Exactly What is a Certified Habitual Offender?
It’s crucial to understand that being designated a “habitual offender” by the DMV does not always mean you’ve committed a crime and haven’t been charged with one. The term “habitual offender” simply means, in plan English, that you have a terrible driving record. The NH Department of Safety has compiled a list of what can lead to habitual offender status:
- Any combination of 12 convictions for minor offense, including speeding, crossing the yellow line, driving without a license, or driving without proof of financial responsibility
- Three (3) major convictions (see below),
- One (1) major conviction and any combination of eight (8) of the convictions listed in item 1 above, or
- Two (2) severe convictions and any combination of four (4) of the convictions listed in item 1 above.
- These convictions are based on the dates of the underlying offenses, which all occurred within the last five (5) years.
A habitual offender status is usually assigned to someone who has been charged with three or more major driving infractions in the previous five years (rolling year period, not calendar year). These are usually charges of a suspended license, DWI, or reckless driving.
The following are the most common significant infractions (“major offenses”:
- Drunk driving(any such offense).
- Reckless or negligent driving
- Conduct after an accident (usually called “leaving the scene” or “hit and run”)
- Driving after a revocation or suspension
- Using a vehicle without permission.
- Disobeying a police officer is a serious offense.
- Passing a school bus illegally
A state trooper will give notice of hearing to the person whose record has been detected by a computer program to meet the standard for habitual offender
What occurs at the hearing for habitual offenders?
A hearings officer, usually a lawyer who works for the Department of Safety, conducts the hearing. First, the officer reviews your driving record and certifies that your convictions match the criterion for a habitual offender.
Most individuals don’t realize that if the driver’s prior convictions match the criterion, the hearings officer has no choice but to label them a habitual offender. Many people believe they can explain that they went through a difficult time in their lives but have made significant progress since then. It doesn’t matter whether the hearing officer is sympathetic and doesn’t want you to become a habitual offender. They will be the one to certify you.
Is there any way to get out of this situation?
The only way to avoid being a habitual offender is if one of your convictions is false because a court reported it to the DMV mistakenly.
One method is to try to have the conviction overturned in one of the courts. If we can prove that the client does not deserve a persistent offender, we can sometimes persuade a sympathetic prosecutor to overturn a conviction. Alternatively, we can carefully study the hearing transcript to ensure that all correct procedures are followed. The constitutionality of many operating after revocation convictions was called into doubt by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 2016, creating a good opportunity for this strategy.
What if you drive while you’re a habitual offender?
Driving after the DMV has certified you as a habitual offender is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail. There used to be a mandatory minimum one-year sentence. Thankfully, the Legislature changed this rule a few years ago, and judges are no longer obligated to impose a mandated minimum one-year sentence.
How long will you be considered a habitual offender by the DMV?
If you cannot avoid becoming a habitual offender, you will be sentenced to a maximum of four years and a minimum of one year. There are two options for the hearing officer. From the hearing date, they can begin the habitual offender phase. Alternatively, they might begin from the date of the most recent relevant driving charge conviction. However, there is one caveat that may help to mitigate the damage. Suppose the most recent relevant driving charge occurred months or years ago. In that scenario, you might be able to persuade the hearings officer to backdate it, allowing you to serve a significant portion of the sentence.
Once your time is up, can you get your license back?
When you’ve been a habitual offender in New Hampshire for a certain amount of time, your license isn’t instantly renewed. In reality, you must fill out paperwork to petition the DMV to decertify you as a habitual offender. There will be another hearing with a hearing officer to decide if you should be decertified.
During your initial hearing, the hearings officer will inform you what will be required to get decertified, such as requiring you to take a defensive driving course or a substance addiction course. In addition, depending on the type of offenses you have, you may have extra charges that must be served consecutively (particularly in the case of a DWI).
If you need help with criminal defense or driving offenses in Concord, New Hampshire, contact us.