Section 16-303(d) of the Transportation Article of the Maryland Code criminalizes driving while your “license or privilege to drive is revoked in this State.” A new reported opinion from the Appellate Court of Maryland clarifies that to obtain a conviction for driving on a revoked license, the State must prove that the driver knew or was willfully blind to the fact of his or her revocation.
The case, Christian Eric Adkins v. State of Maryland, involved a challenge to the trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury that the State needed to prove that the driver had knowledge of his revocation. Rather than give the instruction, the judge simply read the statute, which does not specifically mention the knowledge element. The Appellate Court of Maryland held that the requested instruction should have been given because the statute requires proof of knowledge to convict.
This is a sound decision as a matter of common sense and prior case law governing similar offenses. The Court relied on cases analyzing Transportation Article, § 16-303(c), which governs the offense of driving on a suspended license. Those cases interpret the suspension statute as requiring knowledge as an essential element of the offense because “mens rea is required for the charge of driving while suspended.”’ Steward v. State, 218 Md. App. 550, 560 (2014) (quoting State v. McCallum, 321 Md. 451, 457 (1991)). As explained in Steward, “the State must present evidence that the defendant either had actual knowledge that his or her drivers’ license was suspended, or that the defendant was deliberately ignorant or willfully blind to the suspension.” Id. In fact, Transportation Article § 12-114(a) provides that the MVA will give notice by either personal delivery to the person to be notified or by mail to the person at the address of the person on record with the MVA. Therefore, in the usual case, the State may be able to prove that a driver had knowledge.