One of the cool things about criminal law is that our evidence, disputes, and analysis are open to the public. All of our disagreements at motion hearings and trials are open to the public. If an “expert” claims that XYZ is true, that expert will be subject to cross-examination, and he or she must answer the opposing side’s questions (redundant, I know). This is not true of science. What we think of as “scientific truth” is subject to the whims of those who decide what will be published and who should be awarded research money. The culture of science discourages dissent, so science typically doesn’t advance based on honest debates about the evidence, but rather, “science advances one funeral at a time” (Max Planck). Dr. Henry Bauer, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry & Science at Virginia Tech, explains that for many “scientific truths”, “there are perfectly competent and well informed scientist who disagree on the basis of good evidence with what everyone else believes, and that this evidence and the arguments offered by these dissenters is simply ignored by their supposed peers, who seek to enforce an orthodoxy instead of assessing all the evidence with an open mind.” Bauer, Henry “Dogmatism in Science and Medicine”
The criminal court system is far more intellectually honest than much of the scientific community. Criminal justice issues are subject to cross examination in a public forum, now, try getting a scientist to defend their views in a public and most will only show up if the opposition still believes the earth is flat. In criminal law, when several judges disagree, sometimes the Supreme Court will step in to resolve the dispute, and the entire process is open to the public. Every piece of evidence, every appellate brief, every oral argument. So today, we’re going to examine one of many disagreements percolating in Florida’s criminal courts regarding the popular criminal charge of driving while license suspended or revoked (DWLS).
At first glance, an arrest for driving while license suspended implies that the citizen at one time possessed a valid driver’s license that has since been suspended or revoked. But many folks in Florida have never had a driver’s license to begin with, and yet they still end up getting arrested for driving on their suspended (nonexistent) license. Should a person who has never had a license be convicted of driving on a suspended license? Florida courts disagree on this issue, so let’s begin the analysis with a (bad) case out of the Second District Court of Appeals, Carroll v. State, 761 So. 2d 417 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2000).