Why do licenses get suspended?
In Arizona, your driver’s license may be suspended for a variety of reasons, including:
- Too many points on your driving record in a given period of time.
- As a result of being convicted or found responsible for some traffic violations, like a DUI or no proof of insurance.
- Failure to pay a fine associated with a civil traffic violation.
- Failure to appear in court in response to a civil traffic ticket.
Most commonly, we see licenses suspended for an old civil traffic ticket that the driver forgot to deal with, or from a photo enforcement ticket that the driver never knew about. Many times, a driver only realizes that their license is suspended when they are pulled over for another violation, and then issued a ticket for driving on a suspended license.
What can happen if you drive on a suspended license?
The statute that covers driving on a suspended license is A.R.S. § 28-3473. An immediate consequence of being issued a citation for driving on a suspended license is that your vehicle will likely be impounded for up to 30 days. In addition to losing the use of your vehicle, you will also incur fees for the cost of storing your vehicle in impound. A conviction for driving on a suspended license is a class 1 misdemeanor, the most serious level of misdemeanor in Arizona. Theoretically, a conviction could carry up to 6 months of jail time, but jail is unlikely unless you are a repeat offender. You will however be assessed a fine.
New for 2019: Some instances of driving on a suspended license are now civil violations.
There was a minor but important change to the driving on a suspended license laws in 2019. Specifically, if a driver is pulled over for driving on a suspended license, and the suspension is due to a failure to appear for court or a failure to pay fines, it is a now a civil violation instead of a criminal violation. See A.R.S. 28-3482.
This is only speculation, but perhaps the logic behind this change is that not paying a fine or failing to appear in court don’t actually have anything to do with driving. In other words, not showing up for court or not paying a fine says nothing about one’s driving history or safety. In contrast, if a driver’s license is suspended because of a DUI or from too many points, the suspension is actually related to a bad driving history. Moreover, we see many people who have licenses suspended from a photo enforcement ticket and they had no idea their license was suspended until they got pulled over for driving on a suspended license. They weren’t intending to drive on a suspended license, whereas someone who is driving with a license suspended for a DUI knows their license is suspended.
Resolving a driving on a suspended license violation:
The first step towards resolving a driving on a suspended license violation is to reinstate your license if at all possible. If your license was suspended for something like a DUI conviction, you may not be able to reinstate your license right away. However, if your license was suspended for something like an unpaid fine for a civil traffic violation, you can usually resolve the underlying civil traffic violation and reinstate your license fairly quickly. If the suspension was in fact due to an unpaid civil fine, and you pay the fine and reinstate your license, the judge has the discretion to then dismiss the driving on a suspended license charge. Additionally, getting your license reinstated increases the odds that we will be able to negotiate a favorable settlement with the prosecutor assigned to your case.