Sunday, October 13, 2013

There is sometimes more than one side to a story, the prosecution should have listened

My client, a Maryland licensee, was stopped in June of 2013 for expired registration.  He explained to the officer that his license had been suspended in the past.  The officer ran a license check and concluded that my client had a license that was revoked in the state of Maryland.  The officer charged my client with driving without a license, driving while suspended and driving while revoked.

These are fairly serious traffic charges.  The maximum penalty is one year in jail and $1000 fine as well as 12 points on your driving record.

My client came to me and I looked at his citations.  He came to me less than one day before the trial date.  I had little to work with but my client explained that although he did not have a physical license at the time he was stopped in June of 2013 he had been to the motor vehicle administration and had applied to have his license reinstated months beforehand.  A few days before the stop he explained that he had called the motor vehicle administration and they advised that his license would be approved.  Based on that knowledge he began driving and we had the problem above.  Several days after he was stopped he did receive a letter from the motor vehicle administration advising him that he could go and pick up his license.

I called the prosecutor the day before trial and tried to explain that my client had taken care of the situation and perhaps we could resolve the case by him pleading guilty to driving with expired registration (a fine only, no points, no jail).  The prosecutor told me that in the police report my client admitted that he knew his license was suspended.  The prosecutor rejected my proposal so we came to court.

In court the prosecutor wanted my client to plead guilty to the offense of driving while suspended which in this case carried one year in jail possibility and 12 points on his license as well as a $1000 fine.  I am duty-bound to make whatever offer I get from the prosecutor but I did not recommend it to my client.  I am also duty-bound to represent my client zealously.  Of course I reviewed the police report wherein my client allegedly confessed to driving on a suspended license.  The report did not say that at all.  What my client admitted to the officer was that he had been suspended at some point in his life.  Not that he admitted to being suspended while driving at the time the officer pulled him over.  The distinction is like the difference between lightning and lightning bug.

The case was called for trial and my client pled not guilty.  The prosecutor put on the officer who testified as to why he stopped my client.  The officer on the stand could not state that my client admitted to him that he was driving while suspended when he was stopped by the officer.  The officer put into evidence my clients driving record which contains some problems for the prosecution.  After my client was initially revoked for an alcohol evaluation some years ago the notice of revocation was apparently mailed to his home address.  The driving record indicated that although the notice of revocation was mailed it was returned by the postal authority.  What that means is that my client may not have known about the revocation.  This is important because one of the elements of driving while suspended or driving while revoked is that you should know that you are indeed suspended or revoked.  You cannot like the ostrich bury your head in the sand and ignore the obvious facts of your life but in this case the prosecution could not prove that he actually knew that he was suspended or revoked at the time of the driving.  Further, the driving record did not demonstrate that my client was suspended at the time of the stop, he was simply revoked.

The burden is on the prosecution to prove every element of every charge beyond a reasonable doubt to the trier of fact.  The prosecution charged my client with driving while suspended in several forms.  They had no evidence to show that he was suspended.  After the prosecution rests, the defense has an opportunity to move for judgment of acquittal and argue that the prosecution failed to make a prima facie case as to the charge.  This motion for judgment of acquittal applies to every crime from murder down to a speeding ticket.  In this particular case there was no evidence of a suspension and the judge dismissed the charges.  The only charge remaining was that of driving while revoked.

I put my client on the stand and he explained that he had sent in his reinstatement application months beforehand.  Several days before he was stopped he had called the motor vehicle administration who advised him that he was once again eligible to drive.  Now I have found that people tend to hear what they want to hear (including myself).  But the motor vehicle administration probably told my client was wait for their letter and then he can go to the motor vehicle administration and get his physical license.  The news he heard was better than the news they actually gave.  Nonetheless, the judge was impressed with my client's testimony and found him to be credible.  The judge thought that my client may have jumped the gun but very importantly the judge thought that my client legitimately thought that he was eligible to drive.

My client was found not guilty of all the charges.

I have been representing people with traffic problems over the past 27 years.  Experience can help when picking your attorney.

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