DRIVING ON A SUSPENDED LICENSE IN ARIZONA
Arizona’s ARS 28-3473 makes driving without a valid and current license a class 1 misdemeanor. The statute states that it’s illegal to knowingly drive on a public roadway while your privilege is suspended, revoked, canceled, or refused. In simplest terms, if your license isn’t valid when you’re pulled over, police can arrest you; and under Arizona’s vehicle impound law (ARS 28-3511), they can take your vehicle for thirty days.
In Arizona, your driver’s license can be suspended or revoked for several reasons. Alcohol crimes, license points, unpaid fines (ARS 28-1601), delinquent child support, failing to appear at Court (ARS 28-3308), and criminal convictions can all lead to a suspension. When this happens, the Arizona Department of Transportation will mail a suspension or revocation notice to the driver’s last known address. The notice will also contain instructions on how and when a license can be reinstated.
Far too often, drivers fail to receive suspension notices. We hear this story often: a driver gets stopped for a traffic violation; the officer notices a red flag for a suspended license; the driver is arrested; and, the driver’s vehicle is impounded for thirty days.
POTENTIAL PENALTIES FOR A DRIVING ON A SUSPENDED LICENSE.
Driving on a Suspended License is a class 1 misdemeanor. As such, it carries up to 180 days jail, 3 years probation, and $4,574 in fines and surcharges. Refer to ARS 28-3473, ARS 13-802, and ARS 13-707. While jail is unlikely for first time offenders, if you have a significant driving record, the prosecutor might seek jail. The lengthier your motor vehicle record, the more jail a prosecutor might seek.
IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES, THE JUDGE CAN DISMISS THE CHARGE.
If your license was suspended due to unpaid traffic fines (ARS 28-1601), but you’ve since paid those fines and reinstated your license, the Judge has the discretion to dismiss the criminal license charge. While this motion can be made orally, we recommend filing a written motion with exhibits and information that outlines the reasons for dismissal. A copy of the motion should be provided to the prosecutor’s office.
COMMON DEFENSES TO DRIVING ON A SUSPENDED LICENSE.
No Criminal Intent
Driving on a suspended license is NOT a strict liability crime; the prosecutor must prove criminal intent. The prosecutor must prove that you knew, or should have known, that your license was suspended or revoked. State v. Yazzie. The court explained that mistakes and errors can occur in any administrative office the size of the Department of Transportation; and as such, the danger of unknown or mistaken suspensions is too great to allow a conviction to be based upon suspensions without knowledge. State v. Williams.
The State’s best weapon in these cases is the statutory presumption that a driver has constructive notice of a suspension when MVD complies with notice requirements under A.R.S. § 28–3318 (C), which states: “The department shall send the notice by mail to the address provided to the department on the licensee’s application or provided to the department pursuant to section 28-448. If an address has not been provided to the department as provided in this subsection, the department shall send the notice to any address known to the department, including the address listed on a traffic citation received by the department.”
This presumption of knowledge is triggered under A.R.S. § 28–3318 (E), which states: “Compliance with the mailing provisions of this section constitutes notice… for purposes of prosecution under section… 28-3473… The state is not required to prove actual receipt of the notice or actual knowledge of the suspension, revocation,