Ignorance is no defense to breaking the law. We hear that maxim often in movies and TV. And to some extent, it is true. But there are many crimes that require the accused to maintain subjective knowledge of facts, or a specific intent to break the law. In those cases, "I didn't know," may constitute a valid defense. A recent case involving driving with a suspended license tested how far ignorance of facts goes.
Driving with a Suspended License Requires Knowledge
It is a crime in Maryland to drive on a suspended license. However, to prove the offense, the state must demonstrate that the driver knew or should have known that the license was suspended.
Knowledge is easy--did the Defendant actually know that their license was suspended? Even if the answer to that question is "no," the state can still demonstrate that a driver "should have known" that their license was suspended.
This means that a driver cannot hide his or her head in the sand, or exhibit deliberate indifference to facts or circumstances that would put a reasonable person on notice that their license was suspended. What kinds of facts are needed to demonstrate a driver "should have known" a license was suspended is up to a jury to decide.
Recent Case Determines Driver Should Have Known of Suspension
In Steward v. State, a driver was arrested for driving with a suspended license. There was no doubt she did not actually know her license was suspended. However, the driver's license was previously suspended and reinstated, and she had attended a point system conference. Her license was suspended again in 2010, and was again lifted after she paid a fine. Her license was suspended again when she did not attend a mandatory driver improvement program. Later, she was pulled over and arrested once more for driving with a suspended license. As to the latter instance, she testified that she was homeless at the time and did not receive notice of the suspension.
The appellate court found that, based on her driving history, she should have known that her license was suspended. Each infraction in her past caused her license to accumulate points, and the court felt that it was fair to presume someone who continually accumulated such points and failed to attend mandatory driving courses can be charged with knowledge of the fact.
A person may innocently and honestly not know his or her license is suspended. In many cases, someone may believe they paid a fine or never got notice of a trial date, resulting in their failing to appear in court and their licensed being suspended. It is always best to stay on top of your driving record, make sure you maintain a current address with the MVA and make sure your license is valid if you committed even minor infractions.
Do you have questions about your rights? Did you recently receive a traffic infraction? The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience protecting the rights of criminal defendants. If you or someone you know was charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.