge in such situations, but the state high court disapproved of these and sided with the Fifth. It interpreted the license suspension section of the law together with another section that defines notification as occurring when notice is mailed to the last known mailing address. Thus, the high court said, no proof of actual knowledge is required, and Anderson was validly convicted.

This decision will be hard on Florida drivers who seek the help of Fort Lauderdale driving while license suspended attorneys like me. It’s not hard to think of situations where the DHSMV may send first-class mail with a notice of suspension, but the notice is never actually received. The recipient may move unexpectedly, the mail may fail or there may be bureaucratic records problems that keep the notice from going to the right person. I believe, as a south Florida driver’s license suspension lawyer, that everyone should have the opportunity to prove they genuinely didn’t know the license was suspended. Under this decision, the mere act of mailing can assure a conviction, regardless of what happens next. It’s not hard to see from Anderson’s case that this can be life-changing.

If you’re charged with driving with a suspended license or any other crime in Florida, don’t hesitate to contact Seltzer Law, P.A., for a free, confidential consultation. You can call us 24 hours a day and seven days a week at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email.

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