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
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.