Say ‘no’ to a non-licensed driver
By Isabel A. Suárez
A week ago, my fiancé and I were on our way to the hospital and he offered to drive my car so I could take care of our baby who had a high temperature and was crying non-stop. The police stopped him for speeding and gave him a ticket for both speeding and driving under suspension. When my fiancé provided the car registration, the officer then turned to me and asked me if I was the owner. When I said I was, he gave me a ticket, which was illegible. I am due in court next week, for what, I don’t know – am I in trouble? I did not do anything wrong, so why did I get a ticket?
Without seeing the ticket, my best guess is that you were cited for what is called wrongful entrustment. Unfortunately, this is not good news. The wrongful entrustment statute is being enforced more and more in an attempt to abate people from driving without a license. I do not know the latest figures, but as of last year, close to 40% of Ohio drivers were driving either without licenses and/or insurance.
Wrongful entrustment prohibits permitting the use of a vehicle to an individual who has no legal right to operate it, if any of the following conditions exist: if you knew your fiancé had no license; or the license was suspended for whatever reason (for example, if you knew that he was convicted of driving with drug paraphernalia); or if you had knowledge that he had been previously cited for driving uninsured; or you allowed him to drive knowing he was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Any one of these makes you guilty of wrongful entrustment. If it is your first time, and you are found guilty, your sentenced can be up to 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. In addition, the judge can suspend your license for up to one year and it requires that your vehicle’s plates be impounded for 30 days. Of course, it gets worse for those who have similar prior convictions.
To make matters worse, the statute makes it much harder for anyone to claim they did not know the other person did not have a license. While the statute reads that you must have “knowledge,” you should know that under the Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.203, knowledge is presumed if any of the following apply: if you live together in the same household; or as owner, you know or ought to know that the person was convicted of an offense which resulted in the suspension of his driver’s license; or, like in your case, you were a passenger while he was driving.
The jail sentence, fines and the one-year suspension is at the judge’s discretion. But the 30-day plate impoundment is required. These sentences seem harsh, but looking at what is best for society-at-large, count your blessings that you did not get into an accident. An unlicensed driver is not covered by your insurance, even if you have been faithfully paying. Depending upon the degree of the accident, you both can be into it for a lot of money.
Interestingly enough, our office has yet to represent males accused of wrongful entrustment. I am not saying it does not happen, it is just curious that there is usually a girlfriend or mother who gets in trouble for allowing either a boyfriend, friend, or son to drive her car. When it comes to lending your car, trust no one, unless you see a valid driver’s license, period. Unless you can prove (and the burden is on you) that you and your fiancé do not live together; or that you had no reason to believe he was suspended; or in the rare case that he just plain lied to you, it looks like you are stuck.
There is a limited exception if the unlicensed driver drove as a result of a “substantial emergency” and no other person was reasonably able to drive. Under your scenario, this defense is probably not going to work. If the baby was sick enough for you not to entrust him with your fiancé, then an ambulance should have been your option.
Also, keep in mind, that in addition to fines and court costs, the BMV also imposes reinstatement fees to get your license back. Fortunately, if the judge suspends your license, you can request driving privileges. But these are limited to driving to and from work or school, medical appointments, taking a driver’s or commercial license exam, or attending a court ordered treatment. I know you did not want to hear all the bad news. On the upside, I hope you have learned to “just say no.”
Legal disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and informative purposes only, and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk and are advised to seek an attorney if legal consultation is needed. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed as laws are subject to change. Neither the author, the Dayton City Paper, nor any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
Isabel Suarez is a Cuban-born American who has been practicing law since 1984. Her diverse multicultural and multilingual practice Suarez & Carlin in Old North Dayton especially serves the regions working poor. Isabel is also a board member of and volunteer for the Ohio Intervention Program. You can reach Isabel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her office located at 765 Troy St. in Dayton at (937) 258-1800.