Driving While License Suspended/Revoked (DWLI): The DPS Nightmare

By Allen, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Kyle T. Therrian
Office Number: (972) 562-7549
24 Hr Jail Release: (214) 403-6522


License suspensions can be like quicksand. Everyone needs to drive and rarely will a notification of suspension actually prevent a person from driving to earn a living. As many find out the hard way, driving in the wake of a current suspension will only trigger more suspensions, more fees and eventually result in an arrest and criminal prosecution. At some point in the DPS purgatory, a person stops to ask “how did this happen?” and “how do I fix this?” The answers are not usually clear nor are they easy to find. This article addresses some common concerns with driver’s license suspensions.

What Triggers a License Suspension?

A license suspension is triggered by one of two events: (1) an automatic suspension due to the conviction of a certain offense, or (2) a DPS administrative suspension based on certain enumerated acts or omissions of the license holder. For a valid suspension, DPS must give notice of the suspension and, depending on the type of suspension, an opportunity to contest the suspension. The law presumes that proper notice is given when directed to the license address.

Automatic Suspensions / Conviction Suspensions

Article 521 of the Texas Transportation Code provides a laundry list of offenses for which a conviction will result in a driver’s license suspension. These are automatic suspensions.

  • Criminally Negligent Homicide
  • Evading Arrest
  • DWI
  • Intoxication Assault
  • Various felony offenses involving a motor vehicle
  • Accident Involving Personal Injury or Death
  • Manslaughter involving a vehicle
  • Offenses involving minors and alcohol
  • Fictitious license plates
  • Failing to comply with sex offender requirements
  • Racing on a Highway
  • Providing Alcohol to a Minor
  • Stealing gas
  • Second conviction of Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility
  • Various drug offenses including Possession of Marijuana

DPS Administrative Suspensions

There is also a list of acts or omissions which can result in DPS suspending your license without regard to the outcome of any criminal matter. These suspensions are of the “non-automatic” variety – meaning they can be contested. They include:

  • A determination by DPS that the license holder was driving during a period of suspension
  • A determination by DPS that the license holder habitually drives recklessly or negligently
  • A determination by DPS that the license holder is a habitual violator of the traffic laws
  • A determination by DPS that the license holder permitted unlawful use of his/her license
  • A determination by DPS that the license holder has 2+ convictions involving a license restriction
  • A determination by DPS that the license holder was responsible for a serious car accident
  • A determination by DPS that the license holder under the age of 21 has fled from officers
  • A determination by DPS that the license holder under the age of 21 has committed 2+ moving violations in a year

When DPS alleges one of these acts or omissions as the basis of a license suspension, the licensee has an opportunity to contest the suspension before a Justice of the Peace or County Court judge. In addition to the suspensions listed above, DPS may also suspend a license indefinitely without a hearing for failure to pay DPS surcharges and Failure to maintain an SR-22 insurance policy.

How to Get Out of the Vicious Cycle

Many people make the decision to keep driving during a period of suspension. On the surface, driver’s license violations seem trivial. Without question, this is what most people assume before they are put in jail for a second offense of DWLI or buried under a seemingly never-ending stack of suspensions. The law creates a mixed atmosphere of urgency and hopelessness. Those who muster the incentive to contact DPS with their license issues find their inspiration to resolve the problem quashed by several hours on hold or multiple transfers to people who can shed very little light on problems and/or solutions.

Like killing a weed, license issues are best resolved by attacking the source. For most, the source of the problem is license holder prioritizing the practical necessity to drive over the legal prohibitions. DPS’s robotic and unsympathetic application of suspension rules seem to indicate that this priority structure is unacceptable. But, this is not so. The law allows individuals to cut DPS out of the decision-making process completely and to seek help from a usually more sympathetic county judge. A county judge can get involved in two ways:

  1. Granting an Occupational License: an occupational license is an order from a county court judge which permits limited driving privileges. The occupational license will allow a license holder to drive for “essential needs” until all pre-existing suspensions expire. But, more importantly, it will prevent future suspensions arising from a DPS determination of “driving during a period of suspension.”
  2. Ruling on the validity of the suspension: Whether it is your first suspension or your 15th, contesting a suspension can pay dividends. Not only can DPS fail to prove their case, the judge can probate a DPS administrative suspension and save you extra months of suspended driving privileges.

What Happens When I am Charged with a Class A or B Misdemeanor (DWLI with Prior Conviction)?

Diligence can pay dividends when dealing with a crime of responsibility. Rectifying driver’s license issues and obtaining limited driving privileges by way of an occupational driver’s license can help persuade a prosecutor to act leniently. More often than not, the State has the ability win a DWLI case, handily. At the same time, prosecutors are usually looking for reasons to dispose of a DWLI case in a much simpler and defendant-friendly fashion. A demonstration of responsibility after the fact can often be that reason.

*Kyle Therrian is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice on any case you should contact an attorney directly.

Speak Your Mind