Driving on a Suspended License

Operation under a Foreign License During Suspension or A Revocation in the State of Rhode Island

Due to the proximity of Rhode Island to many other states in New England, it is quite common for a driver arrested for an offense in Rhode Island to have been operating pursuant to a valid foreign drivers license. Generally, the foreign driver’s license is either from Connecticut, Massachusetts or New York. A person’s privilege to operate a motor vehicle in the State of Rhode Island could be revoked or suspended, despite the fact that the person may have a valid driver’s license from one of the aforementioned states. This creates a very difficult situation for law enforcement, because rather than charging the motorist with driving after the denial, suspension or revocation of their license, the police would be required to charge the defendant under the separate statute of operation under a foreign license during suspension or revocation in the State of Rhode Island.

The difference between these two state statutes is enormous from a legal perspective. Operation under a foreign license during suspension or revocation in the state of Rhode Island is a criminal statute without a specific penalty provision. On the other hand, driving after the denial, suspension, or revocation of a driver’s license is a separate and distinct criminal statute with a very specific criminal penalty.

In State v. DelBonis 862 A.2d 760 (RI 2004), The Rhode Island Supreme Court was very clear that a criminal statute without a penalty provision is void for lack of enforcement. In other words, it is not the function of the trial court to construe a penal statute to create a criminal penalty in a statute that specifically lacks a penalty provision. Every criminal statute must contain a penalty, and this is one of the foundations of our criminal law which developed from the deep seeded resentment of the Star Chamber method of trial.

Also, pursuant to well established cannons of statutory construction, penal statutes must be strictly construed in favor of the party. It is a basic horn book law that every criminal statute must provide for a penalty and that a conviction for a violation of a statute containing none cannot stand. Because our Rhode Island statute dealing with motorists who are operating on a valid foreign driver’s license at a time where their privilege to operate has been revoked in Rhode Island does not contain an applicable penalty, a case against the Defendant pursuant to this statute must be dismissed.

In the event that the prosecution attempts to amend their complaint to charge driving after denial, suspension, or revocation of license, which statute does contain a penalty provision, the Defense Attorney should object because a complaint may not be amended under these circumstances without the consent of the Defendant. Of course, many times by the time the prosecution realizes their mistake, it is too late, and this oversight will work to the benefit of the criminal Defendant.

If you are charged with Driving on a Suspended License, when in fact you have a valid foreign driver’s license, contact an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney for purposes of arguing the invalidity of the subject statute in Rhode Island.