The Lack of Notice Defense in Mass. License Suspension Cases

In order to be convicted of driving on a suspended license, in violation of G.L. c. 90 § 23, the prosecution must show (1) that the defendant operated a motor vehicle, (2) that at time of operation the defendant’s license was revoked or suspended, (3) that the license suspension or revocation was pursuant to violation of one of certain specified statutory sections, and (4) that the defendant was notified that his license had been suspended or revoked.

Proper mailing of a suspension notice by the Registry of Motor Vehicles is prima facie evidence of receipt, but defendant may introduce relevant evidence of non-receipt. A properly addressed suspension letter simply raises a presumption that the defendant received it. However, this presumption is rebuttable and a defendant must be allowed to produced evidence in rebuttal. In some license suspension cases, it may be possible to convince a judge or jury that the person charged with operating after suspension, which can carry severe penalties, never actually received the suspension notice. If this key defense is established, the person cannot be convicted.

Attorney Paul B. Watkins has been able to successfully use this recognized defense to avoid convictions for those charged with driving while suspended. Avoiding a conviction will prevent an additional automatic license suspension as well as a potential 4 year habitual traffic offender revocation. In some cases, such as those where the driver’s license was suspended for DUI, a not guilty finding will save the driver from a minimum mandatory jail sentence.