Driving after Certification as an Habitual Offender

When a person drives a vehicle anywhere in NH after being certified as an Habitual Offender, in most instances they will face a prosecution for the Special Felony called Operating after Certification as an Habitual Offender.

What is a Habitual Offender?

Habitual Offender is a status that, unfortunately, is granted to certain people in NH. As explained on this page, a person convicted of either three "major" motor vehicle offenses, 12 "minor" motor vehicle offenses, or a combination of major and minor offenses (every four minors counts as one major) will be certified as an habitual offender after a hearing at the Department of Safety.

The person retains that status, not only for the time period specified in their Order of Certification, but until they are granted "decertification" in writing. Most people maintain the habitual offender status for somewhere between 1 and 4 years before they are decertified. Some people are never decertified.

Driving after Certification as an Habitual Offender

If a person drives upon a "way" in the State of NH, and acts "knowingly", meaning the person knows they are still a habitual offender, in most cases they face felony prosecution where the maximum sentence is five years in prison. Once upon a time, there was a "mandatory minimum" one year sentence which filled NH's jails, but the legislature repealed the mandatory minimum. Nevertheless, many people are sent to jail or prison for this recidivist driving offense, especially those certified based on major motor vehicle offenses such as DWI and Conduct after Accident.

What are the Defenses to this Charge?

There are several potential defenses to these charges in Court:

  • The person did not know they had been certified habitual offender.
  • The person did not know that they were STILL a habitual offender.
  • The person was not certified based on any DWIs or misdemeanor offenses, so its not a felony-level offense
  • A "justification" defense - there was a compelling reason to need to drive that substantially outweighs the harm caused by people who commit this offense.
  • The person did not drive on a "way" (noting that for the lesser offense of "Driving under Suspension" the government does not have to prove that the person drove on a way - a suspended driver cannot operate a motorized vehicle anywhere, not even in the woods or in a field or in their back yard).

What Can We Do to Help?

We have handled many cases where our client was charged with Driving after Certification as an Habitual Offender. We take a holistic approach in these cases. That means in addition to defending the charge in court, we counsel our clients and try to help them meet the remaining requirements that will enable them first to become decertified as an habitual offender, and then to either restore their license or restore an operating privilege so that they can get a license somewhere else. Our sincere hope and goal is to represent a client successfully - one time. We are not building our business on "repeat customers." While some of our clients have to come back and see us again because "stuff happens," --- building a business on their backs would be a terrible business model for a criminal defense firm! When the case is over, the next time we hear from you or your loved one, what we want to hear is how much better their life is after they restored a driver's license and "legalized" their daily activities of driving to work, driving the kids to school and sports, so that driving safely and responsibly is never again a criminal offense in their lives.

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