Articles Posted in Driving While Suspended

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.

The Maryland Assembly has recently passed the Justice Reinvestment Act which is generally aimed at significantly reduces Maryland’s prison population. Our partner, Judge Joe Murphy (ret.) played a key role in formulating much of this legislation. The legislation passed the House by a vote of 122-19 and the Senate 46-0. Gov. Hogan is expected to sign the bill into law this spring.

Many major policy changes are highlighted below in this text but include a unique opportunity for inmates serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses an unprecedented opportunity to return to court and ask for a sentence modification.

Some other highlights to the bill include:
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Defendants in DUI cases who have commercial driver’s license pose a unique set of challenges and considerations for Maryland DUI Attorneys. I have blogged often about the importance of selecting an attorney who specializes in DUI/DWI defense. Unfortunately, all too often we see attorneys with little or no experience with these types of cases appearing in court on these cases. Because of their lack of experience, these attorneys often make mistakes that can have serious consequences for their clients.

Often these attorneys make simple mistakes that no experienced DUI/DWI attorney would ever make. I was representing a client in the District Court of Baltimore County a few days ago. While waiting for my case to be called I witnessed an attorney whom I had never seen representing a client in a DUI case at all much less one involving a defendant with a commercial driver’s license. I found out later that this attorney was a so called “general practitioner” who spends the majority of his time handling divorce and personal injury matters. In other words, he was NOT a DUI/DWI specialist. As the reader may have guessed, it did not go well for the defendant. Here are the facts:
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Driving on a Suspended License is one of the most common charges that causes people to appear in the District Court in Maryland. I appear as a criminal defense attorney almost on a daily bases in these cases. Many first offenders are surprised to find out that a person can actually go to jail for driving while suspended, even if suspended for what seems to be a relatively minor reason. Before I get into what a person should do prior to court if they are charged with driving while suspended in Maryland, let me first describe the most common reasons why a person’s license might be suspended and the penalties associated with each type.

By far the most common reason that a person may end up having his license suspended is for failure to appear in the District Court for a minor traffic violation. Anyone who has ever been to minor traffic court knows that many people fail to appear for their court date. When someone fails to appear in court, even for something as minor as a seat belt ticket, the Motor Vehicle Administration is notified and the person’s license is suspended. In Maryland the maximum penalty for driving while suspended for this reason is 60 days in jail and a fine of $500. A person’s license can also be suspended for failing to pay a fine or failing to appear in court for a ticket received in another state. This did not used to be the case. It used to be that the person’s privilege would only be suspended in the state in which that person failed to pay the fine. Today under what is known as the Interstate Compact, the state in which the person is licensed will be notified of the failure to pay the fine or of the failure to appear in court by the state where the violation occurred and the person’s license is suspended.
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As a Maryland DUI/DWI Attorney I represent many individuals who receive a DUI or DWI and as a result have to deal with a suspension or revocation of their privilege to drive, although this is certainly not the only reason why the MVA would suspend one’s license.

When a person receives a DUI or DWI in Maryland, that person faces two possible suspensions of his or her driver’s license. The person will first face a suspension of his driver’s license, depending upon whether or not he took the breathalyzer. The defendant will also face suspension if he is ultimately convicted of the DUI or DWI when the matters proceeds to court. In addition to suspensions resulting from DWI’s and DUI’s a person may have his license suspended for several other reasons. By far the most frequent cause of a license suspension is that a person fails to appear in court for a minor traffic citation or fails to pay the fine after appearing. These so called “H” violations make up the vast majority of suspended license cases. A person may also have his privilege suspended or revoked due to an accumulation of points, for not paying child support, for receiving three moving violations within a a six month period, and for several other reasons.
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