Courts Find Citizens Can’t Be Charged with Operating a Motor Vehicle During License Suspension for Simply Not Administratively Reinstating Their License

A form from the DMV suspending a driver's license.

If you are a New Jersey resident facing a charge for driving a motor vehicle during license suspension because of a previous DUI / DWI conviction or convictions, the court recently made some important decisions that could affect your case.

On June 6, 2016, in State v. Torres, the Superior Court Appellate Division vacated a judgment of conviction against a defendant for a third degree offense of operating a motor vehicle during a period of license suspension which he received after a multiple driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenses. The individual had been found guilty of DWI before in 2004 and 2006. After the 2006 conviction, his license was suspended for two years. In 2011, after his two-year license suspension ended but before it was officially reinstated by the state, he was stopped by a police officer who did a random check of the license plate and found that it was not registered to the right vehicle. During the traffic stop, the driver explained to the police officer that his license was suspended and that he owned the vehicle, but that the license plates were from a relative’s vehicle. The police officer then confirmed that the driver’s license was suspended and issued him a citation for a motor vehicle violation. After the vehicle stop, the police officer reviewed the driver’s motor vehicle history and then issued a complaint charging the driver with violating N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(b), which restricts any person from operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license that was received as a result of a DWI / DUI conviction. At trial, the driver was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 180 days in county jail and 2 years of probation.

With the help of an attorney, the driver appealed the conviction and argued that he should not have been found guilty because the 2-year period for his license suspension was already finished on the date that he was pulled over, and he only failed to take the administrative steps to get his license reinstated. The Appellate Division agreed.

The court found that the law was “silent as to those driving without reinstatement beyond the court-imposed term of suspension,” and concluded a person cannot be guilty under the law against driving with a suspended license unless he or she is actually driving during the court imposed license suspension period. Therefore, the conviction against the driver in State v. Torres was overturned. In making its decision, the Appellate Division referred to State v. Perry, another case in which a citizen was wrongfully charged with an offense after forgetting to administratively reinstate his license.

If you have previously been convicted of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and have had your license suspended, it is important that you do not drive with a suspended license. The penalties for driving during a suspension period are very serious. Nonetheless, if you are pulled over for driving with a suspended license as the result of a past drunk driving conviction, an experienced DUI / DWI lawyer will be able to help you understand your rights and help you present the best defense in your case. Depending on your specific circumstances, an experienced drunk driving attorney may be able to have the charges against you dropped completely.

New Jersey DWI Lawyer Edward M. Janzekovich is Ready to Defend Drivers Facing DUI / DWI Offenses

If you or someone you know is being charged with a DUI / DWI or for driving with a suspended license, an experienced drunk driving lawyer can help you defend your case. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer about your situation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients in Ocean County, Monmouth County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Union County and Somerset County.