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August 1, 2017

Judge Layne Smith
OFTENTIMES, LEON COUNTY Judge Layne Smith, above, will ask a defendant in his courtroom with a suspended or revoked driver’s license whether they understand how to restore their driving privileges. Nine times out of 10, they are “not quite sure” how to get their license back, said Judge Smith, who organized a July event at the Leon County Court Annex in Tallahassee, where 237 area citizens were assisted, and 20 were able to walk away with their licenses in hand. Staff from the Florida Department of Revenue, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Leon County Clerk of Court, and judges met face-to-face with registrants about how to get their driver’s licenses back, with special consideration toward their specific case. A second event is planned for October. “This is a hard society to get around in without a car,” Judge Smith asserted, adding many people without transportation cannot sustain employment and resort to committing crimes, like stealing, to get by. They also may be on welfare or food stamps. “The bottom line is, I initiated this program because there is a big need in Leon Count

Judges driven to help those with suspended licenses
Citizens are educated on how to get their driving privileges back

Crowds arrived by bus, by foot, or by getting a lift from friends and family at the Leon County Court Annex in Tallahassee, waiting their turn to see how they could get their driver’s licenses restored.

Inside the courthouse on July 7, Leon County Judges Layne Smith and Stephen Everett presided over hearings as part of a driver’s license clinic, designed to help individuals case-by-case learn how to get back their revoked or suspended driving privileges. Nearly 237 area citizens were assisted, and 20 were able to walk away with their licenses in hand.

Staff from the Florida Department of Revenue, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and the Leon County Clerk of Court were also present for in-person meetings with registrants to educate them on how to regain their driver’s licenses with special consideration toward their specific cases.

Judge Smith said the event went wonderfully, and over 600 people entered and exited the annex courthouse that day.

“It showed the number of family members and friends from the community that brought others in who couldn’t drive there themselves for obvious reasons,” he said, noting the well-attended event has caused quite a bit of interest from other judges and counties throughout the state.

“I’ve talked to at least eight [judges] that want further information and are considering doing a driver’s license clinic in their county,” Judge Smith said, including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Bay, Duval, St. Johns, Orange, and Broward counties.

An additional event has been scheduled on October 13 in Leon County to accommodate the volume of registrants. Judge Smith estimated between 80 and 100 walk-ins were helped on July 7, but approximately 110 out of 500 prior registrants did not show up.

Judge Smith organized the clinic, the first of its kind in Leon County, in order to help resolve a significant problem in the area. Hundreds of Leon County drivers are operating a vehicle with a suspended or revoked license, and Smith says nine out of 10 drivers do not understand what is required of them to get their licenses back.

He said most individuals with revoked or suspended licenses choose to drive illegally. When someone is pulled over for a traffic infraction, and discovered operating a motor vehicle while their license is suspended or revoked, severe penalties apply. The first violation could be a second-degree misdemeanor. The second instance could be a first-degree misdemeanor. The third violation can be a third-degree felony.

A handful of reasons why a license could be suspended or revoked, Judge Smith explained, include failure to resolve traffic infractions or accumulating too many points on a license; failure to have insurance; or failure to satisfy child support obligations.

Florida Bar Executive Director John F. Harkness, Jr., said the Tallahassee driver’s license clinic is “a new way of doing something to help people.”

“We, the court and Bar, have to keep up with changing times,” he said. “A lot of times, the people go to court but they’re not satisfied. We have an obligation to try to take care of their problems. We are going to have to do it in new and innovative ways.”

Smith said everyone who was involved in the July 7 event will have a debriefing to discuss what they learned, and what could improve efficiency for the October 13 driver’s license clinic.

[Revised: 05-15-2018]