Aggravated Unlicensed Operation
Aggravated Unlicensed Operation (or "AUO") is the criminal offense of driving with a suspended or revoked license. Its called "aggravated" because the law considers that the defendant knew or should have known he shouldn't have been driving (see below).
The AUO charge is perhaps the only reason someone who, otherwise would never engage in criminal behavior, is charged with a crime.
It usually happens something like this: A driver is pulled over for speeding, blowing a red light, or some other non-criminal behavior. The police officer runs the driver's license, and learns that the DMV has suspended it. Now the driver is either arrested on the spot, or issued a summons to appear in court on the AUO charge.
In my experience, drivers charged with AUO have suffered a suspension for one of several reasons: They failed to answer an earlier traffic summons; they answered a summons but failed to appear on the court date; or they answered the summons but never paid the fine after pleading guilty. Often times a driver will not have received the pre-suspension notice from the Court or DMV regarding an unpaid fine or unanswered summons. Subsequently their license is suspended unbeknownst to them.
AUO is defined at Section 511 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law (the "VTL"). It has three degrees of severity. Perhaps most commonly charged is the offense in the third degree (or "AUO 3rd"). For this reason, AUO in the second and first degrees (which involve more serious criminal allegations) will be discussed in a separate post.
To be convicted of a AUO 3rd the prosecution must prove that the defendant has operated "a motor vehicle upon a public highway while knowing or having reason to know that such person's license or privilege of operating such motor vehicle in this state or privilege of obtaining a license to operate such motor vehicle issued by the commissioner is suspended, revoked or otherwise withdrawn by the commissioner." AUO 3rd is a misdemeanor carrying a mandatory fine of between $200 and $500 or no more than 30 days imprisonment (or both).
Until 1993 AUO 3rd was only a traffic violation (as opposed to a crime). Surprisingly, it is not a crime to drive in New York without ever being a license driver (VTL Sec. 509). It seems senseless that the State of New York criminalizes driving with a suspended license, while the act of driving without ever having been licensed is treated as a mere violation. One would think there is less of a public risk in a driver whose license was suspended because of a missed court date or unpaid fine, then in one whose driving abilities have never been vetted through the licensing process.
There are indications that members of the New York State Legislature seek to enhance the criminal severity of the AUO charge. For instance, Assembly Bill AO4975, would require drivers arrested for AUO in any degree to be fingerprinted. Effectively, this would require that any driver charged with AUO would have to be arrested and booked (whereas now, a police officer may allow a driver to leave the scene with a mere summons). There is also proposed legislation that would expand AUO to include drivers operating their vehicles in parking lots (Assembly Bill A05613), and to those who have been convicted of driving without a license more than once (Assembly Bill A06549).