Explaining habitual motor offenses

Driving offenses

Have you ever wondered if the person driving in the car next to you has a license to behind the wheel?

Many of us may ask that when the other driver is being reckless or annoying, but we found out drivers who have had their license suspended is a common problem.

After reported a Johnson City man was arrested for his 20th offense of driving on a suspended license, we wanted to find out what the laws are around this charge.

A punishment intended to keep the worst drivers off the road may not be working.

You can lose the privilege to legally operate a car for a variety of reasons, but that doesn't seem to stop many from hoping back in the driver's seat.

"We call it a revolving door," Lt. Eddie Graybeal with the Washington County, Tenn. Sheriff's Department. "I've seen the same people in jail for the last 18 years continuously."

We learned from August 2012 through July 2013, the Washington County Tennessee Sheriff's Office arrested 180 people charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license. Add in the arrests from other agencies that bring inmates here and the number jumps to more than 1,400.

"Usually what I have seen over the years, once you get declared a habitual motor offender you don't care if you have a driver's license anymore," Graybeal said. "You are pretty much set in what you are going to do."

In March we told you about Robert Bowlin's arrest for his 18th charge of driving on a suspended license. Click here to read that story.

Less than five months later, Lt. Graybeal arrested him on his 20th charge for the same offense. "I didn't know it was him until I stopped car the car. When I stopped the car, he got out and I knew immediately who he was," Graybeal said.

We spoke with prosecutors who tell us Bowlin is considered a Habitual Motor Offender; that increases the penalties for traffic violations. If he is convicted of violating the habitual motor offender law, that's a felony with specific sentences.

The sentences are spelled out based on any prior convictions. Prosecutors say probation is an option a judge can consider, and six years in jail is the toughest.

As for the charge of driving on a suspended license, that's a misdemeanor which carries a softer sentence.

Offenders can have their vehicles seized if officers can prove the suspect owns the car and there are no liens against the vehicle.

Prosecutors say since Bowlin has similar cases pending in Washington County criminal court, they are considering filing a motion to merge the cases together, which they say could increase the penalties he faces if convicted.

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