New Hampshire has an Habitual Offender law, which requires the Department of Safety to "certify" certain repeat offender drivers as an "Habitual Offender," a status that can prevent the individual from obtaining a driver's license for as many as 4 years, or even longer. Driving after certification as an Habitual Offender carries severe penalties — in most cases, a mandatory minimum year in jail. The maximum penalty is five years in the State Prison.
In order to be certified as an Habitual Offender, the driver must accumulate a certain number of "major" offenses and/or "minor" offenses in a five year period. These are referred to as "predicate offenses." Not all driving offenses are "predicate offenses" for the Habitual Offender Law.
The NH Statute
The governing statute, NH RSA 259:39, provides a list of 22 different offenses that count as "majors" (major offenses) for purpose of the Habitual Offender law. The most commonly prosecuted major offenses are Driving While Intoxicated, Operating after Suspension, Reckless Operation, Negligent Operation, Possession of Controlled Drugs in a Motor Vehicle, and Conduct after an Accident (leaving the scene of an accident). Any three of these in a 5 year period will certify the driver as an habitual offender. However, if two or more major convictions result from a single criminal prosecution and there are no prior major offenses in the five year period, the multiple majors count as only one major offense.
The statute provides a list of 4 different offenses that count as "minor" offenses: Speeding, Driving without a Valid License, Operating without proof of financial responsibility when required, and Crossing the Center Line. Any 12 of these offenses in a 5 year period will certify the person as an habitual offender. Any four of them count as one major (so, for example, two majors and four minors would result in certification).
The "NH Motor Vehicle Death Penalty"
The "typical" or "default" period for certification as an habitual offender is 4 years, which is why we call this Draconian law the "NH motor vehicle death penalty" given how rural our State is, how little public transportation exists in NH, and how difficult it is for a person to remain employed or parent a child when unable to drive for a period of years. The Hearings Examiner, however, has the discretion to order a shorter period of certification, or allow for early decertification based on the meeting of certain rehabilitative conditions.
How Can a Lawyer Help?
If you or someone you care about is summoned to a Habitual Offender Certification hearing, a lawyer can represent the Respondent and attempt to prevent the certification, or advocate for a period of revocation of less than four years. When appropriate, a lawyer can file motions attempting to vacate prior convictions, so that there are not enough convictions on the record to result in habitual offender certification.
Our lawyers have appeared at these hearings and have successfully advocated for an opportunity for early decertification and license restoration, even for clients who have DWI convictions on their record. We have also represented many clients charged with the misdemeanor or felony offense (usually, a felony) of Operating after Certification as an Habitual Offender. We have presented successful defenses at trial and/or on appeal, or used the defenses to negotiate a favorable plea, based on:
- the operator's lack of knowledge of the certification
- lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant operated a vehicle
If you or someone you care about has been notified of a Habitual Offender Certification hearing, or is charged with Operating after Certification as an Habitual Offender, give us a call or fill out the form on this website and we will provide a free consultation.