Michigan driver whose virtual court hearing went viral never had a driver’s license, judge says

A man who went viral after driving during a virtual court proceeding over his suspended license never even had one to begin with — from any state, ever, a judge said at a hearing Wednesday.

Corey Harris appeared back in Washtenaw County Court on Wednesday, wearing a yellow shirt that said “trust me” across the front, after a video of his May 15 hearing — which showed Harris joining a Zoom hearing for his driving without a license case from behind the wheel of a car — went viral on social media.

The Wednesday appearance came after local outlet WXYZ Detroit reported on whether Harris should have been charged with a misdemeanor that stemmed from an October 2023 traffic stop, because, as the outlet reported, the suspension on Harris’ privilege to drive in the state was lifted in 2022.

But that’s not exactly what happened, as Judge Cedric Simpson pointed out in court and as Angela Benander, director of communications and media relations for the Michigan Department of State, explained in a phone interview.

Dionne Webster-Cox, the lawyer representing Harris, did not reply to a request for comment Wednesday.

Corey Harris appears in court on Wednesday.Hon. Judge Cedric Simpson

At the beginning of Harris’ Wednesday hearing, Simpson addressed comments — some he said were from Harris — stating the court acted “on some type of defective or faulty information,” which prompted the court to look into Simpson’s earlier ruling.

Harris first had his privileges to drive in Michigan suspended in 2021 after he didn’t pay child support, Benander said. Simpson said if Harris held a license in a different U.S. state, he would have been allowed to drive in the rest of the country, just not in Michigan.

But Harris never held a license, Simpson said. Not in Michigan, nor any other U.S. state.

Later in 2021, new “clean slate laws” in Michigan lifted the license suspensions for categories including child support cases, Benander said. Because of the new laws, Harris was eligible to have his driving privileges reinstated.

In Michigan, someone without a driver’s license can still have a driving record to denote suspensions, like in Harris’ case. Benander explained that had Harris tried to obtain a license while the suspension was on a his driving record, he would not have been able to.

Getting driving privileges reinstated in Michigan doesn’t happen automatically, though, Benander explained, noting that Harris did not complete the necessary steps with the Friend of the Court in Saginaw County in 2022 to have that suspension removed from his driving record.

It “required Mr. Harris to do something,” Simpson said. “He didn’t do it.”

Benander said that normally, the defendant would have been notified that their suspension was eligible to be lifted, and that they should report to the Friend of the Court. In most cases, they would have to pay a fine to receive a release form that they would then have to bring to the Secretary of State’s office within 10 days to get the suspension removed from their record.

court session via zoom while driver license is suspended
Corey Harris appears on Zoom for a court hearing on May 15.Honorable Judge Cedric Simpson

The state of Michigan has no record of Harris doing this, Benander said, adding that it is not, and has never been, the responsibility of the Friend of the Court to transmit those records to the Secretary of State.

Simpson said the Friend of the Court “did nothing wrong” in Harris’ case. Simpson also said that because Harris didn’t do what he was supposed to, the Friend of the Court had no obligation to send anything on his behalf to the Secretary of State.

Simpson added that pointing fingers at the Secretary of State also is improper in this case because they “did what they were supposed to do.

“It was all correct. There was no error. By anybody. It was a failure on the part of Mr. Harris to do certain things,” Simpson said.

Simpson said Harris paid the reinstatement fee last week and that the offices did what they were supposed to do, sending the forms “immediately.” He added that the Secretary of State took the suspension off Harris’ driving record.

Benander confirmed Wednesday that Harris’ reinstatement was issued on Monday and his suspension has been lifted.

The judge acknowledged the process can be complicated and asserted it “wasn’t anybody’s fault,” other than that Harris didn’t pay the fee or take the steps required of him.

Simpson also said Harris lied when he was asked about trying to resolve the situation between the October traffic stop and the May 15 court date.

The judge said Harris indicated in response to a question out of court that he was bedridden because of an accident and couldn’t get to the Secretary of State’s office during that time.

“That’s not true,” Simpson said, before asking Harris Wednesday where he was on Dec. 28.

Harris told the judge that he was “laid up.”

“You were at the Secretary of State’s office,” Simpson shot back. Harris was renewing his Michigan state ID, Simpson said.

The judge said he knew Harris has never had a driver’s license, because records show he “religiously, every year” renewed his state ID at the Secretary of State’s office, and in Michigan, a resident can’t hold both a license and an ID.

Simpson said he wished Harris had been truthful from the get-go and that in that case, the court would have helped him right the wrong and get him a license.

Even if Harris had had his driving privileges reinstated prior to the October traffic stop, which led to the misdemeanor that landed him in court last month and on Wednesday, because he has never held a driver’s license, he still would have been charged with driving without a license.

Prosecutors noted in court Wednesday that, according to body camera footage, Harris said twice during that traffic stop that he didn’t have a valid license.

Webster-Cox said in court Wednesday that Harris is now in the process of obtaining a proper driver’s license and that his permit test is coming up.

“He is working diligently to take the steps necessary to get his driver’s license,” she said.

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