On March 29, 2017, a new law took effect in Michigan that deals with the use of foreign driver’s licenses. Under the new law, all foreign licenses are potentially valid as opposed to the prior law, that only allowed the use of licenses from “treaty countries.” Before the new law, driver’s licenses were not recognized from countries like Chile, China (Republic of China), Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Holy See, Indonesia, Ireland, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, and Venezuela. Under the new law, the driver’s license from any non-treaty country will allow for the operation of a vehicle in Michigan if the license contains the person’s name, address and other identifying characteristics. If the license is not in English, the driver must have a document containing a photograph and a valid translation.
A Michigan resident must have a Michigan driver’s license. This means that someone who is residing in Michigan must get a Michigan driver’s license or be in violation of the law. A foreign driver’s license will not be valid for a Michigan resident. An undocumented alien will not be able to get a Michigan driver’s license regardless of the length of time he or she is living in Michigan. Many police officers undoubtedly struggle to understand that an undocumented immigrant, living in Michigan, will be able to use a foreign license because he or she cannot lawfully establish residency.
Driving While License Never Acquired in Michigan
The same law that criminalizes driving while license suspended (DWLS) also includes a person who has never applied for a driver’s license. A first offense for person caught driving who has never applied for a license is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and up to 2 years of probation. A second offense has a maximum jail time of 1 year. If a person who has never applied for a license is driving and causes an accident that results in death or serious bodily injury. The offense is a felony punishable by either 15 or 5 years depending on whether there was a death or serious injury.
Allowing an Unlicensed Person to Drive
What happens if you allow a friend or relative, visiting from another country, to drive your car even though that person does not have a valid driver’s license? You would be just as guilty as the person driving. The Motor Vehicle Code provides that allowing a person without a valid license to drive is a misdemeanor. If an injury or death results from the accident, the offense will be a felony. Because foreign driver’s licenses are valid in Michigan, allowing someone to drive with a valid foreign driver’s license is not a crime.
Defense to Driving While License Suspended or Never Applied
There is one defense provided for in the Motor Vehicle Code. The law states that it is not a crime to drive without a valid license if the vehicle is being operated solely for the purpose of protecting human life or property, if the life or property is endangered and getting prompt aid is essential. A person who is licensed in another country does not need to use this defense because foreign driver’s licenses are valid in Michigan.
Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you or someone you care about is charged in Michigan with a misdemeanor or felony offense, please call LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. at (248) 263-6800 or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will promptly contact you. We will find a way to help you.