If you are declared a habitual traffic offender in SC, your license will be revoked, and you could be arrested and charged with a five-year felony offense if you are caught driving under suspension.
For many people, habitual traffic offender status comes as a surprise – one day, you receive a letter from the DMV that says, because you have accumulated too many traffic convictions, your license has been revoked. What now?
In this article, we will go over the basics of habitual traffic offender status in SC, including:
- What habitual traffic offender status means,
- The types of traffic convictions that can result in habitual traffic offender status,
- What you can do if the DMV makes a mistake, and
- How to get your license back early if you have been declared a habitual traffic offender.
What is a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO)?
Unfortunately, judges, prosecutors, and even defense attorneys won’t always tell you when a traffic offense is going to result in habitual traffic offender status.
How do you avoid a license revocation? 1) Don’t get traffic tickets, and 2) When you get a traffic ticket, fight it so you are not accumulating offenses. If your attorney is recommending that you plead to a traffic offense, ask them if this is something that will result in habitual traffic offender status.
What Type of Traffic Offenses Result in Habitual Traffic Offender Status?
If you are convicted of three or more serious traffic offenses within three years, your license will be revoked. These include:
(a) Three or more convictions, singularly or in combination of any of the following separate and distinct offenses arising out of separate acts:
(1) Voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle;
(2) Operating or attempting to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotics or drugs;
(3) Driving or operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner;
(4) Driving a motor vehicle while his license, permit, or privilege to drive a motor vehicle has been suspended or revoked, except a conviction for driving under suspension for failure to file proof of financial responsibility;
(5) Any offense punishable as a felony under the motor vehicle laws of this State or any felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used;
(6) Failure of the driver of a motor vehicle involved in any accident resulting in the death or injury of any person to stop close to the scene of such accident and report his identity.
You can also be declared a habitual traffic offender if you have ten or more convictions within three years for any traffic tickets that carry four or more points – this includes offenses charged under state, federal, or municipal laws or offenses charged in another state.
What if the DMV is Wrong? Can I Fight Habitual Traffic Offender Status?
If the DMV believes that you have been convicted of three or more serious traffic violations or ten or more four-point traffic violations, you will get a letter in the mail notifying you of their decision.
What if they are wrong?
If you act quickly, you can challenge the DMV’s decision by requesting a contested case hearing with the Office of Motor Vehicles, where you or your attorney will have the opportunity to show a hearing officer why the DMV was mistaken and why your license should not be revoked.
For example, in SCDMV v. Dover, the DMV had declared Dover a habitual traffic offender based, in part, on a reckless driving conviction in Virginia. At Dover’s administrative hearing, he was able to show that, although the offense was called “reckless driving,” the Virginia offense was based only on speeding.
Because speeding does not qualify as a predicate offense for habitual traffic offender status (under the three-strikes provision), the Court of Appeals held that Dover should not have been declared a habitual traffic offender.
How Long is the License Revocation for a Habitual Traffic Offender?
Habitual traffic offender status lasts for five years from the date of the DMV’s determination that you are an HTO. During those five years, you are subject to a felony offense that carries up to five years in prison if you are caught driving.
You may be able to get your license back sooner, though, if you meet the statutory requirements.
You May be Able to Get Your License Back After Two Years
Under SC Code Section 56-1-1090, you can ask the DMV to restore your license – two years after the beginning of the revocation, if the following conditions are met:
(a) the person must not have had a previous habitual offender suspension in this or another state;
(b) the person must not have driven a motor vehicle during the habitual offender suspension period;
(c) the person must not have been convicted of or have charges pending for any alcohol or drug violations committed during the habitual offender suspension period;
(d) the person must not have been convicted of or have charges pending for any offense listed in Section 56-1-1020 committed during the habitual offender suspension period; and
(e) the person must not have any other mandatory driver’s license suspension that has not yet reached its end date.
If the DMV denies your request, you can then request “a de novo contested case hearing with the Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act and the rules of procedure for the Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings,” and ask a hearing officer to restore your license.
If you have been charged with a traffic violation in SC, your traffic lawyer in Myrtle Beach may be able to help you avoid driving points, license suspensions, higher insurance premiums, and habitual traffic offender status.
If you have been declared a habitual traffic offender, your attorney on the Axelrod team may be able to help you correct mistakes made by the DMV or apply to have your license returned early.