Imagine yourself driving to work. As you’re driving down the road, you see the dreaded red and blue flashing lights behind you. You’re a hard-working guy and you have been trying to pay your bills. Just like many people, you are struggling and have fallen behind on your child support payments and other bills. But you are completely shocked when the police officer tells you that your Maryland driver’s license is suspended, you’re driving suspended, and he is going to have to arrest you. Now in addition to losing more money due to missed work, you need to hire a Maryland lawyer to defend your case and you need to figure out a way to get the suspension lifted from your driver’s license so you can drive again. It’s a vicious cycle and can quickly spiral out of control. No license, no work. No work, no money for bills. No money for bills, no child support payments. No child support payments, no license.
This scene is one that plays out regularly in Maryland Courts. As a Maryland lawyer who regularly represents clients for criminal and traffic crimes, I am often forced to explain to unknowing and unwitting clients how and why this (and other) vicious cycles occur.
The Maryland criminal law on Driving Suspended
In Maryland Courts, driving suspended is considered a “serious” traffic crime. Make no mistake, many judges and prosecutors take driving suspended VERY seriously – hence you should too!
You need to have a license to be driving suspended
To be convicted of driving suspended you must have a license in the first place. That makes sense, but prior to 2008, you didn’t have to have a license to be convicted of driving suspended. In 2008 the Court of Appeals decided a case called State v. Sullivan, which said that you must have, at some point in time, had a license to be convicted of driving suspended. (Keep in mind there is a separate traffic crime for driving without a license).
Second, there are many different varieties of driving suspended. Generally, driving suspended is categorized under Maryalnd Transportation Article Section 16-303. (note – the link is to the 2010 version of the code: below is an edited 2012 version):
- (a) Refused licenses. — A person may not drive…while the person’s license or privilege to drive is refused in this State or any other state.
- (b) Canceled licenses. — A person may not drive…while the person’s license or privilege to drive is canceled in this State.
- (c) Suspended licenses generally. — A person may not drive…while the person’s license or privilege to drive is suspended in this State.
- (d) Revoked licenses. — A person may not drive…while the person’s license or privilege to drive is revoked in this State.
- (e) Licenses canceled by other states. — A person may not drive…while the person’s license issued by any other state is canceled.
- (f) Licenses suspended by other states. — A person may not drive…while the person’s license issued by any other state is suspended.
- (g) Licenses revoked by other states. — A person may not drive…while the person’s license issued by any other state is revoked.
- (h) Licenses suspended under certain provisions of article. — A person may not drive…while the person’s license or privilege to drive is suspended under § 17-106, § 26-204, § 26-206, or § 27-103 of this article.
- (i) License suspended by another state for failure to appear or pay fine…
The two most frequently charged types of driving suspended 16-303(c) and 16-303(h)
- 16-303(h) is driving suspended where the underlying suspension is because of failing to appear in Maryland District Court for a traffic ticket or failing to pay a fine for a traffic ticket. This charge carries 60 days and/or a $500 fine. It is considered less serious and can be cleared up easily and often results in dismissals, stets, and/or PBJ’s for clients who resolve the underlying problem.
- 16-303(c) is driving suspended where the underlying suspension is for one of a number of problems: non-payment of child support, points suspension (too many tickets), alcohol suspension, having an open circuit court warrant, legal flag, failing to attend driver improvement program or any one of a number of different unresolved driving issues. This charge carries 1 year and/or a $1000 fine. It is generally considered more serious driving suspended charge.
What the state MUST prove to convict you of driving suspended:
- That you were driving;
- That you were, in fact, driving suspended; and
- You knew you were suspended (we’ll talk more on that in a later post).
I’ve been charged with driving suspended – for child support non-payment now what?
- First and foremost, (assuming you didn’t know you were suspended) you should immediately contact the child support office and figure out if you were correctly suspended (they make mistakes all the time). If you are correctly suspended, get a new payment schedule that will allow them to lift the suspension. Generally, they will try to work with you if you are making a legitimate attempt to pay your obligations. Contact information for your local Child Support Enforcement office can be found here.
- Second, removing the underlying suspension and getting your driver’s license fixed and reinstated is the first step to getting a favorable outcome in any Maryland Court. From Harford County to Howard and from Hagerstown to Havre de Grace – judges like to see your driver’s license reinstated and the problems solved. Any competent Maryland lawyer will tell you that you stand 100% better chances of getting your case thrown out of court if your license is fixed and will help you solve the problems by making phone calls if necessary.
- Third, talk to a competent Maryland lawyer to determine what legal rights and remedies you have with respect to all legal avenues of your case, whether it’s fighting the fact that you didn’t know or that your suspension was actually invalid. A good lawyer makes all the difference in proving your case!