Charged with Aggravated Unlicensed Operation? Here’s What to Do

In New York, your driving privileges can be suspended or revoked for several different reasons.

The two most common causes of driver's license suspension include failure to:

  • Pay a fine for a previous traffic citation
  • Appear in court or respond to a ticket

Aggravated Unlicensed Operation

If your driver's license has been suspended or revoked, and you know that (or should have reason to know that), and you continue to operate a vehicle on public roads, you could be charged with aggravated unlicensed operation (AUO) which can result in penalties such as jail and fines.

Although this is one of the most common charges filed against motorists, you should not take it lightly. It is still a criminal charge, and, in New York, a conviction cannot be undone. If you've been accused of driving without a valid driver's license, speak to an attorney right away. They can seek to have the charge reduced.

Misdemeanor AUO

Aggravated unlicensed operation in the third and second degrees are misdemeanors, and a conviction could result in even fines and jail and/or probation time.

Third-Degree AUO

In New York, a person commits third-degree AUO when they operate a vehicle knowing that their driver's license has been revoked or suspended. Under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 511(1), this offense is an unclassified misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 30 days in jail or 1 year of probation.

Second-Degree AUO

Under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 511(2), a person commits second-degree AUO if they knowingly operate a vehicle while their driving privileges have been revoked or suspended.

The driver must have also:

  • Previously been convicted of this offense within the past 18 months; or
  • Had their license suspended because they refused to submit to a chemical test, were found to have been driving after drinking alcohol, or were convicted of operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol; or
  • Been subject to a mandatory driver's license suspension pending a DUI charge; or
  • Had 3 or more suspensions on 3 separate dates for failure to appear, answer, or pay a fine

As with third-degree AUO, second-degree is an unclassified misdemeanor. However, the penalties for a conviction are higher. You could be sentenced to up to 180 days in jail (depending on your criminal record). Additionally, you could be ordered to 1 year of probation.

Felony AUO

When aggravated unlicensed operation is charged in the first degree, it's a class E felony.

A person commits this offense when they knowingly operate a vehicle with a suspended or revoked driver's license and:

  • Was under the influence of alcohol or drugs; or
  • Have had their driving privileges permanently revoked; or
  • Have a conditional driver's license and were driving under the influence of drugs and or alcohol

A conviction for first-degree AUO carries with it up to 4 years in state prison or 5 years of probation. However, if you have a previous felony conviction, the prison sentence is mandatory.

Working Toward a Reduction of Charges

In most AUO cases, the judge may allow for charges to be reduced. However, you must clear up your driver's license suspensions before you can negotiate a reduction. Beginning this process as soon as possible (even before your first court appearance) is important because it can take some time to get your driving privileges reinstated.

Getting Your Previous Suspensions Cleared

The process of clearing your previous driver's license suspensions is not always simple or easy.

The following are the steps you must take to clear your suspensions:

Step 1: Get a Copy of Your Driving Record. During your first court appearance for the aggravated unlicensed operation charge, the judge may ask questions about your previous driving history. They're not doing this to try to trip you up; most likely, they're trying to figure out what you need to do to take care of the charges. Having a copy of your driving record could help make this initial hearing go smoother.

If you're a New York driver, you can get a copy of your driving record by creating an account on the following site: https://my.dmv.ny.gov/crm/.

Step 2: Find Your Suspensions. After you've gotten your driving record, go through your history to locate your driver's license suspensions. You need this information to determine what court you must speak with to get your suspensions cleared. The court in which you've been charged with the AUO isn't always the same one that issued the suspension.

Step 3: Determine Why the Suspensions Were Issued. Once you find your driver’s license suspensions, if it's not clear why they were ordered, you must call the court to determine the reason. You can also take a copy of your driving history to the NYS DMV to get clarification on the suspensions.

If your driver's license was suspended because you did not pay the fine on a previous ticket, you must clear that up by making a payment. You will also be required to pay a "scoff lift fee," which is imposed to lift your suspension. This fee must be paid even if you were found not guilty of the previous offense. Usually, the fee is $75. Most courts don't take partial payments, and if you need more time to pay the fee, you must tell the court. Keep in mind that your driving privileges won't be restored until the fine has been paid in full.

When sending a payment to the court, include:

  • Your name (as it appears on the citation),
  • Date of birth, and
  • A self-addressed stamped envelope (to receive a prompt receipt)

If your driver's license was suspended because you did not respond to a previous ticket, you could see if the charge can be reduced. You might try to fight the ticket by stating that you never received a notice of citation or fine; however, it could be challenging to win with that argument because you are required to keep your address current with the DMV. The court assumes that if a notice was mailed to you, you received it.

You must then ask the court if you can appear on the next available date to meet with the prosecutor and attempt to have the charge reduced. It's best to make sure that the prosecutor or assistant district attorney will be at court on the day you plan to go; otherwise, you won't be able to discuss your matter with them, and you'll have to make another trip to attempt to get the issue resolved. If you have a lawyer for your AUO, you can speak with them to see if they can also help with the underlying citation at a reduced rate. They may also be able to appear in court on your behalf.

Taking Care of Your Aggravated Unlicensed Operation Charge

At your initial appearance for your AUO, the judge may have given you another date to appear after you’ve had your driver's license suspensions lifted. However, if you haven't gotten your driving privileges restored before that date, bring with you to your next AUO appearance proof of fines or fees paid and court dates to show you are working on that matter. The judge might give you more time to take care of the suspension.

If you've gotten your driver's license suspension lifted, you must still take care of the AUO charge. This isn't automatically done after your driving privileges are restored.

When taking care of your AUO charge, bring with you to court proof, such as receipts or certificates, that your driver's license suspensions have been lifted. It may also be useful to download a new copy of your driving record, which can help the prosecutor see that your history is clear.

When meeting with the prosecutor, keep your correspondence short and simple. Let them know you were charged with an AUO, and you would like to discuss a plea bargain to get the charges reduced. In most cases, they may offer a deal in which you plead guilty to a lesser charge to have the initial one dismissed. Sometimes the misdemeanor AUO is reduced to an infraction without points being assessed.

Before pleading guilty, make sure you know what the impact of doing so will be on you. You can ask the prosecutor, but if they don't tell you, speak with the judge.

Although you may be able to negotiate a favorable deal with the prosecutor, remember that the judge has the final say in the outcome and can accept or reject the plea.

You may be required to pay an additional fine to take care of your AUO charge. If you're unable to pay it right away, let the judge know. They may reschedule your case for a later date. Paying the AUO fine is the last step in the process, and once that's done, your case is dismissed.

If you've been charged with aggravated unlicensed operation or any other traffic violation in Buffalo or Western New York, reach out to James Quinn Auricchio, Esq. We will work hard toward a favorable outcome on your behalf. Schedule a free initial consultation by calling us at (716) 222-8489 or contacting us online.