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Williams v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

April 18, 2018

John Eugene Williams, III, Appellant,
v.
State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the County Court for Alachua County. Walter M. Green, Judge.

          Andy Thomas, Public Defender, Lori A. Willner, Assistant Public Defender, Tallahassee, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Sharon S. Traxler, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          LEWIS, JUDGE.

         Appellant, John Eugene Williams, III, challenges in these consolidated cases his convictions for violating section 322.34(2)(b), Florida Statutes (2016), which makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for a person, except a habitual traffic offender, to obtain a second conviction for driving a motor vehicle while knowing that his or her driver's license or driving privilege has been canceled, suspended, or revoked. Appellant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the charges because the only offense with which he can be charged is driving without a valid driver's license given that he is a habitual traffic offender and he has never had a Florida driver's license and does not fall within a statutory exemption to the licensure requirement. For the foregoing reasons, we agree and, therefore, reverse and remand.

         Appellant entered a plea of no contest to two charges of violating section 322.34(2)(b), while expressly reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss the charges. In his motion to dismiss, filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.190(c)(4), Appellant argued that he could only be charged with driving without a valid driver's license because he was a habitual traffic offender and he did not have a driver's license or driving privilege. Specifically, Appellant contended that he did not have a driving privilege because he did not have a Florida driver's license and he did not fall within a statutory exemption to the licensing requirement. The State did not dispute Appellant's status as a habitual traffic offender and admitted that he has never had a driver's license. The trial court denied the motion upon finding that a person who has never been issued a driver's license by any government nevertheless has a driving privilege that can be suspended or revoked and that such person can, therefore, be convicted under section 322.34(2). The court reasoned that Appellant's interpretation of the statutorily undefined term "driving privilege" in section 322.34(2) allows persons who have never had a driver's license to escape punishment due to imprecise statutory drafting, elevates an unlicensed driver to a legally superior position over a licensed driver, and contravenes the Legislature's intent to foster public highway safety.

         However, recognizing that there was support for Appellant's interpretation in the case law and in chapter 322, the trial court certified the following two questions as being of great public importance:

1: Does a person who has never had a driver's license issued to them by any government (state, federal, or foreign), and who is not exempt under section 322.04, have a 'driving privilege' in the State of Florida?
2: If the answer to Question One is no, can that person nonetheless be convicted of DWLSR, in violation of either section 322.34(1) or section 322.34(2), if DHSMV[[1] has suspended or revoked that person's privilege to obtain a valid driver's license?

         We have jurisdiction pursuant to Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.030 and 9.160, and we rephrase the certified questions as follows: Does a person who has never had a Florida driver's license and who is not exempt from the licensing requirement under section 322.031 or section 322.04, Florida Statutes, have a "driving privilege" such that he or she can be convicted under section 322.34(1) or section 322.34(2), Florida Statutes? We answer the rephrased certified question in the negative.

         The purpose of a motion filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.190(c)(4) is to determine whether the undisputed facts the State will rely on establish a prima facie case, as a matter of law, so as to permit a jury to find the defendant guilty of the charged crime. State v. Depriest, 180 So.3d 1099, 1100 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015). A trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss is reviewed de novo. Id. Questions of statutory construction are also reviewed de novo. W. Fla. Reg'l Med. Ctr., Inc. v. See, 79 So.3d 1, 8 (Fla. 2012).

         The polestar of statutory construction is legislative intent. Id. at 8. To discern legislative intent, the court must first look to the plain and obvious meaning of the statute's text, which may be discerned from a dictionary. Id. at 9. If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, the court must apply that unequivocal meaning and may not resort to the rules of statutory construction. Id. The court must give full effect to all statutory provisions and avoid readings that would render a part of a statute meaningless; additionally, the court may not construe an unambiguous statute in a way that would extend, modify, or limit its express terms or its reasonable and obvious implications. Bennett v. St. Vincent's Med. Ctr., Inc., 71 So.3d 828, 838 (Fla. 2011). If an ambiguity exists, however, the court should look to the rules of statutory construction to help interpret legislative intent. See, 79 So.3d at 9.

         "Except as otherwise authorized in [chapter 322, titled 'Driver Licenses'], a person may not drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state unless such person has a valid driver license issued under this chapter." § 322.03(1), Fla. Stat. (2016); see also ยง 322.39(1), Fla. Stat. (2016) ("It is a misdemeanor for any person to violate any of the provisions of this chapter, unless such violation is declared to be otherwise by this chapter or other law of this state."). Sections 322.031 and 322.04 set forth exceptions to the Florida driver's license requirement, ...


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