Driving Without a License in New York

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 What Are the Penalties for Driving without a License in New York?

When it comes to driving with an expired, suspended or revoked license in New York, it is complicated. Much depends on the precise reason for which a person does not have their driver’s license.

If a person drives without a license because they never obtained a license, their crime is a misdemeanor and the punishment is a fine of from $75 to $300 or no more than 15 days in jail or both a fine and jail time.

If a person had a valid driver’s license but failed to renew it within 60 days of its expiration, the person may be fined up to $40.

If a person has a valid driver’s license but drives without the license in their possession, they can be arrested for driving without a license, but they cannot be convicted of a crime. Presumably the problem would be solved by the person appearing in traffic court with their valid driver’s license in order to prove that, in fact, they have it.

Of course, as in all states, a non-resident of New York with a valid driver’s license from their home state or country can drive in New York without a New York license, subject only to New York’s age restrictions and restrictions on driving with a learner’s permit. Also, people who operate farming vehicles, emergency response vehicles, and some military vehicles can be exempt from certain licensing requirements.

A person who has moved to New York to take up residence in that state has 30 days within which to get a New York driver’s license. After that period of time has passed, they might then be cited for driving with an expired license

Driving with an expired or suspended license in New York is a more serious offense, as is driving with a license that has been revoked. Being convicted of these offenses is going to result in harsher consequences. New York also has stricter laws dealing specifically with the unlicensed operation of vehicles for hire, such as taxicabs and limousines. Of course a person needs a special license to operate taxicabs, for-hire vehicles, street-hail liveries or limousines in New York State.

What Does Aggravated Unlicensed Operation Mean in New York?

Conviction of driving with a license that has been suspended or revoked results in punishment that is more severe than punishments for simple driving without a license. New York law imposes more severe penalties for these offenses, which are referred to as “aggravated unlicensed operation” (AUO). There are three classes of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree, with 3rd being the least serious and 1st being the most serious offense.

Penalties for AUO violations consist of fines that increase in value depending on the degree of the crime and jail terms, with 3rd degree having the lowest fines and 1st degree having the largest fines. The different degrees involve a variety of factors as follows:

  • 3rd Degree AUO: A simple unlicensed operator ticket cost in New York is from $200 to $500. The crime would be knowingly operating a vehicle with a suspended or revoked driver’s license. A term of imprisonment in jail of up to 30 days is also possible. Or, a person can be sentenced to both the fine and imprisonment;
  • 2nd Degree AUO: A person found driving whose driver’s license was suspended for a driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction, or for having refused a field sobriety test when stopped for DWI, or for having three license suspensions for failure-to-appear is guilty of a 2nd-degree AUO.

    • Second degree AUO carries a fine of $500 to $1,000 and seven to 180 days in jail. A second driving-while-suspended conviction within 18 months of a first offense is also a second-degree AUO, but carries a minimum $500 fine and up to 180 days in jail. The driven vehicle will also be impounded and only released to a licensed owner with proof of insurance after all costs are paid.
  • 1st Degree AUO: This is actually a Class E felony. A first-degree AUO involves the following acts:
    • Committing a 2nd-degree AUO while under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
    • Having ten or more previous license suspensions for failure to appear or pay fines;
    • Driving while a person’s license is revoked for a DWI conviction; or
    • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs while holding a DWI conditional license.
    • Conviction of a class E felony comes with a fine of from $500 to $5,000 or up to four years in state prison or both. The driver’s vehicle will also be impounded and the vehicle may even be subject to seizure and forfeiture, which means the owner does not get it back.

Moreover, New York prohibits a prosecutor from bargaining down any AUO violations to a reduced to lesser charge.

So, depending on the degree of the offense, as detailed above, penalties for AUO violations may include fines ranging anywhere from $500 to $5000. It can also include jail sentences that can range as high as four years in the state penitentiary for conviction of 1st degree AUO or time in jail of not more than 180 days, and/or mandatory probation.

Are There Any Defenses Available?

If a person has a valid driver’s license and forgets to take it with them when they drive their car, then they can make use of the “forgot the license at home” defense. As explained above, they can be arrested for driving without a license, but they cannot be convicted of a crime. The problem would be taken care of by the person appearing in traffic court with their valid driver’s license in order to prove that, in fact, they do have one.

Keep in mind that the fine for driving on an expired license is $40. Likewise, a person has only 30 days after moving to New York to obtain a valid New York driver’s license. If a person is caught driving on an out-of-state license more than 30 days after they have moved to New York, the penalty is $40. This fine of $40 is a minimal punishment and it reminds the person who has to pay it to get their licenses renewed or to get a New York license if they have moved to New York from another state to live.

For aggravated unlicensed operation violations, it is valid defense if the perpetrator can prove that at the time of the offense they had a valid license issued in a foreign country or in another state.

Should I Consult with a New York Lawyer Regarding a Violation?

Among the U.S. states, New York has some of the strictest laws for enforcing licensing for drivers. Therefore the services of a lawyer may be necessary to ensure that you are properly represented in court when defending against a charge of driving without a license or aggravated unlicensed operation.

This is especially true if the charge deals with a 1st Degree AUO violation, which is a serious felony offense which can lead to a fine of as much as $5,000 and 4 years in prison. An attorney can help you negotiate the penalty terms specific to your situation and present any possible defenses. An experienced New York traffic violation attorney can provide you with more information and tell you if there is a legal defense available in your case.

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