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Steering Clear of the Pitfalls of Driving on a Suspended License

| Mar 5, 2012 | Traffic Crimes |

  • A Rohnert Park woman on the Cotati Grade is pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence.
  • An officer stops a Hidden Valley Lake man clocked at 15 mph over the speed limit.

This February, these drivers were nabbed by the CHP and one of them was charged with DUI, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. That’s not so unusual. What caught my eye was that both were driving with a suspended license — a small detail that makes a big legal difference.

Your license can be suspended due to charges for DUI, hit and run, reckless driving causing bodily injury, evading a police officer, participating in car crash insurance fraud, soliciting prostitution or any one of a host of other reasons.

The court can suspend your license for any speeding violation or DUI violation per vehicle code section 13200. That’s 30 days without a license for a first conviction, 60 days for a second, and 6 months for a third or subsequent. And the DMV will suspend your license if you’re arrested for suspicion of DUI — arrested, not convicted. On the spot, the police take your license and give you a 30-day temporary one.

Now, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t occasionally exceeded the speed limit. I also don’t know too many people who wouldn’t have to make some radical changes to their daily lives if they didn’t have a license for even 30 days.

If you’re arrested for suspicion of DUI, you do have a chance to retain your license. Your lawyer can force the DMV to hold a hearing — it’s your right to have one, but you won’t get it unless you ask for it within 10 days of the arrest. And your chances of winning it are slim if you don’t have a lawyer on your side.

A client of mine was arrested for suspicion of DUI. We demanded a DMV hearing and proved to the hearing officer that he not only wasn’t driving under the influence, he wasn’t driving at all! He kept his license. Another client of mine was in the same situation, but tried to do the hearing on his own. Even though we persuaded the district attorney to dismiss the DUI charges (a third-offense, no less) the DMV still took his license away. We’re still fighting to get it back.

If you’re already in a situation where your driver license is suspended, don’t drive — it’s illegal, after all, and the penalties are steep. How steep? That depends on how serious the basis for your suspension was. Some ‘suspended’ charges require jail time and some don’t, and they all have hefty fines. You could serve up to six months’ jail time and pay a fine of $300 to $1,000 for a first offense — and serve a full year for a second offense. (And that doesn’t include the jail sentences and fines for a DUI if, like some of the people in the Press Democrat article, you’re DUI on a suspended license.)

If you find yourself charged with driving suspended, your lawyer should tell you that there are defenses to these charges. The district attorney has to prove that you were driving, that your license was suspended, and that you knew it was suspended — that you received notice of the suspension before the arrest. In other words, the DA has to prove that you were guilty. Your attorney’s job is to keep them from doing that.

In the case I mentioned above, the DA couldn’t prove that my client was driving and we won. ‘No driving’ isn’t the only defense to a suspended license charge, though. Back when I was a prosecutor, I filed hundreds of ‘driving suspended’ cases where I knew that I could prove the defendant guilty. In a couple of cases that I recall, the DMV had mailed the notice of suspension to the wrong address. The drivers knew nothing of it and just went about their business until they got stopped for speeding and arrested for driving on a suspended license. When I found out that the DMV had mailed their notices to the wrong addresses, I dismissed the case — no penalty at all. But, how did I find out? Their defense attorneys investigated the defenses and then showed me the proof.

I have been steering my clients toward positive outcomes in DUI, driving offenses, and other criminal and personal injury cases for years. If you’ve been arrested and you need some direction to keep your right to drive, give me a call or send me an e-mail.