DRIVING WHILE SUSPENDED IN PENNSYLVANia
DRIVING WHILE SUSPENDED IN PENNSYLVANIA
Driving while operating privilege is suspended or revoked
This article involves subsection 1543(a) that applies to non-DUI related drivers license suspensions. Subsection 1543(b), which concerns DUI suspended drivers is discussed in a separately (See article on 1543(b)).
75 Pa.C.S. § 1543(a) – General Rule
Section of Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code defines the rule and penalty for driving with a suspended or revoked drivers license.
Section 1543(a) is the general rule and states that “Except as provided in subsection (b), any person who drives a motor vehicle on any highway or trafficway of this Commonwealth after the commencement of a suspension, revocation or cancellation of the operating privilege and before the operating privilege has been restored is guilty of a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $200.”
License Suspensions for 1543(a) Violations
PennDOT will issue a consecutive 1-year license suspension for a 1543(a) conviction. The suspension is enhanced to 2-years if the driver’s license was under revocation.
No Jail for First-Offense 1543(a) Violations
In general, there is no jail time for a 1543(a) violation. Summary offenses under the Vehicle Code are penalized by fines unless a period of incarceration is specifically authorized by statute. See75 Pa.C.S. § 6502. Therefore, the penalty is set at a $200 fine.
Second or Subsequent 1543(a) Violations - Up to 6-months Jail
Second or subsequent 1543(a) violation are subject to at least a $200 fine. The court can impose a maximum fine of $1,000. The court can also impose a 6-month jail term of imprisonment. 75 Pa.C.S. § 6503(a).
Sixth or Subsequent 1543(a) Violations – Mandatory 30-days Jail
Upon conviction of a 6thor subsequent 1543(a) violation a court must sentence the offender to at least 30-days jail and a $1,000 fine. The maximum term of incarceration is 6-months. 75 Pa.C.S. § 6503(a.1).
Elements & Analysis of Section 1543(a)
In these prosecutions, the Commonwealth must establish: (1) the defendant was driving or was in actual physical control of the movement of a motor vehicle; (2) the defendant was under suspension at the time of the alleged driving; and (3) the driver had notice of the suspension.
Our courts have explained that a Person “operates” a vehicle if he is in actual physical control of either the machinery of the motor vehicle or the movement of the vehicle itself. Commonwealth v. Costa-Hernandez, 802 A.2d 671 (Pa. Super .2002). Actual physical control for purposes of determining whether person is operating a vehicle is determined based upon the totality of the circumstances, including the location of the vehicle, whether the engine was running and whether there was additional evidence indicating that the defendant had driven the vehicle prior to the arrival of the police. Id. It is not necessary for the Commonwealth to produce direct evidence of driving, such as testimony that a defendant was seen driving, but they may instead rely on circumstantial evidence creating the inference that the vehicle had been in motion in order to meet its evidentiary burden. Id.
Actual notice of driver’s license suspension may take the form of a collection of facts and circumstances that allow the court to infer that a defendant has knowledge of suspension. Commonwealth v. Baer, 682 A.2d 802 (Pa. Super. 1996); see also Commonwealth v. Brewington, 779 A.2d 525 (Pa. Super. 2001). Factors that may be considered to determine if defendant has actual notice of suspension of driver's license include: evidence that the DOT sent by mail a notice of suspension to defendant's current address, and statements by defendant indicating knowledge, or any conduct demonstrating circumstantially or directly defendant's knowledge of suspension. Baer, supra. Anything that proves knowledge or shows that knowledge exists can be sufficient to prove “notice” of license suspension. Commonwealth v. Crockford, 660 A.2d (Pa. Super. 1995). Merely establishing that notice of license suspension was mailed, however, is not sufficient by itself to show actual notice required for conviction for driving with suspended license, DUI-related. Commonwealth v. Vetrini, 734 A.2d 404 (Pa. Super. 1999). Nevertheless, a driver can be effectively estopped from raising a lack of notice argument where notice of suspension is mailed to an old address because the driver failed to notify the DOT of the address change. Commonwealth v. Crockford, 660 A.2d 1326 (Pa. Super. 1995).
Further, when a driver’s license has been suspended it is not automatically restored either by the passage of time or the performance of some mandatory act. Commonwealth v. Moyer, 310 A.2d 345 (Pa. Super. 1973). The suspended driver must take affirmative steps to have his privilege reinstated but cannot drive until the Department of Transportation (DOT) has taken affirmative action to restore privilege. Id. Therefore, for a suspended driver's license to be restored, a letter must be sent by the DOT and received by driver notifying him that it is legal for him to drive again. Commonwealth v. Williams, 872 A.2d 186 (Pa. Super. 2005).
OLL Eligibility for 1543(a) Suspensions
An Occupational Limited License (OLL) is a provisional license that permits a suspended driver to operate a vehicle for the purposes of occupation, work, trade, treatment or study. 75 Pa.C.S. § 1553(b)(1).
Pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S. § 1553(b)(4)(i), a driver suspended due to a 1543(a) violation is only eligible for an OLL if the reason for the suspension is due to a:
failure to respond to a citation imposed under the authority of section 1533 (relating to suspension of operating privilege for failure to respond to citation) or 6146 (relating to enforcement agreements)
failure to undergo a special examination imposed under the authority of section 1538(a) (relating to school, examination or hearing on accumulation of points or excessive speeding);
failure to attend a departmental hearing imposed under the authority of section 1538(b); or
violation of section 1772(b) (relating to suspension for nonpayment of judgments), 1774 (relating to payments sufficient to satisfy judgments) or 1775 (relating to installment payment of judgments).
In these case, the offender may not file the petition for OLL until three months have been served for the suspension under section 1543(a).75 Pa.C.S. § 1553(b)(4)(ii).
Therefore, if the suspension is for any reason other than one of the four (4) reasons explained above, the 1543(a) offender is not eligible for an OLL.
An Experienced PA Driver’s License Defense Lawyer Can Help
If you or someone you know has been cited with driving while suspended pursuant to 1543(a), Lampman Law can help. We are in Pennsylvania magistrate and trial courts daily and we frequently represent good people charged with violating section 1543(a) and other serious Vehicle Code offenses that carry drivers license suspensions. While every case is different, we frequently resolve these cases without jailtime (when applicable) and without additional license suspension.
Once a 1543(a) citation is served, it is important to act fast. It is best to contact a criminal defense lawyer that understands the Vehicle Code and license suspension issues. It is also important to plead NOT GUILTY and to timely respond to the citation. Once the magistrate court receives the not guilty plea, they will schedule a summary trial.
Most importantly, it is essential for you to understand that by pleading guilty to 1543(a), your drivers license will be suspended for an additional year. Nothing on the citation will provide notice of the suspension; however, you are presumed to know the law and its consequences.
Contact Lampman Law to Defend Traffic Charges
Lampman Law is eager to defend your 1543(a) case and we are confident that we will help you resolve the citation in a positive manner. If you decide to hire us we will carefully listen to your side of the story, answer your calls, return calls promptly, and will handle all aspects of your case with careful attention to every detail.
Please contact Lampman Law at 570-371-3737 if you have any questions. We offer a free consultation reasonable fees. Payment plans (including credit card payments) can be arranged.