Operating on a Suspended License in Rhode Island

What are the penalties for operating on a suspended license in Rhode Island? Are there any defenses to driving with a suspended license? How do you get your suspended license reinstated? This article by RI Attorney Kevin Hagan explains the laws governing operating on a suspended license in RI.

Rhode Island General Laws Section 31-11-18 governs the charge of operating on a suspended license (OSL). The first two convictions are misdemeanor offenses, while a third conviction is a felony. For a first conviction, the court must impose a fine of at least $250 and the Registry of Motor Vehicles must impose an additional three month suspension. For a second conviction, the court must impose a fine of at least $350 and the Registry of Motor Vehicles must impose an additional six month suspension. Also, the court must impose court costs of $94.50 plus 15% of the amount of any fine exceeding $200.

Usually, a Defendant charged with a first offense will generally be given the opportunity to avoid the statutory sanctions if they can get their license reinstated, or if they were operating without a license, a chance to obtain a valid license. If the Defendant agrees to plead nolo contendere to the charge, the case will usually be continued for six weeks for sentencing with the understanding that a $250 fine will be imposed if the Defendant does not obtain a valid license before that date. If the Defendant does appear in court at sentencing with a valid license, the plea will be withdrawn and the case dismissed and the Defendant will only have to pay court costs of $94.50. If the Defendant appears at sentencing without a license, the court may grant another extension if the Defendant has made a good faith effort and there is hope that they can in fact, obtain a license.

There are at least four common defenses for an OSL charge. Two defenses would be that the person was not actually driving or that the person actually had a valid license. Another defense would be that there was no “reasonable suspicion” for the police to stop the Defendant’s vehicle. The prosecutor must prove that the police had reasonable suspicion to stop the Defendant’s vehicle. Also, it may be possible to defeat an OSL charge if the prosecutor cannot prove that the Defendant received notice that their license was suspended. If the Registry of Motor Vehicle does not have a notice on file or if there is a major defect in the notice (wrong address etc.), the prosecutor will not be able to prove the OSL charge.

As one can imagine, the burden of proof becomes more difficult, as a practical matter, for the prosecutor to meet when the license is a foreign or out of state license. Also, Rhode Island’s statute governing the operation of a motor vehicle on a suspended foreign driver’s license fails to provide a penalty, and therefore it is an invalid statute.

While generally considered a low level misdemeanor, those incurring multiple offenses have recently been adjudicated more severely based upon publicity on the issue of unlicensed drivers. Therefore, it is recommended that those charged with this offense seek legal counsel in order to understand their rights pursuant to these statutes.

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