What If I Didn’t Know My License Was Suspended

Arizona DUI and License Suspension

The most common way a person is charged with an Arizona aggravated DUI (felony DUI) is that their driver’s license was suspended at the time they were allegedly driving under the influence. As strange as it may sound, it is very common for a person to be unaware that their license had been suspended. This is due to the fact that the procedures of the Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) are so complex and confusing that even most lawyers cannot understand them. Thus, the difference between a felony DUI requiring incarceration and a misdemeanor DUI requiring only a short term in jail can be as simple as the person failing to pay a $85.00 fee.

“No problem,” most people think, “I’ll just explain that I didn’t know my license was suspended.” This explanation, however, will not satisfy a prosecutor. This is because Arizona law does not require you to know your license is suspended in order for the crime to be classified as a felony. Thus, the defense strategy in these cases is to demonstrate that the client did not deliberately disregard the status of his license.

The following is the fundamental law regarding aggravated DUI due to a suspended license. Aggravated DUI on the basis of a suspended license necessitates proof that the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol while his license was suspended, and that he knew or should have known about the suspension. Williams v. State, 144 Ariz. at 489, 698 P.2d at 734.

The MVD is required by A.R.S. 28-3318(A) to provide a licensee with written notice when his license is suspended. Unless the licensee has notified the Department of a change in address in accordance with Section 28-448(A), the written notice must be mailed to the address provided to the Department on the licensee’s application. § 28-3318 (C). Furthermore, 28-3318(D) states that “[s]ervice of the notice provided by this section is complete on mailing.” Furthermore, 28-3318(E) states:

Compliance with the mailing provisions of this section constitutes notice of the suspension, revocation, [or] cancellation . . . for purposes of prosecution under § 28-1383[.] The state is not required to prove actual receipt of the notice or actual knowledge of the suspension, revocation, [or] cancellation[.]

Although the law creates a presumption that the licensee received notice and thus has actual knowledge of his license suspension when the Department meets the mailing requirement, this presumption is rebuttable, and a person may demonstrate that he did not receive the notice. See, for example, State v. Jennings, 150 Ariz. 90, 94, 722 P.2d 258, 262. (1986). “[O]nce the state proves mailing of the suspension notice, the burden shifts to the state to prove receipt of the notice or actual knowledge of its contents.” The defendant then bears the burden of proving that he did not receive the notice.” Church v. State, 175 Ariz. 104, 108, 854 P.2d 137, 141 (App. 1993).

As a result, arguing that the person was unaware his license had been suspended is insufficient. Rather, this is just the first step in defending yourself. The defense must also demonstrate that the individual did not purposefully disregard the status of his license.

Points Received Before A Driver’s License Is Suspended

Most traffic violations and crimes in Arizona will have an impact on one’s driver’s license. While some driving offenses (such as a DUI) result in an automatic suspension, other violations will result in the MVD assessing the license with points and possibly leading to a suspension. Here’s a quick rundown of Arizona’s point system:

  • 8 – 12 points within 12 months = 3 month suspension
  • 13 – 17 points within 12 months = 3 month suspension
  • 18 – 23 points within 12 months = 6 month suspension
  • 24+ points within 36 months = 1 year suspension.

A driver with 8 to 12 points may avoid suspension by enrolling in Traffic Survival School. However, if the driver has already attended Traffic Survival School within the last 24 months, this is not an option, and driving privileges will be suspended for three months.

How Does the Point System Work in Conjunction With a DUI?

A DUI conviction results in both a license suspension and the imposition of points. A misdemeanor DUI conviction will result in a 90-day suspension (with the possibility of a to-and-from work permit after 30 days) and 8 points on the license. However, because a DUI charge is usually accompanied by another traffic violation (for example, running a red light, failing to yield, etc.), a DUI conviction and the related violation could result in more than 8 points being assessed. Because the license would be that much closer to suspension in such a scenario, it is critical that the driver (or the driver’s attorney) negotiate for the dismissal of the related violations.

Suspensions for other types of DUIs (such as second offense, aggravated, and felony) vary. The above summary may not apply in all cases because there are many factors and other scenarios to consider when determining the complicated area of the MVD point system and how it affects one’s individual license.

When Can a Person Request a Hearing on a License Suspension?

In the context of a DUI case, there are two common scenarios in which a motorist’s driver’s license will be suspended:

After they refuse to take a chemical test in accordance with A.R.S. 28-1321(D)(2); and after a test result of.08 or higher in accordance with A.R.S. 28-1385 (A).

Prior to suspension, a person may request a hearing with the Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Division. The hearing request can be submitted by mail, fax, or email. The department must receive the request for a hearing within 15 days of receiving the notice. A timely request stays the suspension until at least the hearing date.

The hearing is a civil matter. The government’s burden of proof is only a preponderance of evidence, as opposed to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt. The hearing is not subject to the Arizona Rules of Evidence. For example, “reliable hearsay” evidence is admissible in court.