DWLR and Out-of-State Revocations

Suppose a police officer patrolling a city street lawfully pulls over a car with out-of-state tags. When the officer asks the driver for his driver’s license, the driver tells the officer: I had a Maryland driver’s license, but it was revoked. May the law enforcement officer properly charge the defendant with driving while license revoked in violation of G.S. 20-28(a)? After all, the defendant (1) drove (2) a motor vehicle (3) on a highway (4) with a revoked license (5) knowing it was revoked. G.S. 20-28(a).

G.S. 20-28(a) historically has been interpreted not to support charges of driving while license revoked on these facts. See Ben F. Loeb & James C. Drennan, Motor Vehicle Law and the Law of Impaired Driving in North Carolina 84 (UNC Institute of Government, 2000) (“The offense of driving while license revoked has generally been interpreted to require that one’s license be revoked by the State or North Carolina and that notice of that fact be provided by the state.”); see also N.C. Pattern Jury Instruction-Crim. 271.10 (stating that for jury to find that notice of the revocation was given, of which the defendant had knowledge, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) notice was personally delivered, (2) the defendant surrendered his or her license to an official of the court, or (3) that DMV provided notice by mail in accordance with G.S. 20-48).

Why out-of state revocations don’t count. The terms “revocation: and “suspension” are defined in G.S. 20-4.01(36) and G.S. 20-4.01(47) to mean “termination of a licensee’s or permittee’s privilege to drive . . . for a period of time state in an order of revocation or suspension.” The requirement that the termination be stated in an order of revocation or suspension corresponds to the requirement that the State prove that a defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the revocation to obtain a conviction under G.S. 20-28(a). Traditional wisdom holds that the “order” referred to in G.S. 20-4.01(36), (37) refers to an order by a North Carolina court or the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NC DMV). Separate statutory provisions authorize NC DMV to suspend or revoke the driving privileges of nonresidents in the same manner as it may for residents and prohibit a person from operating under a foreign license while subject to such a revocation order. G.S. 20-21; 20-22; see also G.S. 20-16.5(a)(5), (e), (f) (requiring surrender of a driver’s license from any jurisdiction pursuant to civil license revocation in an implied consent case). There is no question that a nonresident is revoked for purposes of G.S. 20-28(a) when NC DMV or a North Carolina court (in the case of G.S. 20-16.5) revokes the person’s privilege to drive pursuant to these provisions.

A contrary view. One could make a plausible argument that an out-of state revocation is a revocation for purposes of G.S. 20-28(a). A nonresident who is at least 16 years old who has in his or her immediate possession a valid driver’s license issued in his or her home state or country may lawfully drive in North Carolina if he or she operates the motor vehicle in accordance with the license restrictions and vehicle classifications that would apply in his or her home state or country. G.S. 20-8(3). The revocation of the nonresident’s valid license in his or her home state “terminat[es]” the nonresident’s “privilege to drive” in North Carolina, thereby arguably satisfying the definition of “revocation” in G.S. 20-4.01(36). And while it sometimes may be difficult for the State to prove that a defendant was notified of a revocation issued by another jurisdiction, there are instances, like the one recounted above, in which the State easily can prove that the defendant knew of the revocation.

There are no appellate court cases considering these arguments, which may indicate the universality of the view that only North Carolina revocations count. More than 163,000 charges of driving while license revoked in violation of G.S. 20-28(a) were filed in 2012, rendering it the third most commonly charged criminal offense, after speeding and displaying an expired registration plate. If the traditional view is holding fast, these numbers indicate that North Carolina issued revocations alone are more than enough to fill court dockets.

Those in the know, let us know. Are you aware of charges under G.S. 20-28(a) based on out-of-state revocation without any corresponding action by North Carolina?