Tuesday, May 28, 2013


HELLO FOLKS: It’s me again. Hope all is going well. I’ve been working lately, so trying to answer your questions will take a little more time, so please be patient. For those of you following me on Twitter, I will continue posting interesting news articles that are somehow related to my posts, so I suggest you click here to follow so you can get interesting stories related to traffic, transportation, vehicles, the police, the law, and crime. Keep on re-pinning and following me on Pinterest with my unusual and interesting photos, and if you by chance find me using one of your photos to your praise or objection please let me know. If you have any questions to ask me, don’t be shy: use the form below or leave me a message after each post. Here’s another interesting question that someone asked me recently via the form you fill out below in my blog:
DEAR SERGEANT AL: It is my understanding that to be guilty of driving with a suspended license in California (Los Angeles County) you need to be aware your license was suspended. I had a ticket that became a Failure to Appear warrant in February. I was stopped and ticketed in April for running a stoplight and not warned or cited that my license was suspended. On May 10 in Downtown LA, a LAPD officer stopped me for a malfunctioning brake light, in the investigation he found my license was suspended - it had only been suspended on May 5, five days prior. Since I was ticketed in April after my February warrant and that my license was only suspended 5 days prior to the brake light - is this an appropriate and likely defense to fight the suspended license ticket?   –LICENSE IN SUSPENSE

DEAR IN SUSPENSE: Thanks for asking for my opinion as you raise excellent issues, but you are better off letting a traffic lawyer determine if this is a good excuse or not. I think your defense is iffy and probably doubtful, but better yet and above all else, I strongly suggest that you go talk to a traffic attorney since a license suspension or revocation right next to things like excessive speeding (31 or 41 mph or more over the speed limit) or passing a school bus with flashing lights is the most serious of traffic violations that begs for a lawyer. A traffic attorney might be able to weed out the root cause of the suspension, determine if your excuse might be a good defense for you, and perhaps lay another defense in court to find a way to get your license suspension lifted. Depending on the circumstances, a license suspension in California is a misdemeanor. Also to consider: California does things a bit differently than other states when it comes to suspended driver's licenses in that a California prosecutor must prove that you knew that your license was suspended. I understand that this might be a bit tricky but not impossible to prove. You might have something with the April car stop that might help you with a defense. So after reading this please go speak to a traffic attorney.
It is these kinds of questions and circumstances surrounding a license suspension that remind us all that driving is a privilege and not a right. While it is the responsibility of the Department of Motor Vehicles to try within reason to notify you with the contact info you supplied them of an impending license suspension, you generally do not in fact need to be officially notified for your license to in fact become suspended. If the DMV made every effort to notify you to no avail, they will go ahead and suspend you, as they did in your case. If we had it your way either nobody would take the licensing process seriously, or nobody would become suspended to avoid at all costs of being notified of a suspension. To address some of the issues you raise IN SUSPENSE, consider the following that a prosecutor might use against you:

1. "I had a ticket that became a Failure to Appear warrant in February," means that: If you were properly identified at any car stop by the police with your ID, the mere fact that you were issued a ticket for a traffic violation with a return date to appear in court that you had to sign for (if it was in fact issued in California) and you decided not to show up, is prima fascia evidence that: 

a) you were aware that you were stopped for a violation by a police officer, 
b) the officer informed you of his/her observation of the violation, 
c) you were issued a ticket and the officer notified you of the court date that appears at the bottom of that ticket should you decide to either take no action or plead not guilty, 
d) regardless of these circumstances you in fact DID NOT appear in court on that date to respond to the charges against you, and
e) you continued driving with reasonable cause to believe knowing your priviledge was revoked or suspended, or
f) a judge in open court SO ORDERED the suspension, or
g) the police confiscated your license on a previous ticket, or
h)  a DMV notice was sent to the right address and not returned as unclaimed or undeliverable.

You have therefore set yourself up for your license to be suspended for non-appearance. Remember that a ticket is an accusatory instrument that is issued in lieu of a lawful arrest. Instead of arresting you at the car stop for a traffic violation (yes the police can do that if they want to), the officer is letting you go with an appearance ticket to appear in court to answer the charges. That's what a traffic ticket is all about. The onerous is on you, and not the DMV or the court. Some possible defenses you could use are:

a) you were never notified of the suspension by mail,
b) you had an emergency that gave reason to drive,
c) computer error, and/or
d) mistaken identity.

2. Even though the Failure to Appear Warrant was issued in February, it took until May 5th for your license to become suspended. This might be because of a computer error, or that it took time to try to notify you to success or failure. DMV maybe was trying to get in contact with you. Since you last applied or renewed your license, has your address changed? Do you have a different residential or mailing address than what might appear on your license? Have you taken U.S. Mail Forwarding off your old or temporary mailing address since you last moved or were on vacation? These are the kind of things we often overlook that often finds us with warrants or notices of violations unanswered, parking tickets/bills unpaid, car insurance policy lapses, and licenses or registrations suspended or not renewed. Most states give you one week to update your address, no excuses. Remember that failure to notify the DMV of an address change within a certain time period is a violation onto itself you also can be cited for . . .

3. The cops don't always  run your license every time you get stopped, so sometimes you don't find out about the suspension right away. My intuition tells me that the April officer did not run your license. If he/she did, the officer would have discovered the February warrant. Depending on the jurisdiction in which you were stopped, the officers who stopped you in all of these traffic stops may or may not have been obligated to run your license to check if there were any suspensions. Some jurisdictions require every stop; some require if circumstances warrant or if the equipment in which to check is available. The fact is that in the real world sometimes not everyone can get a license or plate check. The police dispatcher can be too busy or sometimes police duty to a higher calling can abruptly end a traffic stop by a police officer with just a tongue-lashing, a let-go, or with just a simple ticket and no computer check because a high priority job just entered the queue and the officer has to immediately respond. This is where you often hear about people who say they talked themselves out of a traffic ticket, when really nothing was further from the truth. The fact probably was that the cop suddenly had more important things to do and Mr. Smooth Talker just suddenly became an obstacle because something like a gun run just came over the air from 911, as opposed to the focus of attention he was to the cops just a few minutes ago with his shitty driving. If I had a dime for every time I pulled a motorist over for a suspended drivers license I didn’t know and didn’t find out, let alone for being on the FBI‘s most wanted list that got away, I would probably be a millionaire from doing police work. IN SUSPENSE you may not realize it with your frequent flier miles with the police these many times that you’ve been stopped for these too many violations, but sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. 

Now that you’ve been suspended, this is what I suggest you do if you haven’t already, aside from you being more careful how you drive so that you do not stand out for another ticket:

1. Turn in your license. Don’t play games, and don’t get caught driving again: next time you’ll go to jail if the next cop runs your license. Make a color photocopy of your license to keep for yourself, and either mail the original in or turn it in to the local DMV. Apply for a state ID card if you don’t have any other ID so that you’ll be able to catch a flight or cash a check if you need to.
2. Apply for a temporary or restricted use license. You can do this at a local DMV office. You still need to drive to work or school. If you get one, don’t play games with this either. Go straight to where you need to, school or work, and nowhere else, OR ELSE.
3. Talk to a lawyer. A traffic lawyer please, and not your cousin Vinny, the real estate lawyer. And don’t be cheap about it; this is your license we’re talking about, even if you have to mortgage the house to hire a lawyer to resolve your license suspension. Since this is in Southern or Central California, please email me back if you want a referral for a great attorney who deals in traffic law. Plan on spending at least $300 - $1,000 for initially the bail that will eventually become a first time conviction fine and at least $1000 for the attorney's fees, well worth the investment.

Good luck with lifting your suspension(s) and please be more careful driving. The problem here is not necessarily that your license keeps getting suspended that you apparently are unaware, but more that you are getting stopped for violations you need to take more care about to avoid. See my related posts down below on avoiding or fighting a traffic ticket when you get stopped to help you out of this quandary. Thanks for the great question.

Suspense-fully Yours,


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