Driving with a suspended license in Maryland can result in the accumulation of points that could potentially result in the revocation of a driver’s license. Therefore, it is important to understand what is required by the prosecution to prove that a driver should be found guilty of violating Transportation Article § 16-303 which prevents a driver from driving with a suspended license.
Transportation Article §16-303 (TA § 16-303) from the Code of Maryland governs the law on driving with a suspended license. TA § 16-303(c) states that “a person may not drive a motor vehicle on any highway…while the person’s license or privilege to drive is suspended in this State.”
In summary, the article states that someone may not drive a motor vehicle with a suspended license. The article also specifies that a license may be suspended for violating traffic laws or regulations or failing to comply with a notice to appear in court or failing to pay a fine for a violation of any traffic laws or regulations in Maryland. Points will be assessed to one’s license for violating §16-303.
What TA §16-303 fails to specify is whether there is a mens rea requirement for the offense of driving while suspended. Mens rea refers to the state of mind required in a statute to convict someone of a particular crime. A crime that requires the element of mens rea means that the prosecution must prove that a defendant committed an offense with a culpable state of mind, that the defendant knew of their wrongdoing when committing the crime. Simply put, mens rea can be defined as a guilty mind.
The Court in State v. McCallum (321 Md. 451) had to decide whether mens rea is required for the offense of driving while suspended, and if so whether a jury should be instructed that mens rea is a requirement to be found guilty of this offense. Defendant McCallum was involved in a car accident. After the accident, Anne Arundel County Police were able to conclude that McCallum’s license was suspended and he was eventually charged with violating TA § 16-303(c).
McCallum elected a jury trial where he was found guilty of violating this offense in addition to other motor vehicle violations. McCallum appeal his conviction based on the contention that mens rea, or a guilty mind, is required to be convicted of the offense driving while suspended. McCallum argued this defense because he claimed that he did not receive suspension letters in the mail and that he had already paid at least one fine, therefore he was unaware that his driving privileges were suspended at the time that he was driving.
The Court analyzed Dawkins v. State (313 Md. 638 (1988)) (governing factors that indicate that the Legislature intended to eliminate the requirement of mens rea and create a strict liability public welfare offense) to determine whether mens rea was required for driving while suspended. The Court determined in Dawkins “that driving while suspended is not one of those “public welfare” offenses where the Legislature intended to eliminate the requirement of scienter.” (Scienter is similar to mens rea and refers to intent or knowledge of wrongdoing).
The Court stated that the primary purpose of suspending a driver’s license is to punish the driver, therefore it is not an offense that should be punished regardless of state of mind for the public welfare. In addition, the Court reasoned that it is not a public welfare offense considering the fact that repeat offenders suffer from enhanced penalties, further proving that the Legislature didn’t intend for driving with a suspended license to be a public welfare offense. The Dawkins court then concluded that “regardless of the defendant’s state of mind, the defendant is generally in a position to prevent the violation from occurring”.
Applying the holding in Dawkins, the Court in McCallum was able to conclude that McCallum would not have had a reason to avoid driving nor a reason to suspect that he was endangering the public welfare by driving if he had known that his privilege to drive was suspended.
Therefore, the court concluded that mens rea is required for the charge of driving with a suspended license and that unless the prosecution can prove that the driver was aware that their license was suspended, they should not be found guilty of the offense.
In conclusion, for prosecution to find a defendant guilty of violating TA § 16-303(c), driving with a suspended license, they must prove that the driver was aware that their license was suspended. It is important to keep in mind that knowledge of knowing your license is suspended can be inferred from circumstances that the driver knew, or should have known.
In other words, the defendant does not have to admit that they knew that their license was suspended, but it can be inferred that the defendant knew or should have known that their license was suspended. Ways that prosecution can show that a defendant knew or should have known that their license was suspended includes: notices of the violation mailed to the defendant’s home or that the defendant admitted to knowledge of the suspension. However, if prosecution cannot prove that the defendant knew or should have known that their license was suspended, a court should not find a defendant guilty of the offense.
If you’ve been charged with driving on a suspended license in Maryland and you did not know your license was suspended, then you need a criminal defense lawyer to fight for you on your trial date. Attorney Randolph Rice is a Maryland trial attorney and has defended hundreds of drivers charged with driving while suspended. Don’t take chances when you appear in Court, driving on a suspended license can land you in jail and carries heavy fines. Contact the Law Offices of Randolph Rice today to schedule a free consultation.