How Common Is It For People To Drive On A Suspended License?
It is more common than it probably should be that folks drive on a suspended license, it happens a lot. One of the things that makes New Jersey unique is there are no provisions for any kind of a hardship or a work only license in this state. Once your driving privileges are suspended in New Jersey, it is considered suspended for all purposes. You simply cannot drive, and if you get caught driving while your license is suspended, you face the consequences. There are basic penalties for driving while suspended. For a first offense, the fine is a $500 fine. For a second offense, it is a $750 fine plus a one to five day jail term. For a third offense, it is a $1,000 fine and a ten day jail term. Whenever you are convicted of driving while your privileges are suspended, the Motor Vehicle Commission also assesses surcharges that are paid administratively at the rate of $250 per year for three years.
If you drive enough times with a suspended license, the Motor Vehicle Commission will also revoke a person’s registration privilege, which means their car could be subject to forfeiture. So it is not something you want to do. But there are certain enhancements. If you are involved in an accident and someone other than you is injured, then there is a mandatory forty-five day jail term on top of whatever other jail term you already face. If you are driving while revoked because your privilege is suspended for a DWI conviction, then there is an additional $500 fine and additional revocation of your driving privileges for up to one to two years in jail, meaning if you get caught driving while revoked for a DUI first offense, you will be looking at a minimum one year revocation, with up to a maximum two point five years depending on what the judge decides to do.
If you get caught driving a second time while revoked from a first offense DUI, that is entirely a different situation. Or if you get caught driving a first time after a second or subsequent DUI conviction, then it becomes a felony. By the way, when I use DUI here, that also includes breath test refusal convictions. So if you get caught driving a second time after a first offense for a DUI or breath test refusal, or if you get caught driving one time after a second or a subsequent DUI refusal conviction, then you face a felony charge. It is a fourth degree crime in New Jersey, meaning in theory, you face up to a $50,000 fine, mandatory assessments of $155 and a mandatory prison term of no less than six and no more than eighteen months in jail. They have made the penalties very onerous for driving while revoked from a DUI and with very tough charges to deal with. The elements include driving whether you are on the revoked list for a DUI, and whether you knew you are on the revoked list for a DUI.
Those are the four elements. They are not difficult for the state to prove because they will usually have law enforcement testify who was the driver, and as far as establishing who is on the revoked list. They can introduce the Motor Vehicle Commission record concerning your driving status. In terms of establishing the reason for the revocation, they can get the judgment of conviction from the court that convicted you for a DUI, and your knowledge can generally be inferred because there are certain statements read to the defendants about the consequences for driving while revoked from a DUI. This law went into effect on August 1st of 2010, I believe.
There were some people who have been revoked a long time and never heard of this law until the worst happened, and that is they got caught driving and ended up being indicted for the crime. Juries do not seem to be interested in necessity for example, that is a potential defense. It is up to a jury then to decide whether a person’s guilty or not, but the elements are so straightforward and simple for the state to prove. It is only in a rare case where a jury might return the verdict of not guilty.
Do Most Of These Driving While Suspended Cases Even Make It To Trial?
It really depends on the attorney if any of these suspended while driving cases make it to trial. Probably more of these cases will go to trial because there is always a chance something can fall apart at any trial. The way that the prison system works is that even when dealing with a first felony you still might receive eighteen months jail time, which is the maximum sentence. By the time they calculate in commutation, good time credits, work credits, and such things as that, the wardens will generally try to pull you out of prison at the earliest opportunity. With this mandatory period of minimum incarceration set at six months in our state, there really does not seem to be a downside risk going to trial.
Usually, judges will impose the minimum sentences because the vast majority of people who are charged with this do not have any prior criminal record. If you do not have a prior criminal record, you can also apply for a once in a lifetime diversion from prosecution, which is called a Pre-trial Intervention. If you do not have any prior pretrial diversions or you do not have any prior criminal convictions, you can apply, and most people are eligible for a once in a lifetime diversion from prosecution. Of course if you receive this program, you basically are on a period of probation. It is not exactly probation, but very similar. If you complete that pre-trial probation successfully, then the charges would be dismissed. But who gets accepted into the pre-trial intervention program is in the discretion of the prosecutor.
Most county prosecutors in New Jersey have taken the position that because of the period of mandatory jail, the legislator has determined the offense to be sufficiently serious so that no diversion programs should be permitted. Now, that is being challenged, but so far the prosecutors are having their way with this, and there are very few people charged with this new form of driving while revoked because of a DUI conviction. Very few people are being offered the diversion program from the prosecution that they might otherwise be entitled to if they were charged with, say, assault, theft or drug possession. It is an awful situation because people charged with two crimes in New Jersey are receiving the diversions whereas those charged with what amounts to a glorified traffic offense are not. So you need an attorney to basically be a pain in the ass and actually defend you in the hopes that maybe the prosecutor will bend or come up with a creative defense that might get you that win.
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