In the case of Commonwealth v. Cueva, the Massachusetts Appeals Court recently ruled that the evidence was insufficient to convict Cueva of Operating After Suspension, which would have likely resulted in a jail sentence.
At the trial, the prosecutor introduced evidence, in the form of a docket sheet, showing that Cueva had his license suspended for 2 years after being convicted of a second offense DUI. The Assistant District Attorney also introduced a certified copy of Cueva’s 15 page Massachusetts Driver’s History.
To obtain a conviction in any operating after suspension or revocation case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was notified that his or her license was suspended or revoked. Knowledge of the suspension or revocation can be actual or constructive. One way that the Commonwealth can prove this essential element of the charge is by establishing that the Registry properly mailed the suspension notice to the license holder.
The Appeals Court ruled that Cueva’s not having a driver’s license in his possession was insufficient to prove that it was suspended. The Mass. Appeals Court further ruled that the docket sheet was insufficient to prove notice, because there was no evidence indicating that the 2-year suspension was communicated to Mr. Cueva. When he was stopped, Mr. Cueva made no admissions regarding the status of his license. If he had admitted that his license was suspended, those admissions could have been used against him at trial.
The prosecution introduced no evidence to establish that the suspension notice was properly mailed to the defendant. In some other cases, the prosecution has called Registry employees to testify as to how suspension notices are mailed to customers. The Registry has a developed a system which indicates when letters are sent to customers and employees such as Branch Managers can testify as to how this system works. In this case, the Commonwealth introduced no such testimony. Furthermore, the prosecution did not produce any documentary proof of mailing such as a certificate.
The Appeals Court reversed the conviction for Operating After Suspension for OUI. If the defendant was convicted, he would have been required to serve a minimum mandatory 60-day jail sentence. Also, the conviction would have triggered a new license suspension and probably a 4-year Habitual Traffic Offender Revocation. This case represents an example of good lawyering and effective appellate advocacy on the part of the defense.