Arthur Kardonsky was charged with a misdemeanor offense for driving after his motor vehicle registration was suspended, and a violation level offense for driving after his driver’s license was suspended. At the trial, Mr. Kardonsky testified that he had problems getting his mail and did not recall getting notice from DMV that his license was suspended. The Judge found this testimony credible enough to find Mr. Kardonsky not guilty for misdemeanor driving on a suspended registration. But the Judge still found Mr. Kardonsky guilty for the violation level driving on a suspended license.
The reason for the different verdicts is that the Judge did not believe that the violation level, unlike the misdemeanor charge, requires that the driver acted “knowingly.” That is to say, the Judge felt that, for the lower level charge only, it didn’t matter whether Mr. Kardonsky knew his license was suspended.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the conviction, concluding that a driver must know he is suspended to be convicted of operating after suspension for any level.
While this decision may seem minor it is actually very important. The DMV makes plenty of mistakes and countless number of people are arrested because they legitimately had no idea their licenses were suspended. For some this proves disastrous as it leads to a lengthier loss of license for having too many points on their record, or even being a habitual offender.
Common sense dictates that to be guilty of a crime a person must have intended their act on some level, that it can’t be a mere accident or mistake. Thankfully the operating after suspension statute upholds this principal and the Supreme Court recognized that fact.