In Michigan the of driving while license suspended, revoked, or denied (DWLS) is a misdemeanor that carries for a first offense a maximum jail sentence of 93 days and a fine of not more than $500. A conviction for this offense will result in a suspension of driving privileges. It is not common for a person who is charged with DWLS to claim that they did not know that there license was suspended at the time. This situation is completely possible. Reasons for this may be the person believed that a family member paid or handled the ticket for them, they were not told that they had to pay a clearance fee on the ticket to reinstate driving privileges when they paid a ticket, somebody else used their name or identification while driving, they never received a notice from the Court or Michigan Secretary of State that the license was suspended.
It does not seem fair that a person could have a misdemeanor offense permanently affixed to their criminal and driving record when there was no intent to break the law. A conviction for DWLS is permanently affixed to a criminal record, because DWLS (pursuant to MCL 257.904) is written under the Michigan Vehicle Code, and offenses under the Michigan Vehicle Code are not subject to expungement. It is rather sad because this isn’t really even a case of ignorance of the law (which is never a defense), but more of the ignorance of an important fact that lead to a criminal charge. Had the person known of this important fact, in many cases the individual would have either not driven or took the steps necessary to have the driver’s license status corrected or restored so the offense would never have occurred.
What does Michigan law say as it relates to intent? According to Michigan Criminal Jury Instruction 15.20 the prosecution has 4 elements that it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction to occur for the offense of driving while license suspended or revoked: