Operating With a Suspended License Motor Vehicle Infractions
Spring & Spring represents defendants charged with a wide variety of minor motor vehicle infractions such as Operating with a Suspended License, Operating with a Suspended Registration, and Operating without Insurance.
These are the most minor criminal offenses that exist in Massachusetts, and a lot of defendants don’t take them seriously. That’s a big mistake. Because while the criminal penalties might not be severe, the Registry of Motor Vehicles punishes people who drive with a suspended license by re-suspending the license. Often times, people will have their license suspended for not paying parking tickets. The police will then pull them over and summons them to court for driving with a suspended license. If the driver pleads guilty in court, an additional suspension will be added on to the original suspension. There is also a $500 reinstatement fee to reactivate a suspended driver’s license.
What ends up happening is people can’t afford to pay the reinstatement fee, so they can’t get their license activated. However, they still have to drive to work, drop their kids off at school, and drive to the grocery store. Inevitably, they get stopped again by the police, issued a new summons to go to court, and start the criminal process again. In a short amount of time, it becomes easy for people to pick up so many driving infractions that they become habitual offenders. Defendants who are convicted of being habitual offenders have their licenses suspended for many years.
Defendants often wonder how the police are able to pull them over so frequently when their licenses are suspended. The answer is that most police cruisers now contain laptop computers. Police officers who are on routine patrol always use their computers to run license plate numbers of random cars through the Registry of Motor Vehicles database. If the registered owner of the car has a suspended license, the police officer can immediately pull over the car, regardless of whether the owner is driving.
Attorney Spring has been successful in having these cases dismissed by filing motions to suppress the stop. If a judge rules that a police officer stops a car for a reason that is unconstitutional, the entire case is typically dismissed. This situation has arisen when the police officer sees a defendant driving and the officer believes the defendant has an active arrest warrant. However, if the officer does not confirm the existence of the warrant immediately before the stop, he is not warranted in pulling over the car. Attorney Spring has also successfully argued motions to suppress where the police stopped a car when one of the three back brake lights was not working (he argued that Massachusetts law only requires two working brake lights, so even if one wasn’t working it wasn’t against the law), and for violations of the community caretaking function (which allows the police to pull over cars in limited situations to ensure that the driver is not facing some sort of health or personal problem).
One of the elements the Commonwealth has to prove at trial to convict a defendant of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license is that the defendant had notice that the license was suspended. The prosecutor usually tries to establish this fact by introducing a packet of documents from the Registry of Motor Vehicles that contains the letter that was sent to the defendant notifying him or her of the license suspension. However, a recent Supreme Judicial Court case said that there needs to be a live witness from the Registry of Motor Vehicles to confirm that the letter was sent. The RMV often does not send a live witness to court, and Attorney Spring has successfully argued that cases should be dismissed on the trial date as a result.