Overview of Driving Suspended and Habitual Offender Laws
There are plenty of laws to inhibit behavior and set penalties for wrongdoing throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is no surprise, then, that there are laws on top of those laws. What does that mean? There are laws in place to enhance the penalties against someone who has already broken the law and then breaks the law again. This post examines two such laws: Driving Suspended and Driving after being Declared a Habitual Offender.
A woman has just gone into emergency labor. No one else is around. She needs someone to drive her to the hospital, but you have a suspended driver’s license. What do you do?
Anyone who has had his or her license suspended and then is caught driving during that period of suspension will be subject to further penalties. First, driving with a suspended license is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The maximum penalties for this crime are 12 months in prison and/or a $2,500 fine. In order for the government to secure a conviction, it must prove three things: (1) that the driver was operating a motor vehicle on a public highway; (2) that the driver's license was suspended; and (3) that the driver knew that his or her license was suspended. Often, this can be difficult to prove.
The Code of Virginia elaborates on what this looks like in reality. Let’s say that you are the person who has been caught driving with a suspended license. If you are convicted, your license will likely be suspended again. Further, you will likely be ordered to pay a fine as well as court costs.
A third offense (or more) further compounds the problem. If you are convicted of driving suspended, and you have at least two prior driving suspended convictions, there is a mandatory minimum jail sentence of ten days.
In case you are wondering, there are provisions built into the law to account for extreme situations. For example, there is an exception built in to the mandatory minimum jail sentence if a person drives in an emergency situation. In other words, someone facing that hypothetical scenario with the pregnant woman mentioned earlier may be able to avoid the mandatory sentence if the Court believes his or her version of events.
Driving after being Declared a Habitual Offender:
Things escalate very quickly with habitual offender laws. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles puts it about as clearly as you can: “If you received at least three major convictions or 12 minor convictions which occurred within a ten-year period, you may have been declared a habitual offender prior to 7/1/99…Driving after you have been declared a habitual offender is a serious offense.” As you will note, the DMV no longer declares drivers to be habitual offenders. Nonetheless, if you have been declared a habitual offender (prior to 1999), you are still subject to the penalties and provision laid out in the law.
Why is this so serious? A first violation as a habitual offender is classified as a misdemeanor. The maximum penalties are the same as those listed above. If the first violation endangers someone’s life or property, or drugs and alcohol are involved, it could increase to a felony. A second violation (or more) does the same. In the case of a felony, the prison sentence is 1-5 years with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year.
The laws in place make it a bit more difficult for a habitual offender to get his or her license back. First of all, a habitual offender’s length of suspension is indefinite. Yes, the law says that, if this is you, your crimes are so egregious that there is no set amount of time before you can get your license back. Furthermore, it can only be reinstated by a court. A petition has to be filed in a circuit court for consideration to be given.
The penalties for breaking most laws are serious. The penalties for breaking laws that you have already broken – like the driving-based laws discussed in this post – can be even more serious. If either of these issues apply to you, you need legal assistance. Call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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