Operating After Suspension or Habitual Offender Revocation Charges in Maine

Suspended Maine LicenseIn Maine, it’s easy to get charged with Operating After Suspension or OAS. There are a lot of ways to get suspended and the State Does a lousy job of notifying people of the suspension. Still, the penalties are very real: Large fines are mandatory and jail time must be imposed in more serious cases. Even if there is no court imposed suspension, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles will suspend your license again if you plead guilty.

Why was that License Suspended?

In Maine, Not paying a fine, conviction for other driving offenses, accumulating points, or just changing your car insurance coverage can all result in suspension. Even after you fix the problem that got you suspended, your license will not be restored until you pay a “reinstatement fee” of $50 to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. That’s $50 for every suspension, and those fees can leave a 15 day suspension in effect for years. A suspension notice letter should be sent, but State mail does not get forwarded so if you moved, and have not update the address on your license, you won’t get the notice and the first time you learn about the suspension might be when you get pulled over.

Penalties for Operating After Suspension or Revocation

For most OAS charges, a fine is the only mandatory sentence: A first offense has a mandatory $250 fine, a second offense is $500 and a third is $750. But, when you plead guilty, the court sends notice to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and BMV will suspend your license again for 60 days or more if you have prior suspensions, even a suspension for something else. Once you have three convictions for operating after suspension, or certain other offenses within a 5 year period, you can become classified as a Habitual Offender (HO) and your license will be revoked for three years.

If you drive after revocation, there are mandatory minimum penalties. These include incarceration for 30 days to two years depending on your priors. Habitual Offender who Operates Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs, eludes police, passes a road block or exceeds the speedlimit by 30 mph or more can be charged with “Aggravated operating after habitual offender revocation” and the minimum prison time ranges from 6 months to 5 years!

A Lawyer Can Defend These Cases

Some defense lawyers think that OAS cases are pretty open and shut, but that’s just because they’re bad at their job. You can read this article about a recent OAS trial that ended in a not guilty verdict. Almost every case has some problems that can help the defense. The ones that don’t, probably have some explanation that a prosecutor might be receptive to. Here are three of the most common issues I see:

Traffic Stop Issues

If a traffic stop led to charges, the prosecution must prove that the traffic stop was legal. Pulling someone over on a hunch that they are suspended, or because the car looked suspicious, probably is not enough. An illegal traffic stop could lead to the exclusion of all evidence.

Can they Prove “Operation?”

The state also must prove that the defendant operated the vehicle, and sometimes, operation can be an issue. Often, police will find a parked car and will think that a suspended suspect drove to that place. Often an officer will see someone driving around town. The officer claims to recognize the car or driver and believes that the driver is suspended. The officer then goes to the person’s home a day or two later to summons them for OAS. The question in any of these cases becomes whether the State can prove that the suspended person operated the car on the prior day.

Was the Driver Legally Suspended?

Most of the time, the stop is good and operation is clear. The question becomes, was the driver properly suspended? This is the most important issue in many cases. The fact that a license is suspended or revoked is not enough to prove the case. The law requiers that a person be suspended and that the State to properly notify them that they are suspended or revoked. It does not require proof that you actually received the notice as long as it is sent to the correct place. Notices often go to the wrong address. BMV may have multiple addresses on file and send the letter to just one, the court may send fine payment suspension notices to whatever address they happen to have in the file without ever checking the BMV address, police report addresses for the driver may differ from the court and BMV address and might be disregarded by both agencies.

Figuring these and other issues out requiers meeting with a lawyer who knows the laws, knows the defenses, can make sense of your driving history report, and can fully investigate all information that might have an impact on the case. Don’t think that an OAS of HO charge is always an open and shut case. A large percentage of cases can be defended in some way. Even cases with no good defenses can often be negotiated down to lesser charges if there is a good explanation  Pleading guilty will guarantee a conviction and another round of suspension.

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