We often hear that someone is a Habitual Violator. What does that mean and why do they get away with it? First, Habitual Violator is a classification developed by the Department of Public Safety (the Department which hands out driver's licenses) that says that a person is not allowed to have a driver's license, get a driver's license, or drive a car under any circumstances. A person can be "declared" a habitual violator for a number of reasons.
Usually a person has been arrested for and convicted of DUIs and other offenses. To be "declared" a habitual violator a person must be arrested three times within a five year period and be later convicted of those offenses (although not necessarily within five years of each other); the offenses which will qualify a person as a recidivist are: DUI, Fleeing a Police Officer, Hit and Run, Racing, Fraudulent application for a license, Reckless Driving, Homicide by Vehicle, Feticide by Vehicle, Serious Injury by Vehicle, Impersonating a Police Officer, or a previous conviction for Habitual Violator.
After a person is declared, in order to be a Habitual Violator the person must be "served" with notice. Service of notice can happen when a Judge tells a person they are a Habitual Violator, or if the Department sends the person notice by certified mail, or if the person is given notice in person (almost anyone can serve the notice in person, but it is usually the Georgia State Patrol.) Once a person is declared and served as a Habitual Violator, they may not drive for five years. However, being declared a Habitual Violator does not automatically make the person guilty of any criminal charge (although they would have been previously convicted of at least three different offenses in order to be declared in the first place).
Second, Habitual Violator can be a criminal charge. A criminal charge arises when a person has been declared a Habitual Violator by the Department of Public Safety, served personally or by certified mail with notice of the Habitual Violator status, and is afterward caught driving. It does not matter whether the person was DUI at the time he is driving, since he or she is not allowed to be driving at all. If a person is charged with Habitual Violator and convicted of that charge, then they will be a convicted felon. Habitual Violator is a felony offense which carries a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years for a sentence. There is a minimum mandatory $750 fine, although the fines are usually more than that. The Judge can also require many different conditions on a sentence, such as Drug and Alcohol Testing, a GED program, or no illegal driving.
After a person has been declared a habitual violator, served with notice, and then has a clean driving record for two years, they may be eligible to apply for a probationary license from the Department of Public Safety. That probationary license will be for a very limited purpose, usually to go to work, school, or get medical attention. If the person is driving for any other purpose, they can be prosecuted for a misdemeanor. If, however, they are DUI or caught fleeing from the police, or various other offenses while driving with the probationary license, they can be prosecuted not only for the new offenses, but also for a felony violation of their probationary license.
Habitual Violator status can also increase the punishment on some other crimes. For example, if a person has been declared a Habitual Violator and kills someone while driving (commits a new Homicide by Vehicle), even if they were not drinking and violated no other traffic laws, the Homicide by Vehicle is also a felony (otherwise the case would be treated as a misdemeanor). Aggravated Sentencing applies to Homicide by Vehicle, Feticide by Vehicle, and Serious Injury by Vehicle.