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Maryland Suspended License Laws and Cases from the Courts

Baltimore traffic lawyer

Driving on a Suspended License Laws and Cases in Maryland

Common questions arise when our clients have been stopped by the police for driving on a suspended license:

  • What if I did not know I was driving on a suspended license?
  • What if I am facing charges of both driving with a suspended license and driving while revoked?

These questions have been answered by the Court’s here in Maryland.

What did the Court say?

In McCallum, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that there is a knowledge requirement, known as the mens rea, to proving the offense of driving on a suspended license. The Court built off of that decision in Rice v. State, when the Court ruled that the knowledge requirement may be satisfied if it can be proven that the defendant had deliberate ignorance or willful blindness.

  • The question of “What happens if I am facing multiple charges of driving with a suspended license and driving while a license is revoked?” was answered in Jones v. State.

What did the Court say?

In Jones, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that driving while suspended and driving while revoked are two separate offenses under the Maryland code, but the offenses may still merge together to one punishment. Due to the similarity in the offenses and the ambiguity by the Maryland General Assembly as to whether they intended multiple punishments, the Court determined that the lesser offenses merge into the more serious offense in terms of punishment.

State v. McCallum (1990)

Facts of the Case

On October 12, 1987, the defendant, McCallum, was involved in a car accident. While completing the investigation of the accident, police became aware that McCallum was driving on a suspended license.

Procedural History

McCallum was found guilty in the trial court. The jury was not informed that intent to drive on a suspended license is required for the charges being brought against him. McCallum appealed the trial court ruling, declaring that a mental element of intent was required.

Holding

The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling. The Court found that “mens rea is required for the offense of driving while suspended, and that the trial judge erred in failing to instruct the jury.”

The Court’s Reasoning

The Court noted that there is a circuit split among the states when determining if the knowledge element is required. However, the Maryland Court of Appeals notes that due to the significant maximum penalty and the nature of the offense being regulatory and punitive, the prosecution must prove that there was a mental element when committing the offense.

Rice v. State (2001)

Facts of the Case

In September of 1999, an officer spotted a black car speeding down a street, make a U-turn, and then proceed to speed back in the direction he came from. The officer followed the car, which turned into a drive way and the driver ran into a home. When the officer walked up to the front door of the house, he asked to see the driver’s license and registration at which point the suspect refused. When the paperwork was finally produced, the officer saw that the license was suspended. The officer arrested the driver for driving on a suspended license.

Procedural History

The defendant claimed that he did not know he was driving on a suspended license because he did not consistently stay at his listed place of residence stated on his license. Thus, the defendant claims that the prosecution cannot prove the mens rea of criminal intent needed for the offense.

Holding

The Court determined that “the evidence was sufficient to support a rational factual finding that any lack of actual knowledge by appellant of the suspension of his privilege to drive was the result of deliberate ignorance or willful blindness.”

The Court’s Reasoning

The Court looked to State v. McCallum when making its ruling. In McCallum, the Court ruled that there is a mens rea requirement to the offense of driving while suspended because it is not a public welfare offense that imposed strict liability. However, the Court noted that deliberate ignorance or willful blindness is a proper standard of proof of knowledge in a driving while suspended case. In this case, the Court takes the same opinion finding the defendant’s testimony that he lacked knowledge of the suspension to not be credible. Overall, the Court found that the defendant was living at his listed address at least part time and there was ample evidence to suggest that the defendant was aware of the certified letter sent to him notifying him that his license had been suspended. Therefore, the defendant still should have had notice had it not been for his willful ignorance, so the mens rea requirement is satisfied.

Jones v. State (1999)

Facts of the Case

The defendant, Jones, had a history of motor vehicle violations. At age 16, Jones was convicted of driving without a license and at age 17, he was again convicted of driving without a license. This pattern continued until at age 18, when Jones accumulated 13 points and did not pay the fines, so the Motor Vehicle Administration revoked his privilege to drive. However, on August 12, 1997, Jones was driving when an officer attempted to pull him over for a faulty breaking mechanism. Jones stopped the car, but proceeded to run on foot. When the officer caught Jones, he became aware that Jones’ privilege to drive was revoked and proceeded to issue citations.

Procedural History

At the trial level Jones was convicted of all counts, including driving without a license, driving while one’s privileges are suspended and driving while one’s privileges are revoked. Jones appealed claiming that the above three charges should not have separate convictions and sentences, but rather should merge into one offense.

Holding

Considering Jones’ argument, the Court had to decide if the “legislature intended to create a single offense that can be committed in different ways or instead, intended to create several distinct offenses.” The Court determined that the Maryland statute creates separate offenses because they carry “distinct penalties and further different policy goals.” However, the Court noted that even though driving while suspended and driving while revoked are two separate offenses, the lesser charge merges into the charge carrying the maximum penalty. Therefore, the Court affirmed Jones’ sentence for driving while revoked, but remanded back to the Court of Special Appeals the sentence for driving while suspended for it to be vacated.

The Court’s Reasoning

The Court concluded that even though the charges are all separate offenses, they may merge together because “doubt exists as to whether the General Assembly intended for such multiple punishment.” Thus, when there is doubt, the decision must be decided in favor of the accused. So, Jones’ charges were merged together.

Maryland Suspended License Lawyer

If you have been charged with driving with a suspended license or driving on a suspended license in Maryland, contact attorney Randolph Rice, a Maryland suspended license lawyer.

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