Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle – A Misdemeanor in New York State
New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 511
One of the most commonly charged traffic related crimes in New York State is the Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle (or “AUO”), under Section 511 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law. Many people within the general public and even some in the legal profession may not realize that an AUO is a misdemeanor – a crime – in New York State, and as such, carries serious consequences.
Typically, if someone is charged with an AUO, it is most often because of a previously unresolved traffic violation. Ignoring or simply forgetting about a traffic ticket will result in the court notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles of a “scofflaw”. This will then result in a letter from the DMV warning the person that their license will be suspended. The suspension notice from the DMV allows for a 30 day period in which the problem can be corrected (e.g., previous ticket resolved and/or fine paid). However, if that period expires without the problem being resolved then a person’s license will be automatically suspended without further communication from the DMV or the courts.
Alternatively, if someone moves and changes thier address without notifying the DMV or providing a forwarding address at the post office, then they might never receive a copy of a suspension notice that was sent. Unfortunately, under the law, actual receipt does not matter and your license will nontheless be suspended. However, one recent Fourth Department case held that during the trial of an AUO in the 3rd degree, the defendant’s opportunity to merely cross-examine a DMV employee who was not directly involved in sending out suspension notices and who had no personal knowledge of the defendant’s driving record was insufficient to protect the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation. People v. Darrisaw, 66 A.D.3d 1427 (4th Dept., 2009).
Therefore, if your license has been suspended because of a previously unresolved traffic ticket (whether you know it or not) and you are caught operating a motor vehicle in New York, you will most likely be charged with an AUO in the 3rd degree. If you are found guilty, an AUO 3rd carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500 dollars. See Simmons v. State, 843 N.Y.S 2d 794 (2007), footnote 2. More serious charges of an AUO in the 2nd or 1st degree typically pertain to alcohol-related or multiple suspensions and consequences of a conviction are even more severe.
While a sentence of jail time is not a typical outcome in an AUO 3rd conviction for anyone with an otherwise clean criminal record, the statute does allow for it. The most likely consequences of an AUO conviction come in terms of fines, mandatory surcharges, and hiked insurance rates. This is where hiring an attorney is extremely beneficial and economically wise.
First, an attorney will help you resolve any and all of the outstanding traffic matters that were the underlying cause of the AUO charge. Your attorney will help you through every step of the process and take care of all court related matters so that you will not have to worry. Most importantly, a good traffic attorney is usually able to get AUO charges reduced to less serious offenses, such as an “Unlicensed Operator”, under Section 509 or “Facilitating Aggravated Unlicensed Operation”, under Section 511(a), which is only a traffic infraction and not a criminal misdemeanor.
Understand that any attorney may not guarantee a particular outcome for your case. What a good attorney will do, however, is fight diligently for you and negotiate for the best possible results. Often, this will be a reduction or dismissal of charges, lesser fines, fewer or no points on your license, and no increase on your insurance.
Lorenzo Napolitano, Esq.