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COA reverses conviction after BMV stumbles over address

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A driver whose conduct was “clearly blameworthy” had his conviction overturned after the Indiana Court of Appeals found the state’s evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver knew his license was suspended.

Israel Cruz was charged with operating a vehicle while suspended as a habitual traffic violator after he was pulled over for speeding while the HTV suspension was in effect. At a bench trial, Cruz admitted he knew he was not supposed to drive because he did not have an Indiana driver’s license; however, he denied having any knowledge of the HTV suspension.

The trial court ruled the state met its burden because the defendant did not rebut the presumption that he knew his license was suspended. Cruz was convicted of a Class A misdemeanor and sentenced to 365 days, all suspended to probation except for time served.

In Israel Cruz v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1204-CR-301, the COA reversed Cruz’s conviction because the evidence was not sufficient to show Cruz knew he was suspended.

Cruz asserts this case raises an issue of first impression regarding the meaning of “last address shown” in I.C. 9-30-10-16(b) when the driver has never held a license.

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles sent notice of an HTV suspension to Cruz in 2011 to 3518 Steer St., Indianapolis. Cruz testified he did not live at that address so he never received the notice, and the BMV could not to explain why it used that location.

The court records submitted into evidence show three different addresses for Cruz, but none list the 3518 Steer St. residence. A BMV employee surmised the state agency probably obtained the address from the documentation generated from Cruz’s first traffic violation in 2004.

However, the COA ruled the employee was “simply guessing” and that the other addresses in the HTV packet were all more recent than 2004. The court noted although there is ample evidence that Cruz knew he had never received a license and that he was not supposed to drive, driving without having received a license is a separate offense than driving while suspended. Yet, the state chose not to charge him with driving without having received a license.

“In conclusion, though Cruz’s conduct is clearly blameworthy, the evidence presented by the State was not sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew that he was suspended,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the court.

 

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