If you are caught driving while your license is suspended, you could face harsh penalties such as imprisonment and hefty fines, depending on the type of offense that resulted in the license suspension. A simple conviction implies that you have a criminal record, even if the license suspension resulted from an innocent act such as forgetting to settle a small fine. It is important to note that law enforcement officers are not allowed to pull you over unless there is a valid reason, like reckless driving or speeding.
However, it's not recommended to take the risk since you could have your driver's license revoked if caught. Contrary to popular belief, your initial arrest is merely the beginning of your involvement with the legal system. As a result, it's critical that you understand what to expect at each stage and which mistakes to look out for. This blog goes in-depth on what to expect if you're caught driving on a suspended license.
The Arrest Process
When you're arrested for driving on a suspended license in Virginia, you would most certainly be handcuffed and taken before a judge, usually in a law enforcement officer's vehicle. The judge would then hear the law enforcement officer's charges against you and issue a judgment against you. You will then be sent to the local detention facility or the sheriff's office for booking. You'll be asked a variety of questions throughout the booking process. The law enforcers will inquire about your job if you use any medications, your name, and address, and finally, they will take your fingerprint, and picture, and proceed to process you. After the booking process, your bond determination would be issued, either remotely by video screen from the judge, or you will be transferred back to the same judge.
Whether you are released "on your recognizance" (a pledge to appear before a judge for your court hearing) or on bond, the judge will issue you a court date and tell you when and where to report. If you are not discharged, then you would be allowed to contact your lawyer and request that they submit a bond application on your behalf. You would want to do this to show up before the court and request that they reconsider the bail that the judge imposed on your case or grant you bond if the judge did not grant you at the time.
Miranda Rights During Arrest
Miranda Rights are procedural measures set in place by the courts to safeguard your rights against incrimination or giving police evidence that could be used to prosecute you in court. A common misunderstanding regarding Miranda Rights is that they only apply to encounters with police. However, you are not subject to Miranda Rights until you're arrested. An arrest would occur when law enforcement officers place you in handcuffs and place you in their car, when they inform you that you're under arrest, or when you're simply in a position where you do not feel free to walk away. Miranda rights are applicable in any of these scenarios.
Your Miranda Rights must be asserted. Therefore, if you decide to discuss your case with law enforcement officers without a lawyer present, you're said to have "waived" these rights, and any remarks made could be used against you in court. It's important to be clear while invoking your Miranda rights. However, if the officer in question read you your Miranda Rights and you continued to make statements, then your rights will have been waived, and anything you say or do would be used against you by the officer and the prosecution to support their case.
The Court Process
In Virginia, traffic cases are always heard in General District Court, unless they are juvenile cases, in which case they are heard in the Juvenile & Domestic Relations court. A regular case would be handled in District Court, which has a judge but no jury. Individuals can also always file an appeal. Whatever the outcome of the District Court is, you have a right to appeal, which means the process begins all over again, and you could also request a jury trial. In addition, the Commonwealth must establish its case in traffic prosecutions beyond any reasonable doubt to get a conviction. This means that the court could find you not guilty if the magistrate has reasons to doubt whether or not the police used their gear appropriately or used the right process to pull you over.
What the Commonwealth Prosecutors Must Prove To Charge You For Driving on a Suspended License
The Commonwealth attorneys must produce sufficient evidence to prove that you are accountable for driving while your license is suspended.
First, the prosecution must prove that you were operating the car on the commonwealth roadway at the time the offense occurred. This simple element involves a law enforcement officer pulling over your vehicle and requesting your driver's license. He or she will then determine that it's suspended while you're driving. Therefore, if you weren't the driver of the car, this allegation would be considered invalid.
Additionally, the Commonwealth attorneys must prove that your license was suspended. This is accomplished by presenting a copy of the license suspension certified by the Virginia DMV. The transcript provided should clearly show that your driver's license had indeed been suspended.
The prosecutors must also show that you were aware of your license suspension and nevertheless proceeded to drive your vehicle. When your driver's license gets suspended, the DMV will issue you a notice or a transcript notifying you of the suspension. The arresting officer would always ask if you're aware of the suspension once you're pulled over.
If you admit to knowing about it, you will be held accountable for the offense. However, if you dispute that you were unaware that the license had been suspended, the prosecution will utilize the DMV transcripts to demonstrate that you were served with a notification of suspension.
How You Can Defend Yourself For Driving on a Suspended License
A prosecutor must establish several factors to convict you for driving while your license is suspended:
You Were Not Operating the Vehicle
The Commonwealth attorneys must demonstrate that you were operating the motor vehicle on a road or highway at the time of the purported crime. In most situations, this factor is normally easy and simple for the prosecution. Driving on a suspended driver's license is often charged when a law enforcement officer pulls over a vehicle, requests the driver's license, and discovers that it's suspended. Even if the prosecution can establish you were operating the vehicle, they still have several more hurdles to clear.
Issues with DMV Paperwork
Timing or documentation issues can sometimes have an impact on whether your driver's license was suspended at the moment you were stopped by the officer. A skilled traffic defense lawyer can assist you in identifying details that would show you were lawfully permitted to operate a vehicle at the time of the arrest.
You Were Stopped While Riding Your Moped
According to Virginia law, the phrase "motor vehicle" can refer to a variety of things. It comprises automobiles, as well as motorbikes or any "self-propelled" machine that operates on a road, highway, or street. The statute specifically excludes a moped. Therefore, if you were stopped while riding a moped, you could have a legal argument, but you must have been riding at speeds of no more than 35 mph.
You Were Unaware of the License Suspension
The most difficult element for the prosecution to demonstrate is a notice. Virginia's law also requires that you should be notified about your license suspension. If you were not aware of the license suspension, you could have a legal defense to the allegations, such as if you relocated and the notice of suspension was not forwarded or sent to you. This might be difficult to prove, but a defense lawyer can help you assess whether this is a viable option in your case.
There is No Valid Reason To Pull You Over
Another crucial element to examine is if the arresting officer had a legitimate reason for pulling you over. The law enforcement authorities must have a "reasonable suspicion" that you are doing something improper, such as committing an offense or breaking traffic laws. If the arresting officer had no legal grounds to pull you over, your case could be dropped, even if you were driving on a suspended license.
Reinstating Driving Rights
Sometimes the greatest defense strategy is to take the necessary actions to regain your driver's license before going to court. The courts can grant you a license extension if you are making a real effort to settle your fines or complete the conditions to regain your license. However, someone with an attorney has a higher chance of making this happen.
If you're able to get your driver's license reinstated, the court would be inclined to drop the charges. What you must do to regain your driver's license varies based on the circumstances surrounding your suspension. The actual details of your requirements could be obtained from the DMV at a fee.
If your driver's license suspension was caused by either unpaid fines or judgments, then you must pay them and produce evidence of payment to the Virginia DMV
You will also need to submit proof of insurance coverage before your license is reinstated
Reinstatement costs range between $40 to $220. These fees should also be completed before reinstatement
You should provide proof of completion of a Driver Improvement Program if the court instructed you to do so
If your driver's license has been revoked, you will have to retake the driving exam and pay for a new one
Frequently Asked Questions About Driving on a Suspended License
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about driving on a suspended license.
What Does a Suspended License Mean?
When your driver's license is suspended, you are temporarily prohibited from operating any motor vehicle within the state of Virginia. You cannot legally operate your vehicle to pick up your children from school, drive yourself to the grocery store, or work. The Department of Motor Vehicles can reinstate your driver's license once the suspension term is over. You'll have to follow all of the DMV’s reinstatement guidelines, settle the reinstatement fees, and perhaps enroll in a group interview or driving class program. There are several reasons why your Virginia license could have been suspended.
Earning an excessive number of points on your license for traffic offenses
Failure to settle court fees or a previous ticket
Failure to maintain vehicle insurance or to pay the state's uninsured motor vehicle fees
A conviction for reckless driving
A medical issue that impairs your ability to operate a vehicle, such as impaired vision, losing motor functions, or seizures
Failure to settle jail fees, child support, or a judgment issued as a result of a car accident
What Happens If You Are Driving on a Suspended License And Cause An Accident?
Virginia law already has a provision that makes driving while your license is suspended illegal. The consequences can be harsh if you operate a vehicle carelessly or recklessly and cause an accident while your license is suspended. For instance, if you held a suspended license at the moment of the car accident, a minor violation, such as reckless driving, would turn into a felony. You would incur civil culpability for the victim's losses and damages if you were the driver responsible for the accident. You could be required to settle the victim's lost income, vehicle damages, medical fees, and other losses if you caused the accident recklessly or negligently.
What Is The Difference Between A Revoked License And A Suspended License?
If you are found guilty of a traffic offense, Virginia courts have the option of suspending or revoking your license. If your license is suspended, you are temporarily unable to drive or operate any motor vehicle on a public road. In contrast, having your license revoked makes it impossible for you to drive or operate a vehicle on any public road. The state could revoke your driver's license if you are charged and found guilty of:
Driving on a suspended license following a felony charge
Obtaining a driver's license in an inappropriate manner
Driving away from an accident scene
Involuntary or voluntary manslaughter
If you are caught driving with a revoked driver's license, you risk incurring fines of no more than $2,500 and up to one year in jail. Your punishments could be compounded based on the various factors that contributed to the original revocation. Luckily, you can consult with an attorney to either request that your charges be dropped or to submit an application for a new driver's license.
How Is A Suspended License Restricted In Virginia?
The main restriction of a suspended license is being unable to operate a motor vehicle on a public road. Operating a motor vehicle with a revoked or suspended license is against Virginia law. However, there could be times when you can appeal for restricted driving rights. You can address your issues either with a Virginia court or the DMV if you would like to request the reinstatement of a few of your driving rights.
If you were found guilty of speeding, reckless driving, illegal alcohol possession or use, or first-time DUI, you could be able to regain certain limited driving privileges. More serious offenses, such as a third DUI or injuring a person while driving under the influence, necessitate a waiting period. For these charges, as well as involuntary or voluntary manslaughter, you have 3 years after your sentence to request restricted driving privileges.
What Repercussions Do Uninsured, Unlicensed Motorists Face After Causing A Car Accident?
If you were caught driving on a suspended license with no insurance, the consequences of a standard accident would be compounded. Depending on the nature of the accident, you would be required to settle all of the victim's losses and damages. The state will also be compelled to revoke your driver's license. If you were driving without insurance or a suspended license at the time of the collision, contact your defense lawyer as soon as possible. While you could try to protect yourself, you risk stating something to police officers that would worsen your situation. Instead, a lawyer could argue that the charges filed against you should be reduced or dropped.
Find a Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
If you have been arrested or face charges of driving on a suspended license, don't hesitate to speak with an experienced and qualified criminal defense lawyer. For many years, our legal team at Virginia Criminal Attorney has fought cases and defended our clients. You can count on us to fight for your driving rights and to vigorously defend you against the allegations you face. Our attorneys will offer you the legal representation and counseling you require to help you navigate through this difficult moment in your life. If you're in Fairfax or the surrounding Northern Virginia area, feel free to contact us at 703-718-5533.