New Hampshire has a stiff Habitual Offender statute, calling for long-term administrative license losses following multiple motor vehicle convictions and certification as a habitual offender. Furthermore, operating a motor vehicle after certification as a Habitual Offender results in a required jail sentence. A careful understanding of habitual offender consequences is critical when representing our DWI and motor vehicle clients in light of the impact of a long-term license loss and exposure to jail or prison time on employment and family obligations. Our motor vehicle attorneys measure concerns for habitual offender consequences every time that they recommend a plea or trial to a client in a motor vehicle case. When clients come to us facing charges for operating after a habitual offender suspension, our attorneys appreciate the nuanced defenses and sentencing options available under the Habitual Offender statute and defend such cases head on with the goal of mitigating State demands for stand committed jail and prison time.
The Basics of the Habitual Offender Statute
Certification as a Habitual Offender may arise under a variety of circumstances, including convictions for the following motor vehicle offenses within a five year period: three major motor vehicle violations; two major motor vehicle violations and four minor violations; one major motor vehicle violation and 8 minor violations; or 12 minor motor vehicle violations. Major motor vehicle violations include convictions for DWI, Reckless Operation, Negligent Operation, Operation After Suspension, and Disobeying a Police Officer among others. Minor motor vehicle violations include convictions for highway marking violations, speeding and driving without a license or registration among others.
Long term license losses follow certification as a Habitual Offender. The Department of Safety issues a notice to any person that qualifies for habitual offender status, calling for a hearing where the person must show cause why he or she should not be barred from driving a motor vehicle in New Hampshire. Where the Department of Safety determines that there are a requisite number of motor vehicle convictions to certify someone as a Habitual Offender, it suspends driving privileges from one to 4 years. Following expiration of this license loss, a habitual offender must petition for reinstatement of driving privileges.
Where habitual offender certifications do result, we believe it our obligation to assist our clients through the process, often appearing at certification and decertification hearings in order to secure the best possible results for our clients. We gather background, family and mitigating information from our clients in order to press for the minimum possible license loss at administrative hearings. In other cases, we challenge underlying convictions in order to contest Habitual Offender certification in the first place.
Accounting for Habitual Offender Consequences When Defending Motor Vehicle Cases
Our clients come to us facing a wide range of motor vehicle violations, ranging from DWI to Reckless Operation to a simple speed violation. Defending these cases effectively means taking the time to understand the collateral consequence that may flow from a motor vehicle conviction. We work with our clients to review their motor vehicle record and then shape our strategy to account for any habitual offender concerns. For example, a straightforward DWI defense can become far more complicated where a conviction may also result in certification as a habitual offender and a long term license loss. When a new conviction may result in Habitual Offender certification, the likelihood of trying the case is higher. When we try our cases, we do so aggressively. Our DWI and motor vehicle lawyers achieve outstanding results in trial, having secured Not Guilty verdicts in District and Circuit courts throughout the State.
Defending Cases for Operation After Habitual Offender Certification
Charges for operation after certification as a Habitual Offender often surface in difficult situations. With no hardship license available in New Hampshire and few options for public transportation, clients often come to us with charges for operation after certification as a Habitual Offender after a simple motor vehicle stop while trying to get to work. The consequences can be grave. A conviction for operating a motor vehicle after certification as a Habitual Offender is typically a felony and results in imprisonment for not less than one year and no more than 5 years.
However, the statute supplies some defenses and mechanisms to mitigate this harsh sentence. A defense exists where the decision to drive was necessitated by extreme emergency. Similarly, sentences of 12 months or less may be served at the house of correction and a Defendant may be eligible for administrative home confinement after serving just 14 days in prison. Finally, where the underlying convictions which lead to certification as a habitual offender were non-criminal and did not include a DWI, then the case is treated as a Misdemeanor and the minimum mandatory jail term does not apply. Our criminal defense attorneys understand the ins and outs of this statute and regularly apply the law to secure the best possible results for our clients.
The art of negotiation is critical in such cases. Our criminal lawyers have proposed a variety of creative alternative sentencing ideas to prosecutors with regular success in our Habitual Offender cases. In some cases, our lawyers have convinced the State to forego a Felony conviction for operation after certification as a Habitual Offender in favor of a less serious Misdemeanor offense for a simple Operating After Suspension charge, resulting in little or no jail time. Where diplomacy fails, our attorneys aggressively prepare for trial, examining carefully the State’s case. The State bears the burden of proof in any criminal case, and habitual offender violations are no different. The State must prove three elements: 1) that a habitual offender order barring the defendant from driving a motor vehicle was in force; 2) that the defendant drove a motor vehicle on the ways of this state while that order remained in effect and; 3) that the defendant did so with knowledge of his status as habitual offender.
Defenses exist in any of these three elements. Dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles can be a challenge and, at times, confusing. It has occurred that errors at the Department of Motor Vehicles create the incorrect impression that a Habitual Offender Certification had expired, permitting the defense to call into question whether a Defendant knew that he or she was operating after a Habitual Offender certification. In other instances, it is a challenge for the State to establish the element of operation. No matter the circumstances, our criminal attorneys review the facts, apply the law and zealously try their cases.