The good news is that I'm not going to have a "Driving While Suspended" charge added to my record. The bad news is I still had to pay $190 in court costs to get out of the ticket. It stinks that I had to spend two days in court and $190 to avoid this, but at this point I'm just glad to have it out of my way. I was really concerned that I was going to end up with an offense on my record that I would never be able to get rid of. It's been hard enough trying to figure out how to get the crimes of the identity thief removed.
The judge was willing to drop the charges because it was obvious that I had paid the fines and had acted in good faith. I asked her specifically "So, if I pay fines by mail they don't enter them as paid until they actually deposit the check, as opposed to when the payment is actually received." She confirmed that this was the case, and also said that the best way to avoid this is to hand-deliver your payment so that you will receive proof of when you actually paid the fines.
After leaving the courthouse I went directly to the County Clerk's office and paid the $190 in court costs so that they can't do the same thing to me again. I have a dated receipt this time, so it shouldn't be a problem again. At least I hope it won't.
Later that evening some friends and I went to a local sports bar to get some wings, and while we were eating I noticed two of the clerks from the County Clerk's office sitting at the bar. The one that I had paid the court costs to was on his cell phone, and the other was sitting there with no one to talk to. So I went up to her and joked, "Hey, I just paid you guys $190 in court costs today. Any chance you could pick up my tab?" She recognized me and we ended up having an interesting conversation about people's licenses getting suspended.
I told her that my neighbor had just told me that the same thing happened to him. He had paid his fines, and nearly two years later he got pulled over and received a ticket for driving while suspended. He had never received notification that his license had been suspended either. The clerk said that she had actually talked to a judge about this before. She was told that the state expects you to know the status of your driver's license regardless of whether they notify you or not. She also told me that the judges had to execute the law so they can't just dismiss these tickets outright. What they can do is amend the charge to driving without your driver's license with you, which they can drop the fines for and just charge court costs. At least that's my understanding. I didn't get around to confirming the details of this.
She also warned me about another common "trick" (her word) that they use. In Florida, when you drop an insurance policy the insurance company is required to notify the state that you no longer have insurance on your vehicle. If you don't turn in your tags or give them proof that you've sold the uninsured vehicle they will automatically suspend your driver's license. You should be notified when this happens, but obviously this is not always the case.
The "trick" however, occurs when you switch insurance companies. If the old company notifies them that you dropped your policy before the new insurance company notifies them that you have a new policy they will suspend your driver's license. Even if you have an insurance card proving that you have insurance you can still be issued a ticket for driving while suspended. You will then be required to go to court to prove that you had insurance before they will drop the charge. The court costs for this add up to $250. She said they would usually drop the court costs in this situation, but you have to ask them to drop them. Keep this in mind if this ever happens to you.
She said the only way to be certain to avoid this when switching insurance companies is to immediately bring your new insurance card to the DMV and show them that you've got a new insurance company. Also, if you have a vehicle that you've sold or no longer drive, make sure to bring your tags back to the DMV or an affidavit stating that the vehicle has been sold or is no longer being driven. Otherwise it's very likely that your license will get suspended.
Is this a failure of the system, or does it work this way by design?
Next post: The New Jersey Connection