Many drivers are pulled over for a routine traffic stop and are surprised to hear the officer tell them that their license is suspended. Driving on a suspended license in New Jersey is a serious matter and carries severe penalties, including a minimum of $500 in fines, plus surcharges and other consequences including additional periods of license suspension (see below). One of the most important steps a person can take to resolve this matter is to contact an experienced traffic ticket attorney to resolve the issue. Often an attorney can negotiate a reduction with the prosecutor to an offense that will carry lower fines and no additional license suspension.
What Are the Fines and Penalties for Driving While Suspended in NJ?
Convictions for driving while suspended do not add moving violation points against one’s New Jersey driving record. They do, however, add insurance points which can result in steep increases to insurance premiums.
On a first offense of driving while suspended the fine is $500 and a $250 surcharge, insurance points and an extension of the suspension of up to 6 months. A second offense results in a $750 fine, a $250 surcharge, insurance points, a possible jail sentence of 1-5 days, and a suspension extension of up to 6 months. A third offense results in a $1,000 fine, a $250 surcharge, 9 insurance points, a possible jail time of 10 days, and a 6-month extension of the suspension.
What Reasons Can My License Be Suspended in New Jersey?
There are many different reasons why one’s license can be suspended in New Jersey. It’s important that a driver keep accurate contact information with the State of New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) so that he/she can be notified if the license has been suspended. Here are some of the main reasons why a driver’s license can be suspended in New Jersey:
- Receiving 12 or more points on one’s driving record
- Failure to appear in court or to pay fines
- Failure to pay surcharges
- Failure to provide proof of insurance
- Physical or mental disqualification
- Conviction for drug or alcohol use while driving (DUI)
- Reckless driving
- Vehicle abandonment on a public highway
- Fault in a fatal accident
What Is the Law with Respect to Driving with A Suspended License?
Under N.J.S.A. 39:3-40 it is illegal for anyone to operate a motor vehicle after their license has been suspended or whose ability to obtain a valid driver’s license has been prohibited by law. One of the first issues to address is why driving privileges were suspended. There are two types of possible license suspension: a court-imposed suspension and an administrative suspension generally issued by the MVC. Finding out the source of the suspension will determine the types of penalties one will be facing.
Why Hire an Attorney for a Charge of Driving While Suspended in NJ?
No one should attempt to handle a charge of driving while suspended on their own. The heavy fines and risk of both jail time and a possible extended suspension means there is a lot at stake. It is imperative that anyone charged with driving while suspended in NJ does everything possible to avoid conviction. Hiring an attorney provides the best chance of avoiding such serious penalties. An attorney can evaluate the facts of the case to determine the arguments that are most likely to persuade prosecutors to reduce the charge. In many cases, it may be possible to negotiate the charge down to driving while unlicensed, which carries much smaller fines and won’t result in a longer suspension period. In addition, in some cases, the attorney may be able to help resolve the underlying cause of the suspension, which can expedite the process of getting one’s license back.
What If I Never Received a Notice for My License Being Suspended?
In New Jersey, there is a requirement that a notice is sent to the address on record with the MVC before any suspension hearing takes place or a driver’s license is suspended in New Jersey. If MVC never sent the notice, that could potentially be used as a defense to a charge of driving while suspended (see below). An attorney can best advise on the applicable defenses and strategies.
What Can I Do to Get my Suspended NJ License Reinstated?
If the judge did not take the license in court, it must be surrendered at any MVC Regional Service Center or a local MVC Agency offering walk-in service. Generally, if a person’s license was suspended, he/she should sit down with an attorney to discuss the possible outcomes in the cases along with possible defenses. An attorney can direct the driver on what steps to take to get the suspension lifted so that the case can be heard. For example, a person whose license is suspended for failure to pay a surcharge can get the license reinstated by providing a receipt that proves the surcharge was, in fact, paid. If a receipt from the MVC is not available or wasn’t issued, then a bank or credit card statement showing the correct amount deducted at the appropriate time may suffice, depending on the circumstances. Similarly, a person whose license was suspended for lack of insurance can produce proof that he/she had insurance coverage during the alleged time period.
If the suspension was not in error, the driver may have to wait until the suspension period has ended and pay a restoration fee of $100 in order to restore driving privileges.
Suspended Licenses and Out-of-State Drivers
A driver from out-of-state whose license has been suspended faces the same penalties in New Jersey as a driver whose license was issued in the state. Thanks to the Driver’s License Compact (DLC), it is possible for police in New Jersey to see if a license issued in another state is no longer valid.
It’s worth noting that the New Jersey MVC does not have the authority to suspend an out-of-state license. However, it can choose to suspend an out-of-state driver’s right to drive in New Jersey. Should that happen, and the driver gets pulled over by NJ police, he/she can be charged with driving while suspended. Also, due to the DLC, should New Jersey suspend driving privileges for an out-of-state driver, it will most likely communicate this suspension to the licensing authority of the home state. In many cases, the home state may choose to reciprocate the suspension. In other words, a suspension of driving privileges in NJ could result in a suspension of the overall license.
Case Law Analysis
Drivers must realize that a person whose license is suspended or revoked by the NJ MVC does not automatically get their licenses back at the end of the suspension period. In State v. Zalta, 525 A. 2d 328, the driver appealed a sentence for driving while suspended on the grounds that the suspension should have ended. The defendant insisted that it wasn’t clear from the statute’s language that the license would remain suspended after the suspension period until such time as the driver pays reinstatement fees and otherwise resolves the reason for the suspension. Instead, he contended that at the end of the imposed six-month period of suspension, his New Jersey driving privileges had simply expired and, and thus was thus only subject to a charge for driving while unlicensed (N.J.S.A. 39:3-10).
The judge rejected this argument, stating:
In our view, a person of ordinary intelligence acting in good faith would interpret the phrase “during the period of … suspension …” under N.J.S.A. 39:3-40 to mean that his suspension would continue until actual restoration of his license by the director.
In addition, it was affirmed that written communication to the defendant clearly outlined the steps required to reinstate the license and the obligation to do so in order to restore driving privileges.
What this case means to other drivers charged with driving on a suspended license is that a suspension of one’s NJ driver’s license can continue indefinitely until the driver resolves the underlying issue and follows the necessary steps to reinstate the license. Those who do not do so have no excuse for not realizing that the license was still suspended. Further, claiming that one “did not realize” the license was still suspended, when it was clearly communicated that a suspension or revocation was enacted, cannot be used as a defense to a charge of driving while suspended. Instead, it is critical that one hire an attorney to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charge to a lesser offense with less severe penalties.
In State v. Wenof, 246 A.2d 59, the defendant was ticketed for speeding on February 15, 1966. After faling to answer the summons, the MVC mailed a letter to the driver on May 20, 1966, warning the license would be suspended starting June 10, 1966, unless the underlying summons was satisfied. By July 22, another notice was sent informing the defendant of the suspension. Unfortunately, the address on file with the MVC was a business address, which the defendant had not occupied for some time. Thus, on June 12, 1967, when the defendant was pulled over again for speeding, he was surprised to find that his license has been suspended. In dispute of the charge of driving while suspended, the defendant argued that he had not received any notice of impending or effective suspension due to the mailings going to an older address.
The court rejected this defense by noting that, firstly, that the original summons stated clearly that failing to answer the ticket could result in a suspension of the license. Secondly, he moved from his previous address without either providing forwarding information to the post office or informing the MVC of the move. Thus, the defendant bore responsibility for the lack of notice, as the MVC was operating with the most up-to-date information it had available. Thus the defendant was found guilty and charged the full fine.
Who Should I Contact to Fight a Charge of Driving While Suspended in NJ?
If you or someone you love has been charged with driving on a suspended license in New Jersey, it is urgent that you get the help of an experienced traffic ticket attorney. The attorneys of Rosenblum Law have helped many people in similar situations. We can fight hard to protect your rights and minimize the most serious consequences. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.