Michigan Criminal Law: Traffic Offenses; Operating on a Suspended/Revoked/Denied License

Michigan driving privileges are administered by the Department of State. For a link to their website, click here.

A person may lose or have their license suspended for a variety of different reasons. Michigan has a long and thoroughly detailed traffic code. Convictions for certain types of criminal charges will also result in automatic suspensions or even revocation. Even failing to pay child support may result in license suspension. For more specific information on the various Michigan traffic laws, click here. Regardless of the reason, if a person continues to operate a vehicle with a suspended, revoked, or denied license, they may be charged with a misdemeanor traffic offense.
Generally speaking, these allegations are usually filed under MCL 257.904 (1), which notes: “A person whose operator’s or chauffeur’s license or registration certificate has been suspended or revoked and who has been notified as provided in section 212 of that suspension or revocation, whose application for license has been denied, or who has never applied for a license, shall not operate a motor vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, within this state.”
This charge, for first time offenders, if convicted, is punishable by “imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both. Unless the vehicle was stolen or used with the permission of a person who did not knowingly permit an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle, the registration plates of the vehicle shall be canceled by the secretary of state upon notification by a peace officer.” MCL 257.904 (3)(a).


There is also an enhanced penalty for individuals with priors if they get convicted again and enhanced penalties and charges if someone operating on a suspended/revoked/denied license causes property or personal injury while operating the vehicle. See MCL 257.904 (8) & (9).
If convicted as a first-time offender, the sanctions may also include a term of probation, vehicle impound or other sanctions from the Department of State, including additional license-suspensions, driver responsibility fees, community services, or other possible sanctions. While many courts tend to impose lighter sanctions for convictions regarding this type of charge, it varies significantly depending on the court and particular judge. Further, the court’s sanctions for conviction are only one component; the Department of State will impose significant sanctions for conviction as well.
Whether a person was operating the vehicle is an element of the offense. However, the prosecutor may prove this circumstantially. Key issues include whether the vehicle was running, where the accused individual was found in the vehicle, where the vehicle was located, whether the vehicle was in gear, witness accounts of either the driver or the vehicle that evening, testimony of officers who investigated the matter, and/or other factors. Even though a person may be in a different portion of the car when the police conduct their stop and investigate, if there is enough circumstantial evidence, the accused could be convicted even if they were not driving when they were pulled over.


Additionally, the prosecutor needs to prove the other elements as well, including that the operator received notice “as provided in section 212.” MCL 257.904 (1). This notice provision is very important.  Occasionally operators, due to issues with mail or old addresses, may not even be aware their license was suspended. This notice provision may provide an operator with an important defense against this charge in certain situations. However, in a vast majority of situations, there is a clear chain of evidence showing that the Department of State properly notified the operator. Ultimately, though, it is a question of fact that the prosecutor needs to prove.


Owners of a vehicle could also be charged if they permit someone to drive a vehicle if that operator has a suspended/revoked/denied license. MCL 257.904 (2). The elements are very similar for this variation. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt most of the same elements as they would against the driver/operator; but they also need prove that the owner “knowingly” allowed the driver/operator to operate the vehicle.

Our experienced trial attorneys fight hard for our Michigan clients. Our firm helps drivers get their licenses back and we help defend our clients against all kinds of traffic violations. We represent clients statewide. For a free initial consultation, feel free to contact us at (517) 507-5077.

For more information on other traffic offenses, such as Operating While Intoxicated, click here and here.
Anyone charged, of course, is presumed innocent. The prosecutor would need to prove the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt if the matter proceeded to trial. Simply because a person is charged does not mean that ultimately, they will be convicted.
If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, I encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Circumstances may vary significantly. If you need specific legal advice, please privately consult with a lawyer.
If you are charged with an offense and cannot afford to pay for your own defense, the court may appoint you an attorney payable at the public’s expense. You have a right to counsel.