Vol. 10, No. 2 | August 2015

Barden v. Commonwealth (Court of Appeals of Virginia): Does Suspended/Revoked Driving Status Expire?

by Eric Snow
Instructor of Criminal Justice
Radford University
E-mail:  esnow@radford.edu

 

On May 12, 2015, the Court of Appeals of Virginia decided Barden v. Commonwealth[1], a case related to the expiration of driving status suspensions or revocations.  Barden was arrested twice in February 2008 for driving under the influence and his punishment for each offense included a suspension of his driver’s license for twelve months.  In addition to the trial court’s punishment, the Department of Motor Vehicles revoked Barden’s driving privileges for a twelve month period.  All of the suspensions and the revocation expired in February 2009.  In November 2013, Barden was operating a motor vehicle when he was stopped by a law enforcement officer and ultimately arrested for driving suspended/revoked in violation of Code § 46.2-301(B).  During his trial, Barden provided documentation that he paid all of his fines and court costs, but did not pay a reinstatement fee assessed by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Barden argued his license was not actually suspended at the time he was stopped because the initial suspension and revocation periods were twelve months each and had already expired.  He further argued his fines and court costs were paid prior to the stop and arrest.  Conversely, the prosecution argued the suspension still applied when he was stopped because even though Barden paid his fines, he had not paid the reinstatement fee and obtained a new driver’s license from the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Therefore, his license was still suspended and he was guilty of driving on a suspended license.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia determined Barden was not guilty of driving suspended because his suspension expired prior to the day he was stopped in 2013.  Although the court viewed a court-imposed suspension as different from a license revocation imposed by the DMV, both sanctions extend for a designated period of time.  This means once Barden’s court issued suspension expired and prior to his paying the Department of Motor Vehicle’s reinstatement fee and complying other DMV requirements, he was guilty of driving without a driver’s license in violation of Code § 46.2-300 rather than driving suspended in violation of Code § 46.2-301(B).  Although the Court of Appeals does not address the issue, it stands to reason that the requirement of Code § 46.2-301.1 for law enforcement to impound a vehicle being operated by a driver whose driving privilege was suspended for a driving under the influence offense also only applies during the time of the suspension.

In order to remain compliant with the Court of Appeals’ ruling in this case, officers should make every effort to determine when an individual’s suspension began and the duration.  This is often difficult when a driver has multiple suspensions.  The use of a driving transcript, the Virginia court system’s website, or court personnel for the jurisdiction where the offenses occurred can aid an officer in determining the appropriate charge.

It is important to note that the Court of Appeals did not state Barden was completely in the right when the officer stopped him in 2013, but simply that he was guilty of driving without a valid license rather than driving on a suspended license.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia opinion in Barden v. Commonwealth is available here.

 

[1] Barden v. Commonwealth, (Court of Appeals of Virginia, 2015)

 

Disclaimer:  The content of the Virginia Police Legal Bulletin does not constitute legal advice, nor does it reflect the opinions or views of the Virginia Police Legal Advisors Committee.