This is one of the biggest defenses for a driving on suspended case. People realize it in a subconscious way, but a lot of people don’t understand that the law actually requires that you must have legal notice that your license was in fact suspended.
But what does that mean?
Unfortunately, the law doesn’t allow you to put your head in the sand and ignore notices from the courts. And that’s where people get in trouble a lot of times. Virginia law says that when you’re found guilty of a ticket, the clerk of court for that court will send a bill to your mailing address from the ticket. The bill says that you have 30 days to pay the fine or else your license will be suspended. Even if you never received that bill, the simple fact that they sent the bill means that you have legal notice of the suspension. This mailed bill can be enough to maintain a conviction for a driving on suspended case.
Then how do we argue about notice?
One issue that comes up is if for some reason you moved and maybe didn’t update your address. I’ve had plenty of cases where my client moved a few weeks after getting a ticket and updated their address promptly within the 30 days required by law, but the notice for the prior ticket that they received that suspended them was sent to their old address. In a case like that, we would have a strong argument that you had no notice, especially if you could take the stand and testify that you never received anything in the mail about the ticket.
The other type of notice issue that I see come up a lot is with DMV’s driver improvement clinic. If you get too many tickets in Virginia, the DMV will send you a first class letter saying you need to do a driver improvement clinic within a couple months or else they will suspend your license. But it’s sent by first class mail, so they have no proof that you ever received it. In fact, sometimes the records from DMV will show that the letter was returned to them. In those cases we have a strong argument to win. If you can testify that you never received the letter and the driving record says the letter was returned to sender at DMV, then we should have a winning argument about notice.
As you see, notice can be a hard issue to fight the case on, but it’s one that we may be able to sink our teeth into. Unfortunately, it’s one that I think a lot of attorneys skip over. They don’t dig into the records enough to try to figure out exactly what happened. Some attorneys don’t even pull your driving record before court. They just go to court and ask to see the record from the Commonwealth. How in the world can they review the record, talk to DMV, research the events, and come up with a winning defense? In my opinion, they can’t. You need to have the driving record and compliance summary before court in order to be able to mount a strong defense to driving on suspended case.
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