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Suburban Legal Myths

International Driver’s License Myth

If you do not live in Florida and do not work in Florida you can use a valid international Driver’s License (so long as your privilege to drive in Florida is not suspended).  Otherwise you cannot use an International Driver’s License.


322.01  Definitions

(34)  “Resident” means a person who has his or her principal place of domicile in this state for a period of more than 6 consecutive months, has registered to vote, has made a statement of domicile pursuant to s. 222.17, or has filed for homestead tax exemption on property in this state.

322.031  Nonresident; when license required.

(1)  In every case in which a nonresident, except a nonresident migrant or seasonal farm worker as defined in s. 316.003(61), accepts employment or engages in any trade, profession, or occupation in this state or enters his or her children to be educated in the public schools of this state, such nonresident shall, within 30 days after the commencement of such employment or education, be required to obtain a Florida driver’s license if such nonresident operates a motor vehicle on the highways of this state. The spouse or dependent child of such nonresident shall also be required to obtain a Florida driver’s license within that 30-day period prior to operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state.

(2)  A member of the United States Armed Forces on active duty in this state shall not be required to obtain a Florida driver’s license under this section solely because he or she enters his or her children to be educated in the public schools of this state if he or she has a valid military driving permit or a valid driver’s license issued by another state.

(3)  A nonresident who is domiciled in another state and who commutes into this state in order to work shall not be required to obtain a Florida driver’s license under this section solely because he or she has accepted employment or engages in any trade, profession, or occupation in this state if he or she has a valid driver’s license issued by another state. Further, any person who is enrolled as a student in a college or university and who is a nonresident but is in this state for a period of up to 6 months engaged in a work-study program for which academic credits are earned from a college whose credits or degrees are accepted for credit by at least three accredited institutions of higher learning, as defined in s. 1005.02, shall not be required to obtain a Florida driver’s license for the duration of the work-study program if such person has a valid driver’s license issued by another state. Any nonresident who is enrolled as a full-time student in any such institution of higher learning is also exempt from the requirement of obtaining a Florida driver’s license for the duration of such enrollment.

(4)  A nonresident who is at least 21 years of age and who has in his or her immediate possession a valid commercial driver’s license issued in substantial compliance with the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 may operate a motor vehicle of the type permitted by his or her license to be operated in this state.


322.04  Persons exempt from obtaining driver’s license.

(1)  The following persons are exempt from obtaining a driver’s license:

(a)  Any employee of the United States Government, while operating a noncommercial motor vehicle owned by or leased to the United States Government and being operated on official business.

(b)  Any person while driving or operating any road machine, farm tractor, or implement of husbandry temporarily operated or moved on a highway.

(c)  A nonresident who is at least 16 years of age and who has in his or her immediate possession a valid noncommercial driver’s license issued to the nonresident in his or her home state or country, may operate a motor vehicle of the type for which a Class E driver’s license is required in this state.

(d)  A nonresident who is at least 18 years of age and who has in his or her immediate possession a valid noncommercial driver’s license issued to the nonresident in his or her home state or country may operate a motor vehicle, other than a commercial motor vehicle, in this state.

(e)  Any person operating a golf cart, as defined in s. 320.01, which is operated in accordance with the provisions of s. 316.212.

(2)  The provisions of this section do not apply to any person to whom s. 322.031 applies.

(3)Any person working for a firm under contract to the United States Government, whose residence is without this state and whose main point of employment is without this state may drive a noncommercial vehicle on the public roads of this state for periods up to 60 days while in this state on temporary duty, provided such person has a valid driver’s license from the state of such person’s residence.

Who Needs One?

If you live in Florida and want to drive a motor vehicle on public streets and highways.

If you move to Florida and have a valid license from another state, you must get a Florida license within 30 days of becoming a resident. You are considered a resident of Florida if you:

Enroll your children in public school, or

Register to vote, or

File for a homestead exemption, or

Accept employment, or

Reside in Florida for more than six consecutive months.


Who Does Not Need One?

The following persons may drive in Florida without a Florida driver license, if they have a valid license from another state or country:

Any non-resident who is at least 16 years old.

Persons employed by the United States government driving a United States government motor vehicle on official business.

Any non-resident working for a firm on a contract for the United States government. (This exemption is only for 60 days.)

Any non-resident attending college in Florida.

Persons who drive only vehicles like farm tractors or road machines temporarily on the highway may drive without a license.

A licensed driver who lives in another state and travels regularly between his home and work in Florida.

Non-resident migrant farm workers even though they are employed or place children in the public schools, providing they have a valid license from their home state.

Members of the Armed Forces stationed in Florida and their dependents, with these exceptions:

Service member or spouse claims homestead exemption (All drivers in family must obtain Florida licenses),

Service member becomes employed (All drivers in family must obtain Florida licenses),

Spouse becomes employed (Spouse and children who drive must obtain Florida licenses),

Child becomes employed (Only employed child who drives must obtain Florida license)



International Drivers

Florida honors a valid foreign driver’s license with an international driving permit. Once your foreign license expires, you must apply for a FL learners permit and pass all required testing to receive a driver’s license. (Some exceptions apply for Canada, France, Germany and Taiwan. See the Florida Driver Manual for details.)


“I know someone with the same charge, and their case was thrown out.”

The last myth I will discuss is the myth of the “other person” that every client knows. This other person had the same charge as the client or an even worse charge. And this other person either had their case thrown out or they were treated much more leniently than the client, and it was due to one of the myths listed above.

The basis in truth to this mythical other person who no doubt hangs out with The Reasonable Person (AKA The Reasonable Man),134 and Elvis is that depending upon the crime charged, the facts of the case, the defendant, the defendant’s prior record, the alleged victim(s), the police officers, the Judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and luck, anything can happen in any case, and any myth can become a reality.

“The judge will throw my case out.”

Some people think that if they write a letter to the Judge or are allowed to talk to the Judge alone that they can get their case thrown out or the Judge will allow them to plea to a lesser offense or just sentence them to probation no matter what the charge. Obviously this myth comes from the fact that people naturally assume the Judge can do whatever she wants because she’s the Judge.

The reality is that in most instances, though not always, it is the prosecutor who has the most power in the courtroom. Only the prosecutor in almost all but the rarest instances can waive a minimum-mandatory.104 Only the prosecutor in most instances can dismiss a case.105 Only the prosecutor can amend the charges to a lesser offense, or less serious charge.106 And when no downward departure exists, only the prosecutor can agree to one. But clients don’t always see it that way. And sometimes, despite their lawyer’s advice they write a letter to the Judge, and or try to explain their case to the Judge at first appearance or any other time they think they can.

The defendant doesn’t understand that any letter he writes to the Judge will be given to the State attorney’s office. Some client’s even send letters directly to the State attorney’s office. At least these clients have a better idea of who is in charge, and a better chance of keeping the letter from being used against them at trial, since it is easier to argue that a letter sent to the state attorney’s officer is an inadmissible confidential plea-bargain negotation,107 as opposed to a letter sent to the Judge.  But either way, Judges and State attorneys are not good pen pals for defendants to have.

Luckily, however, not every correspondence between defendant and Judge, and defendant and the State attorney can be used against the defendant.108 And despite the prosecutor’s power, the Judge can dismiss a violation of probation warrant, and enter a Judgment of Acquittal before a jury verdict, and the state cannot do anything about either situation.109 And of course the Judge has the power to accept or reject any and all negotiated pleas.110

“She’s going to change her story at trial.”

Assuming a client can ever believe that one person’s word is in fact evidence, try convincing that same client that in very limited circumstances he can be found guilty even if the one person’s word is recanted at trial.57

Another daunting task is trying to convince a client that if a key witness recants her testimony after a trial, plea or sentencing, that there is no guarantee that the client will get a new trial, or be allowed to withdraw his plea. In fact, he may not even receive a hearing to determine if he is entitled to a new trial.

The truth is that most of the time if the only witness against a person recants her accusations at trial then the case is usually dismissed.58 There is even an argument that if the state knows the witness is going to recant her testimony it cannot call the witness to the stand for impeachment purposes only.59

Recantations after a plea or trial is another story altogether. Usually, the recantation of a victim or key state witness after a trial will at least result in a hearing to argue for a new trial based on the new recantation evidence.60 But very rarely does the hearing result in the granting of a new trial,61 but it does happen.62 Even after a plea, the recantation of the victim or key state witness may result in a hearing to argue for a new trial.63  But it is even rarer in this circumstance for a new trial to be granted.64 Though again it can happen. 65

The real myth here is the client’s belief that the alleged victim is in fact going to recant her testimony. Though, it does happen, it is not the norm.

“They never found a weapon.”

Then there is the person accused of any crime with a weapon who believes that since no weapon was recovered or introduced into evidence at trial, that he cannot be found guilty of having a weapon. Unfortunately, this is not the case.33 And ironic as it may seem, in certain cases where the so called weapon used is not a firearm or otherwise capable of causing death or serious bodily injury or not even a weapon at all, a defendant may be better off having the police finding the alleged weapon than not finding it.34 The reason being is that without the weapon all the jury has to rely on for the existence of the weapon is the witness or witnesses’ word versus the word of the defendant.

The basis in truth for the no weapon myth may come from the line of cases that state in a possession of a controlled substance case if the drug in question is not introduced into evidence the defendant prevails.35 In a forgery or uttering a forgery case if the document that was forged or uttered is not introduced into evidence then the defendant may also prevail.36

“I was already punished for those crimes. That’s Double Jeopardy!”

There are many myths attributable to the client’s prior record.  But before the client can espouse his mythical beliefs relating to his prior record, he first has to acknowledge that he actually has one. Many clients cannot or claim not to remember their prior record. And the longer the record is, the less they seem to recall. When they are confronted with their prior record their first response about each case is they thought it was dropped, sealed, or expunged.

Once they get passed this step and acknowledge that they do in fact have a prior record, the first myth that comes to mind is their belief that if adjudication was withheld the crime is no longer on their record (i.e. because it was dropped, sealed, or expunged), or because withholds just don’t count. The basis in truth for this myth comes from the fact that certain withholds can be sealed and ultimately expunged.  But a person is only allowed to seal or expunge one case per lifetime,88 it doesn’t just happen all by itself, and a sealed or expunged case can still be counted on a person’s scoresheet.89 A withhold for a felony charge prevents a person from losing their civil rights, which allows the person to continue to vote, serve on a jury, apply for Occupational Licenses, hold office, and bear arms.90  However, a person must still register as a felon,91 and wait three years after his sentence is over to apply for a concealed firearm’s permit, unless the felony case has been sealed or expunged.92

Some people have mythical beliefs about clemency and pardons.  They mistakenly believe that the former and latter take the charge off of a person’s record. Clemency gives a convicted felon most of his civil rights back. A convicted felon can apply for the kind of clemency that gives a person his civil rights back minus the right to bear arms as soon as his sentence is completed and complied with. But convicted felons have to wait eight years after their sentence is complete and complied with to apply for the kind of clemency that reinstates their right to bear arms.93 A person has to wait ten years until after his sentence is complete and complied with to even ask for a pardon.94 Only a full pardon includes the right to bear arms.95 But neither clemency nor a full pardon result in a convicted felon being eligible to seal and or expunge his record.96

There is also the myth that if the crime was committed along time ago it will no longer appear on a person’s record. Most clients cannot understand how their DUI from the seventies still shows up on their driving record. They think that after a certain amount of time it just magically falls off or just no longer counts. This myth has some basis in truth since some crimes can be deemed too remote in time to score on a person’s scoresheet,97 and too remote to be used for impeachment purposes.98 Also certain traffic citations that result in points on a person’s driver’s license stop counting towards a license suspension after three years,99 which may be why some people think certain crimes just vanish from their driving record.  And of course some people are lucky and certain charges do somehow get lost, destroyed or magically disappear.

Some people also believe that a person’s juvenile record will not count against them, and that all juvenile records are confidential.  For the most part this myth has for a long time been a reality, but the legislature has seen fit to make sure in certain instances a juvenile’s record is not so confidential100 or forgotten.101

Of course, the final response people give when they are confronted with their prior record and convinced it does in fact exist and count against them is that since they were already punished for those crimes they should not keep counting against them.  “That’s double-jeopardy. I already did my time for those crimes. I was already punished.”

Perhaps this is more wishful thinking than a myth, since most people when confronted agree that a person with no prior record should not be treated the same as a person who has a prior record. In fact, this is the very same argument these people made when they were first charged with a crime.  They even made this argument when their first crime was quite serious, and their lack of prior record really didn’t matter.

“The judge threw my case out.”

Then there are the myths that come from the people who are released from jail because the Judge did not find Probable Cause to detain them,102 or thirty-three days have passed without the state filing an information against them. 103

These clients naturally believe that their case has been thrown out by the Judge and they no longer have to appear in court. The reality is sometimes this ends up being the case, but it’s not for certain, which is why some clients end up with a warrant for failing to appear that quickly brings them back to reality.

“I’ll win on appeal.”

Then there is the myth of the appeal. Now I’m all for defendant’s being informed of their rights, but perhaps the most deceiving information a defendant is given is the one that comes right after the Defendant has pled and been sentenced. That’s when he’s told, “you have thirty days to appeal your sentence.” He doesn’t know what, “for collateral purposes only” means. He doesn’t understand that for the most part these are mere obligatory words. That the chances of winning an appeal after a plea and sentence are highly unlikely to say the least. No, he like just about every other client is under the long-standing myth that he can appeal and he will win his appeal, whether he lost at trial or pled.

The basis in truth here of course is that a small number of people do win their appeals, and sometimes appeals are even won when the appellate attorney has given up on winning by filing an Andersbrief.132 For those unfamiliar with the term, an Anders brief is an appellate brief filed in cases where appellate counsel believes that there is no basis for an appeal. That an appeal in fact would be frivolous. An Anders brief is basically code for, “nothing here.”

The Appellate court Judges or rather their Law clerks then review the record on appeal to confirm that there is in fact, “nothing there.” But what if there is something there. What if appellate counsel missed something or was too lazy to even look for it because he didn’t feel like writing an appeal. Now, a lot can be said for getting other people, especially Appellate Judges and or their Law clerks to do your work.  But if they find something worth overturning on appeal, then shouldn’t the attorney who submitted the Anders brief be billed costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

“I want a REAL lawyer!”

Many people believe that Assistant Public Defenders are not lawyers. Some clients refer to them as “Public Pretenders” and “Public Offenders.” These clients are often heard saying, “I want a real lawyer” (AKA private attorney), and “if I had a real lawyer I would have gone to trial and won.”  Some people believe that lawyers have to apprentice at the Public Defender’s Office before they can practice as “Real Lawyers.” The myth that Assistant Public Defender are not real lawyers is perpetuated first by the defendants assigned to the Public Defender’s Office, who no one ever believes except when they say Assistant Public Defenders are not a real lawyer.  Then by some Private attorneys who want people to believe if they have the Public Defender they will go to jail or prison forever so they should hire a private attorney. And even by some Judges who criticize Public Defenders.

Now all this negative press spreads into the community at large.  And before long television shows are airing episodes demeaning Public Defenders. One aired a story where at first appearance it looks like the Judge is going to give the client the death penalty right there in the courtroom as her Public Defender stands around hopelessly not knowing what to do, and may even be getting ready to assist in the execution of her client. The tension mounts as the moment nears to the time the electric chair is going to be wheeled into the courtroom. Then at the last moment in comes a Superhero to save the day, or its equivalent; a high paid private attorney who shouts out some words, while waving some papers around, and the case is miraculously dismissed and an apology issued to the Defendant. This of course perpetuates the myth to the point that when it comes to the Public Defender the general public feels: You get what you pay for.  And then there are ironically the times a person didn’t get what he didn’t pay for, and it was a good thing.131

The only basis in reality to this myth is that some Assistant Public Defenders are right out of law school, and therefore will not usually be as good as a more seasoned private attorney. But usually, neither will the brand new private attorneys who right after Law School open their own Law Firms. The Assistant Public Defenders are also overworked, and burdened with too many cases. They are similar to a chef who has to make dinner for a hundred people. No matter what there will always be some people who don’t like the food. But the truth is, some Assistant Public Defenders are just as good as some private attorneys, and some are even better, and some are of course worse. In other words the percentage of Assistant Public Defenders who don’t perform up to standards is the same as the percentage of private attorneys who don’t.

“If I marry her, she can’t testify against me.”

“If my girlfriend is forced to show-up at trial, can I marry her and prevent her from testifying against me?”

Besides wondering how long a marriage like this would last, the answer is no. Obviously this myth has its basis in truth from the husband-wife privilege.82 But the privilege only applies to conversations made during the marriage, not before.83 It does not apply when the husband or wife are victims of the other’s criminal act,84 observe the other’s criminal activity85 or to any non-verbal acts. And it only applies to those conversations where there exists an expectation of privacy86 in what is said, and the privilege can only be asserted during a testimonial proceeding.87

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