What does it mean to drive on a suspended or revoked license?
The statute that covers driving on a suspended license is A.R.S. § 28-3473. In summary, you are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle if your license has been either suspended or revoked.
What is a suspension and why do licenses get suspended?
A license suspension is a temporary removal of the privilege to drive. A suspended license can be reinstated by paying a small reinstatement fee once the underlying issue causing the suspension is resolved. Sometimes this can even be done online.
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 is a revocation and why do licenses get revoked?
A revoked license is different than a suspended license. A revocation is a termination of the privilege to drive, whereas a suspension is a temporary removal of the privilege to drive. In order to reinstate a revoked license, the driver will need to complete an investigation packet and reapply for a license. The driver may also be required to obtain an SR-22 certificate as a condition of reapplying.
In Arizona, the most common reasons your driver's license may be revoked are:
- Aggravated DUI conviction
- DUI Drugs conviction
- If a driver is convicted of reckless driving twice within 24 months
- Two DUI convictions within 7 years
What can happen if you drive on a suspended or revoked license?
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 the charge:
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.