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A Michigan man went viral for driving with a suspended license. But he never had one

Corey Harris went viral for driving his car during a virtual court appearance. It turns out, he was never eligible to drive in the first place.
Video courtesy Honorable Judge Cedric Simpson/Screenshot by NPR
Corey Harris went viral for driving his car during a virtual court appearance. It turns out, he was never eligible to drive in the first place.

A Michigan man who went viral for unlawfully driving during a virtual court meeting in May never actually had a driver’s license, adding a new twist to the bizarre story.

Corey Harris, 44, was arrested last month for driving under suspended driving privileges, according to Michigan’s Department of State, in a recorded moment that quickly spread across social media.

“Mr. Harris, are you driving?” a visibly amused Judge Cedric Simpson asks Harris on the May 15 video.

“Actually, I’m pulling into my doctor’s office actually, so just give me a second,” Harris confirms.

The judge says in the video that the charge for which Harris was to appear was regarding driving with a suspended license and then orders Harris to turn himself in to the Washtenaw County jail that same day.

Harris’ stunned face quickly sparked memes across social media and artist renderings of him went viral.

But since that incident made national headlines, the story has taken several turns. Following Harris’ arrest and two-day stint in jail, it was reported that his license was actually supposed to have been reinstated more than two years prior and that a clerical error was responsible for the embarrassing incident.

That, however, is not the case, Angela Benander, director of communications for the Michigan Department of State told NPR.

“This isn't a clerical error. This is a failure of action,” she said.

In a new hearing this week, Judge Simpson makes clear that Harris never actually had an eligible driver’s license. And records from Michigan’s Department of State, obtained by NPR, show this as well.

In Harris’ case, it was his driving privileges that were suspended, not his license, Benander explained.

When he was eligible to have those privileges reinstated, and eventually secure a license, Benander said Harris did not follow the proper steps to make that happen.

“You can have a secretary of state driver's record without ever having an official driver's license. And that's usually because, when you receive a suspension of driving privileges, we will create a record and then list it as suspended,” Benander explained.

“So, in this case, there was a record; it was suspended status. That doesn't mean that he had a license, which it turns out he did not ever have a valid driver's license,” she said.

Harris was ordered back into police custody following this week’s hearing and bailed out by his wife the same day, his attorney, Dionne Webster-Cox said.

“He just wants to be a law-abiding citizen. He wants to be. But bless his heart,” Webster-Cox said.

She said Harris is working to get his driver’s permit now and her office is dedicated to helping him getting properly registered to drive again.

“There's just something about him. It's that kind of, like, lovable goofball,” Webster-Cox said.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.