I’m often asked by clients who are charged with driving under suspension, “What can I do before we go to court to help my case?” Without a doubt, the best answer is for the client to get their license valid. Sometimes this isn’t possible because the length of the suspension is longer than the time it will take for the case to be resolved. For example, if a client is charged with driving under suspension in March of 2017, but their suspension doesn’t expire until May of 2020, then they’re not going to be able to get valid no matter what they do before court.
On the other hand, many of my clients have suspensions that are either going to expire before the case is over or simply need to address some issues to get their license valid.
A common misconception is that once a person’s suspension is over they’re automatically okay to drive again. That’s simply not the case. There are usually two things that have to be done at the end of every suspension: 1) pay the BMV a reinstatement fee and 2) show current proof of insurance. Sometimes there are additional things like obtain and maintain an SR-22 insurance policy, but for the most part is paying a reinstatement fee and proving insurance.
For example, at the end of an OVI/DUI suspension a person has to pay a $475 reinstatement fee and show current proof of insurance. The failure to do so will result in the person being charged with ‘driving after having failed to reinstate’, which is an unclassified misdemeanor in Ohio. Previously any driving under suspension charge was a 1st degree misdemeanor but in October of 2009, the legislature changed to law to create a new class of offense called an ‘unclassified misdemeanor’. An unclassified misdemeanor does not carry the possibility of jail time but it does carry a potential fine of up to $1,000 and up to 500 hours of community service. If a person fails to perform the community service ordered by the court, it is punishable as indirect criminal contempt.
There are a handful of driving under suspension offenses that have been reassigned to the ‘unclassified misdemeanor’ provision. A few examples are: driving after having failed to appear in court or pay a fine. Also for falling behind on child support payments. Driving under a financial responsibility suspension or driving under a non-payment of judgment suspension are also unclassified misdemeanors
‘ORC 4510.11 Driving under suspension or in violation of license restriction’ is what we call the standard DUS or driving under suspension charge. It is still a 1st degree misdemeanor and punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The court can also impose an additional suspension on the person.
It’s important for the attorney to review the citation as well as the underlying facts of what the person is under suspension. It is not uncommon to see an officer cite a person for ORC 4510.11 (a jailable offense) when they should have cited a person under ORC 4510.111 (an unclassified misdemeanor and non-jailable offense). When I’m asked to represent someone for a DUS, that’s the first thing I do since it often makes a very big difference in the outcome of the case. The second thing is to see what we can do to get a person valid before we go to court – since that’s the single best thing that can be done before we have to see the judge.