It is the law in Maine. Every Maine resident has to get a Maine driver’s license in order to drive legally. The State has an interest in registering vehicles and drivers, and Maine is serious about this law. Operating without a License in Maine is a criminal charge for not maintaining an active Maine driver’s license, or abiding by the terms of your license.
This article is not about your typical Maine resident whose existing license expired and simply is late in renewing their license. Instead, this article is about when the person’s behavior is through intentional neglect to get a driver’s license or failure to follow the limitations on the scope of their license. Often, people I encounter who are charged with Operating Without a License do not feel like “criminals.” Everyone drives, and so they feel that all Operating Without a License charges should be traffic violations. In some cases, Operating Without a License is in fact a traffic violation, but there are more serious situations in which Operating Without a License is in fact a criminal charge.
Also significant is the fact that a criminal charge for Operating Without a License is one of the convictions that counts towards a potential Habitual Offender status. Just like a criminal charge for Operating Under the Influence (OUI) or Operating After Suspension (OAS), Operating Without a License can cause serious collateral consequences if left unaddressed, and needs the expertise and representation of a criminal defense lawyer.
If you or someone you know is facing a driving related criminal charge like Operating Without a License, I encourage you to contact my office to schedule a free legal consultation. I am happy to meet with you to answer your questions and put your mind at ease.
Arrest for Operating Without a License
There are a few major ways in which a person can end up facing a criminal charge of Operating Without a License:
- Driving a Car with less than 0.08 BAC while under 21 – When you are under 21, your driver’s license does not permit you to drive with any alcohol in your system, period. This is called the “zero tolerance” law. If you are caught driving while “buzzed,” with a blood alcohol content of under 0.08 but still a positive alcohol measurement, then you can be charged with Operating Without a License, as well as the accompanying issue of Operating Beyond License Restriction.
- Violating a “Condition Q” License – After an OUI-related driver’s license suspension, your license is not restored to the same level right away. For a period of time after an OUI-related suspension, your license is reinstated with certain restrictions, similar to the “zero tolerance” restrictions on an under-21 license. This post OUI-suspension license restriction is called a “Condition Q.” If you violate this restriction by having any amount of alcohol in your system while behind the wheel, you can be charged with Operating Without a License.
- Failing to get a Maine License on time after becoming a Maine Resident – When you move to Maine as a new Maine resident, the State allows a certain grace period in order to allow you to get your administrative affairs in order, including getting a Maine driver’s license. If you fail to do this within 90 days, you can be charged with Operating Without a License.
- Failing to get a license in the first place – if you drive a car and have never obtained a Maine driver’s license, you can be charged with Operating Without a License.
In order to determine whether you are a licensed driver, law enforcement is permitted to run your license plate number to see who the car is registered to. Law enforcement often runs license plates in order to determine if there are any potential issues in connection with the car. Law enforcement does not need any special reason or “probable cause” to run your plates. Often, it is these seemingly innocent “registration checks” that often identify individuals who end up getting charged with Operating Without a License.
Maine Law: Operating without a License
Under Maine Statute 29-A M.R.S.A. Section 1251, subsection 1. License Required, “…a person commits an offense of operating a motor vehicle without a license if that person operates a motor vehicle on a public way or parking area:
- Without being licensed. Or,
- In violation of a condition or restriction on the license.
- Operating without a Maine driver’s license when a new Maine resident has been living in Maine for 90 days or more.”
A criminal charge for Operating Without a License is considered a “strict liability” crime. Strict Liability means that it does not matter whether or not you knew that you were breaking the law by driving your car without being properly licensed. Strict liability crimes do not take into account your state of mind. For this reason, any argument of “I didn’t know” or “I was never notified” would be ineffective.
Operating Without a License in Maine is a Class E misdemeanor crime. The maximum penalties for a Class E misdemeanor conviction include up to $1,000.00 in fines and up to six (6) months jail time. And, that Operating Without a License conviction counts as a strike towards a potential Habitual Offender HO status. Habitual Offender status occurs with three (3) driving related criminal convictions within five (5) years, ten (10) or more traffic violations involving demerit points within 5 years, or a combination. The driver’s license of a Habitual Offender is revoked (suspended indefinitely).
Can Operating Without a License be a Traffic Violation?
In some narrow circumstances, Operating Without a License is considered a civil traffic violation. These situations include:
- Operating without a license issued by the State of Maine if the person is a new Maine resident who has been living in Maine for more than 30 days but less than 90 days.
- Operating on an expired learner’s permit that has expired within the past 90 days.
- If the driver is stopped with an expired learner’s permit, the law enforcement officer may issue a limited permit to the driver for the sole purpose of driving home or to the BMV to renew their license.
How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
While a charge for Operating Without a License might feel not as serious as a charge for Operating Under the Influence (OUI) or for Operating After Suspension (OAS), it can nevertheless cause problems in the long run if it is not addressed properly at court. Your case for Operating Without a License would benefit from the knowledgeable attention of a criminal defense lawyer.
- Your Criminal Defense Lawyer can Negotiate a Favorable Resolution with the District Attorney: If you have a clean record aside from the single charge for Operating Without a License, your lawyer can argue that it is not worth the District Attorney’s time to prosecute otherwise innocent citizens. Knowing the way the Court system works, your lawyer can make this argument in the most effective way possible so that it can be the most persuasive.
- Your Criminal Defense Lawyer can Challenge the State’s Evidence: Regardless of whether the charge is for a Class E crime or a Class A felony, the State’s evidence needs to meet the elements of the crime by a standard of evidence known as beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard of proof in the legal system. This means that no matter how minor the charge might be, the State is still obligated to put on its best possible case. Your criminal defense lawyer’s job to poke holes in the State’s evidence.
- Your Criminal Defense Lawyer can Save you from a License Revocation: As mentioned above, a conviction for Operating Without a License can be counted towards a potential Habitual Offender (HO) status. If you fight the charge and win, then you would not be convicted of the charge, and your driver’s license would remain in the clear. It is when you fail to address any driving-related issues that the convictions can pile up, and before you know it you are staring down a revocation of your driver’s license. Better to fight it now and be safe rather than to not fight it and be sorry later.
Possible Outcomes for Operating Without a License
With the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer, here are some possible outcomes to a charge of Operating Without a License:
- Dismissal– A dismissal is when the charge is dropped completely. A dismissal on your record appears as “Dismissed.”
- Filing Agreement– A Filing Agreement is when the State sets aside the case for a period of time pending the defendant’s good behavior, and possibly meeting some basic conditions or requirements, such as a Filing Fee.
- Plea Deal for lesser charge– Your criminal defense lawyer can negotiate with the District Attorney to potentially obtain a better outcome to your case. One example of a better outcome is a plea deal in which you get to plead to a lesser charge. In the case of Operating Without a License, perhaps the District Attorney would agree to downgrade the charge to the civil traffic violation.
Court Process for Operating Without a License
Here is the court procedure for Operating Without a License. Across the State of Maine, the Courts have implemented a procedure called the Unified Criminal Docket, which is described below:
Arraignment is your first appearance at court where the charge of Operating without a license is read to you. You will need toprovide an answer to the charge. At Arraignment, your criminal defense lawyer can enter a plea of Not Guilty on your behalf to this charge.
After the Arraignment, the next court date is the Dispositional Conference. The Dispositional Conference is where the lawyers for the defense and the State negotiate a possible resolution to the case. In my practice, many Class E criminal cases like Operating without a License are resolved at the Dispositional Conference. If no resolution is reached at the Dispositional Conference, then the case moves on to further court dates.
Motion Hearing and Possible Docket Call
In the event that there are any possible issues in the police investigation whether the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated, a Motion Hearing can be held on the defense’s Motion to Suppress. Or, the case might require a Docket Call, which is the final opportunity for the parties to resolve the case outside of trial.
If no resolution is reached, even through Docket Call, then the case progresses to Jury Selection and Jury Trial. In this type of charge, it is rare to face a potential trial. The trial is a person’s “day at court” complete with arguments to the jury, testimony from the stand, and cross-examination of witnesses. The verdict is the outcome of a trial, and is considered the final outcome of the case.
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