Friday, May 16, 2008
7 News Investigations: License to Lie
The number of people driving illegally is reaching staggering numbers here in South Florida, and from the courts to the cops, there is concern it is only going to get worse. Investigate reporter Carmel Cafiero has this special assignment report, License to Lie.
WSVN -- On any given day, hundreds of thousands of people are driving illegally here in South Florida. They don't have a valid driver's license.
Jacqueline Guzman: "Stop filming me."
Trooper Ralph Lola: "Relax."
Jacqueline Guzman was caught driving with a suspended license.
Jacqueline Guzman: "Ruin other people's lives."
She will end up in court where she will have to explain it to a judge.
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "Ladies and gentlemen, you are here on the County Docket County Criminal Traffic Division."
Courtrooms are crowded with people who have suspended licenses.
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "You continue to drive as a habitual offender, the state will be seeking jail."
Despite the fines and the threats, many continue to drive. In fact, unlicensed drivers often drive themselves to court to answer charges of driving without a license.
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "Ma'am, you're accused of driving with a suspended license and other charges, February 27th. How do you plead?"
Rosheeka Roland: "I guess guilty."
Rosheeka Roland explained she was having financial trouble.
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "Ma'am, there's nothing I can do. You can't drive until you get a valid license."
Yet, we saw her drive away after court.
Carmel Cafiero: "Miss?"
It happens every day.
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "Good morning, Mr. Joseph. Do we have a license?"
Eves Joseph: "No, sir."
The judge gave Eves Joseph a break on his charges because he said he didn't usually drive.
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "You are not getting a conviction, sir. Are you a U.S. citizen?"
Eves Joseph: "No."
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "This could lead to deportation, sir."
Joseph left the courtroom, got in this car and was pulling out when he saw the camera.
Eves Joseph: "I wasn't going nowhere."
He insisted he had not been driving.
Carmel Cafiero: "I saw you backing up this car."
Eves Joseph: "You didn't see me backing up."
With his car half in and half out of the parking space, Joseph continued to claim he had not been driving.
Carmel Cafiero: "And it's not just a South Florida problem. Statewide, two and a half million people have licenses that are either suspended or revoked. The estimate is that half of them are still driving."
And it impacts us all.
Unlicensed drivers are involved in one out of every five fatal crashes. According to a AAA study many have no insurance.
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "Unfortunately, people in this community know that they can get away with a lot of things."
Judge Sheldon Schwartz thinks the state attorney's office should ask for jail time more often than it does.
Judge Sheldon Schwartz: "We've got to teach people not to violate the law."
Yet, the jails are full, and prosecutors say they have to prioritize who gets locked up for what crimes.
Don Horn: "Broward, I think's got 80,000 cases a year. We've probably got 130,000 a year in terms of these traffic infraction cases, and there just aren't enough people, aren't enough resources."
Don Horn is the chief assistant of the state attorney for Miami-Dade. He thinks Florida needs a law to impound the vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers.
Don Horn: "Hitting people in the pocket book is always a way to get people's attention. I think that would be an effective measure because if they don't have a car, they can't drive."
But three times in three years, the Florida legislature has turned down just such a law.
Rep. Ari Porth: "The legislature just hasn't gotten it though their heads that this is an epidemic."
Trooper Ralph Lola: "So your license is suspended?"
Albert Kozar: "Yes, sir."
Forty-year-old Albert Kozar hasn't had a valid license since the 80s.
Trooper Ralph Lola: "Have you been driving around for 22 years without a license? Your license expired in 1986."
Trooper Ralph Lola took Kozar to jail that day. It turns out he was wanted by another county on another charge of driving without a valid license. So he's off the street, but there's maybe more than a million others driving in Florida with nothing more than a License to Lie.