It is unlawful for a person to drive on a suspended license in Virginia. This means that the person’s driving privileges are limited regardless of whether he/she is a resident of Virginia or not. In most cases, this offense acts as an enhancement for Virginia driving offenses such as drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter. If you are accused of driving on a suspended license in Fairfax or the greater Northern Virginia area, Virginia Criminal Attorney can help you to navigate through the case to possibly have the charges dismissed or reduced. Below you will find further information on this crime and how our lawyers can help you to fight the charges.
Understanding License Suspension
Under Virginia commonwealth law section 46.2-301, license suspension refers to the temporary withdrawal of a driver's privilege regarding the operation of a motor vehicle. The court or commissioner directs the driver against driving any motor vehicle using a suspended license, failure to which such drivers are liable to punishments. Such a driver can only drive after the termination of the suspension period, the license has been reinstated, or the driver has been issued with a restricted license according to the law.
Reasons for License Suspension
Despite being a common occurrence in Virginia, most drivers aren’t aware that simple issues such as failing to follow court orders and habitual violation of traffic rules could lead to driver’s license suspension. Other causes of license suspension, as discussed below, are a DUI conviction, driving an uninsured vehicle, accumulating too many DMV points, and committing a vehicular felony.
Failure to pay court fines.
Your driving privileges can be revoked if you fail to pay court fines as ordered by the court. These fines range from court penalty assignments to miscellaneous costs such as the fee for attending an alcohol program. If you don’t comply with the stipulated deadline to pay the fines, the Virginia Department for Motor Vehicles may suspend your license. The DMV will only reinstate your license if you complete the full payment of the imposed fine.
It is important to know that the law provides an enrollment into a payment plan so that drivers can pay all court fines. This will help you to restore your privileges, and gain the privilege to drive around as long as you remain under the program. However, failure to make even a single payment will lead to immediate license revocation by the DMV.
Having DUI or DWI charges
Virginia usually categorizes driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs as a misdemeanor crime. To add on the penalties imposed after a DUI conviction, the DMV will immediately suspend your driving privileges. The length of the suspension is dependent on the number of DUI convictions on your driving record. Conviction of a first offense DUI will result in one year of license suspension whereas a second offense would lead to a three years license suspension. If the crime is committed for the third time, your license may be revoked, and vehicle seized and impounded.
If you go ahead and drive while your license is suspended, you violate the driving on a suspended license statute. However, after your license has been suspended, you have the right to petition the circuit court for reinstatement, after five years, which is accompanied by the requirement to attend DUI classes and undertake community services.
It is important to note that, depending on the outcome of your DUI case, you might be given the privilege to have a restricted license. This permits you to drive although under a given set of circumstances. The circumstances under which you might operate on a restricted license are when going to work, when attending a DUI/DWI school, or when attending the appointments of the court. If in the event you violate these conditions, this would be an offense that is treated similarly to driving on a suspended license.
In Virginia, offenses associated with motor vehicles are mostly accompanied by license suspensions. These felonies are characterized by dangerous driving such as a hit and run and vehicular manslaughter. Besides, if you are involved in a theft offense using a vehicle, the law requires that your driving privileges be suspended. An immediate license suspension would also occur if you falsely update the DMV on any of your traffic issues.
Demerit points at the DMV
When your license is new, it always bears zero points on it. The DMV adds on the permit a single point each year that you complete without causing an accident or violating traffic rules. The points should total to a maximum of five for safe driving. If you are charged with breaking traffic laws including a traffic misdemeanor, the DMV is mandated to deduct a single point from your license. Each offense has a given number of points to be inferred. For instance, when guilty of reckless driving, the DMV will deduct a maximum of six points from your license.
The number of points needed to qualify for a license suspension depends on how fast you lose the points. If 12 points or 18 points are deducted in a year or two years respectively, the DMV mandates that you enroll for a driving course, failure to do so will affect your driving rights and your license will be suspended. If you lose 18 points in a year or 24 points within two years, the Department for Motor Vehicles has the right to suspend your license for 90 days.
After the ninety days are over, the DMV will require that you enroll for a course to improve your driving and pay the necessary fees to the DMV to reinstate your license. You will then serve probation for six months. During probation, if you are found guilty of violating any traffic law in any commonwealth highway, the DMV will issue another suspension on your license. This will include placing you on the Control Period for 18 months. Furthermore, the DMV will issue probation if you are found guilty of violating traffic laws during the 18 months that you are under the Control Period.
If you violate traffic law in other states, the offense will be reported to the Virginia DMV because Virginia State is among the Compact Driver License States. This mandates the Virginia DMV to deduct the points under Virginia law. For instance, if you are charged with over speeding in South Carolina, four points would be deducted from your license as provided by the South Carolina law. Such an offense is a class one misdemeanor in Virginia; therefore, six points should be deducted.
In Virginia, underage drivers face the same demerits on their licenses. However, their licenses are not suspended upon such deductions on the points. When a minor commits a traffic offense, various penalties are imposed onto them that leads to an automatic deduction on their driving license. For instance, if a minor is convicted for committing a traffic offense for the first time, Virginia law states that he/she must attend a driving course.
If the minor fails to attend the course, the DMV has the mandate to suspend his/her license. A second conviction under the same circumstances will lead to a license suspension for 90 days. A third conviction is severe on the minor's driving record since it will lead to a license suspension until the minor turns 18 years. This is consequential because the lost points will remain on the minor's driving record throughout his/her adult life.
Not insured while driving
Virginia is an exceptional state because it doesn’t demand that drivers possess car insurance. The drivers can opt to pay $500 at the DMV as a fee for driving a motor vehicle that is not insured. This fee does not produce or replace insurance. Therefore, failure to acquire insurance or pay for the required charges will render you guilty of a third class misdemeanor in case you violate the Virginia traffic law.
To add on the penalties imposed for such a violation, your license will be suspended and your car plates seized. The suspension will be active until you pay off the DMV charges or acquire insurance and also provide proof to the DMV indicating that you will be able to pay off the reinstatement fee as well as admit financial responsibility in the future.
The Commonwealth Proof for Driving on a Suspended License
The Commonwealth must present some elements to establish that you are liable to driving on a suspended license charge.
First, the Commonwealth has a task to prove that, indeed, you were the one driving a car on the commonwealth highway when the offense happened. This is a simple element whereby a police officer pulls over your car and asks for your license. He/she will then ascertain that it is suspended and yet you are driving. Thus, this charge cannot hold if you were not the one operating the vehicle. The Commonwealth must also prove that, indeed, your license was suspended. This is done by providing a certified copy of the suspension from the DMV. The transcript should clearly indicate that your license was suspended.
The Commonwealth must also prove that you had explicit knowledge that your license was suspended but still went ahead to drive. When your license is suspended, the Virginia DMV issues a transcript or a notice to show the suspension. The arresting officer will always inquire if you knew that your license had been suspended after stopping you. If you agree that you had known about it, you would be liable to the charges. However, if you disagree that you didn’t know that your license was suspended, the prosecutor will use the DMV transcript to prove that you were issued with a notice of suspension.
Related Offenses to Driving a Suspended License
Driving on a revoked license
Revocation is a complete termination of your driving privileges. Similar to a license suspension, revocation occurs as a result of violating traffic laws such as driving under the influence, felony crimes using a motor vehicle, and driving on a suspended license. Operating on a revoked license is punishable under the Virginia Code 18.2-272, and considered a more serious offense compared to driving on a suspended license: the driver cannot obtain a restricted driving license during their revocation period; the third offense is treated as a class 6 felony, punishable by a maximum imprisonment term of five years.
Driving on a disqualified license
This happens to drivers of commercial vehicles. It is an equivalent of a suspended or revoked license but issued to licenses held by Commercial Drivers. Depending on the circumstances of your traffic violations, the license can be temporarily or permanently disqualified. Disqualification does not usually affect your driving privileges; however, if you are convicted of serious offenses that affect your regular driving privileges, your commercial driving license may be disqualified.
Penalties for Driving on a Suspended License
The Commonwealth of Virginia charges driving on a suspended license under section § 46.2-301(C). It is considered as a 1st class misdemeanor – the most severe misdemeanor – with possible penalties of a one-year jail term and a maximum fine of 2500 dollars. But a jail sentence may not be mandatory for first and second convictions.
If you are charged, found guilty for driving on a suspended license and convicted of a similar crime for the third time within ten years, you are likely to face a mandatory jail sentence. The mandatory jail term is a minimum of ten days in addition to the stipulated jail sentence.
More so, further suspensions of your license might attract revocation or disqualification of your driving rights. Minors will also face the penalties as stated earlier because the suspension record will remain on his/ her driving record throughout their life.
Defenses for Driving on a Suspended License
The fact that the Commonwealth prosecutors have proven the required elements to charge you for driving on a suspended license does not necessarily indicate that you will be convicted. Your defense attorneys can challenge the evidence and the prosecutor's argument to achieve a possible case dismissal or charges reduction. The standard legal defenses for driving on a suspended license are as follows.
You are not aware that your license was suspended. This might be because you moved out of the state immediately after committing a particular crime before the DMV could issue you with a suspension notice. This defense would also apply where you failed to receive an email from the Department of Motor Vehicles due to electronic failures; thus, denying you a proper understanding that you are not allowed to drive on any commonwealth highway.
You may also argue that your license was not “successfully suspended” due to failures In the paperwork after an arrest. This means that you did not get the notice for suspension; therefore, you assumed that you still had your probable privileges of driving. This defense is anchored on the fact that the Commonwealth has to prove that you were given a notice or a transcript from the DMV indicating the suspension. But since you received no warning regarding your license, you had every right to drive in the State.
Sometimes, you might not have been the one driving the vehicle at the time of arrest. An example of this scenario is when another person, say a friend, borrowed your car but later produced your suspended license after being pulled over. This would be clear that you are not liable to driving on a suspended license charge.
Lastly, your attorney may argue that the police had no legal mandate to stop you. This happens when your vehicle is pulled over without a probable reason. This is unlawful because Virginia law requires that one is pulled over after violating any traffic law or committing any criminal offense using a motor vehicle. So, if the arresting officer or prosecution cannot convince the judge that you broke any traffic rule, your case may be dismissed for lack of a probable cause to arrest you.
Can a Suspended License be Reinstated?
How long your license is suspended depends on the circumstances under the suspension. However, you can reinstate your license after paying for the reinstatement fee and fulfilling other conditions as required by the law. Va. Code § 46.2-411(C) requires that you pay 30 dollars as reinstatement fee before your license can be reinstated. The fee increases by 30 dollars for any license suspension resulting from a conviction of DUI, involuntary manslaughter, refusing to submit to an alcohol or drug tests, eluding police, hit and run, and reckless driving. Va. Code 46.2-411 provides other instances when a driver’s license can be reinstated and how the fees are used.
Finding an Attorney Near Me
Whether you are accused of driving on a suspended license, revoked license, or disqualified license, an attorney can help you in fighting the charges. If you are in Fairfax or the greater Northern Virginia area, you can always contact the Virginia Criminal Attorney at 703-718-5533 and our lawyers will be glad to represent you in court.