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New York Vehicle and Traffic Law 511(1): Aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree

By Spodek Law Group | May 3, 2017
(Last Updated On: October 15, 2023)

Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 12:42 pm


Driving With a Suspended License in New York: Understanding Aggravated Unlicensed Operation

Getting your driver’s license suspended in New York can happen easier than you may think — a few too many speeding tickets or lapsed insurance payments and suddenly you find yourself unable to legally operate a motor vehicle. But what happens if you continue to drive after your license is suspended? Well in New York, there are serious consequences for driving with a suspended license, including hefty fines, jail time, and a permanent criminal record.

This article will break down the offense known as “aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle” under New York Vehicle and Traffic Law 511(1). We’ll cover what constitutes this violation, the different degrees of severity, potential defenses, and the typical penalties if convicted.

What is Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in the Third Degree?

Under VTL 511(1)(a), you can be charged with the misdemeanor offense of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree if you drive knowing that your license is suspended or revoked in New York.

The key elements of this offense are:

  • You operated a motor vehicle on a public highway or road
  • At the time, you knew or had reason to know your license was suspended or revoked

This applies to any type of license suspension — whether it’s for unpaid tickets, lapsed insurance, unpaid child support, or a DWI conviction.

Penalties for Aggravated Unlicensed Operation 3rd Degree

Aggravated unlicensed operation in the third degree is a misdemeanor offense. If convicted, the possible sentences include[1]:

  • Up to 30 days in jail
  • Fines between $200 – $500
  • Both jail time and fines

If you were driving a vehicle over 18,000 pounds, the fine increases to $500 – $1,500[1].

A misdemeanor conviction also results in a permanent criminal record that can affect your employment and educational opportunities in the future.

Defenses to Aggravated Unlicensed Operation 3rd Degree

Some potential defenses to fight this charge include[2]:

  • You didn’t know your license was suspended – The prosecution must prove you knew or had reason to know about the suspension. If you can show you were unaware due to circumstances out of your control, this may get the charges dismissed.
  • You weren’t driving on a public road – The law only applies to operating a vehicle on a public highway. If you were driving on private property instead, you may not be guilty of aggravated unlicensed operation.
  • No notice of suspension – In some cases, the DMV may fail to properly notify you that your license was suspended. This could provide a defense against the charges since you couldn’t have known about the suspension.
  • Invalid traffic stop – If the police pulled you over without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, any evidence obtained during the invalid stop may be inadmissible. This could result in the charges being reduced or dismissed.

Higher Degrees of Aggravated Unlicensed Operation

There are two higher degrees of aggravated unlicensed operation which carry more severe penalties:

Aggravated Unlicensed Operation 2nd Degree

This applies if you[3]:

  • Commit 3rd degree offense with a prior conviction within past 18 months
  • License was suspended for a DWI conviction
  • Have three or more suspensions on at least three separate dates for failing to answer, appear, or pay a fine

The penalties for a 2nd degree conviction include up to 180 days in jail and fines between $500 – $1,000[3].

Aggravated Unlicensed Operation 1st Degree

This degree occurs if you[3]:

  • Violate 2nd degree while intoxicated
  • Violate 3rd degree with 10+ suspensions on separate dates
  • Drive with a conditional license while intoxicated

1st degree aggravated unlicensed operation is a class E felony with up to 4 years in prison, fines between $500-$5,000, or both jail time and fines[3].

Consequences of an Aggravated Unlicensed Operation Conviction

Beyond the criminal penalties, a conviction for unlicensed operation can also lead to[4]:

  • Additional license suspension
  • Revocation of vehicle registration
  • Increased insurance rates
  • Seizure or forfeiture of your vehicle

And if you cause an accident while driving without a valid license, your insurance may not cover any damages or injuries.

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