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What Exactly Is Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in New York?

Aggravated unlicensed operation (AUO) charge is covered in the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law  § 511.  It applies to an individual caught driving with a license that has been suspended or revoked. There are three varying degrees of severity for the crime of AUO in New York.  The degree charged can relate to the reasons your license was suspended or revoked in the first place or the specific circumstances under which you were caught driving while suspended or revoked.  Typically an AUO charge occurs when a driver is pulled over for another type of alleged moving violation or is involved in an accident and an officer pulls up a driving record and learns of the suspension or revocation.  

Aggravated unlicensed operation is considered a criminal charge regardless of why someone was suspended, why they were pulled over or what degree of AUO one is ultimately charged with violating.   There are three degrees of severity. The third-degree and second-degree versions of AUO are misdemeanors while AUO in the first degree is a class E felony.


The main text of the aggravated unlicensed operation (AUO) as set forth in §511 states that a person is guilty of the offense of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle…when such person operates 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of obtaining a license to operate such motor vehicle issued by the commissioner is suspended, revoked or otherwise withdrawn by the commissioner.

There are three degrees of severity for the crime of aggravated unlicensed operation (AUO) in New York. The specific degree you are charged with can relate to the reasons your license was suspended or revoked in the first place or it can also relate to the circumstances under which you were charged and arrested for AUO.

Aggravated Unlicensed Operation (AUO) in the Third Degree

AUO in the third degree is the least-severe version of the charge. You will be charged with the third-degree version of the crime if you are found to have been operating a motor vehicle on a public road, “while knowing or having reason to know,” that your driving privileges were suspended or revoked but you do not meet the conditions described in §511-2 or §511-3, which describe the second-degree and first-degree versions of the crime, respectively.

AUO in the third degree is a criminal misdemeanor. Penalties include a $200 – $500 fine and/or imprisonment of up to 30 days.  Anyone committing an AUO third degree offense while operating a large vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of over 18,000 lbs will receive harsher penalties. These include a $500 – $1,500 fine and/or imprisonment of up to 30 days.

Aggravated Unlicensed Operation (AUO) in the Second Degree

You will be charged with AUO in the second degree if you meet the third-degree conditions along with any of the following conditions:

  • You have received an AUO conviction within the last 18 months
  • Your license was originally suspended or revoked because of a refusal to submit to a chemical test for drugs or alcohol-related to the implied consent laws described in §1194
  • Your license was originally suspended or revoked because of a driving under the influence violation as described in §1192 or §1193
  • You have had three or more suspensions for failure to answer, appear or pay a fine, as mentioned in §226-3 or §510-4a

AUO in the second degree is also a misdemeanor charge. A conviction can result in the following penalties: 

  • Multiple AUO convictions: a fine of at least $500, imprisonment for up to 180 days
  • Any other prior condition: a $500 – $1000 fine, imprisonment for 7 to 180 days, a probationary period, and/or an imprisonment sentence of the equivalent length of any current probationary period you were already serving.

Aggravated Unlicensed Operation (AUO) in the First Degree

AUO in the first degree is the most serious of the AUO charges and is considered a class E felony. It occurs when:

  • You commit an AUO in the second degree while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • You commit an AUO in the third degree while having ten or more suspension for failure to  answer, appear or pay a fine, as mentioned in §226-3 or §510-4a
  • You commit an AUO in the third degree while you have a license that has been permanently revoked related to a DUI as described in §1193-2b-12
  • You operate a motor vehicle under the influence while you have a conditional license as described in §1196

Penalties for a first-degree AUO include: a $500 – $5000 fine, a class E felony prison sentence related to the specific violation conditions, and/or probation.


AUO, while driving related and typically charged during a routine car stop, is not just another traffic ticket. While typical traffic tickets are “violations” or “infractions”, this rises to the misdemeanor or felony level.  This can affect immigration, employment, education…it should not be taken lightly. 

Many people will end up representing themselves on a typical traffic violation.  Without getting into when and where that might be a good decision we can say that when it comes to an AUO one should avoid representing themselves.  Most criminal judges will dissuade a defendant from self representation to the extent they can.  Simply said, this is a situation where working with an attorney is not a “maybe”.  

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While it may seem easy for the prosecution to prove a person was driving with a suspended or revoked license or privilege, there are actually some difficult hurdles for them to overcome before obtaining a conviction at trial.  Then again, while there may be some hurdles, there is great risk (a criminal record and the penalties that come with it) for any defendant who decides to contest the charge at trial.  The vast majority of criminal matters, AUO included, end up settled via a plea arrangement.

What type of plea deal is made will of course depend on the individual situation but the goal is of course avoiding or minimizing any of the potential penalties.  In our experience we are able to avoid convictions on most typical AUO charges and work out a deal for a reduction to a minor traffic violation.  Of course, clearing any existing suspensions prior to heading to court on the AUO charge will help the situation.  

Note that the most common “defense” we hear from individuals is that they didn’t “know’ their license or privilege was suspended or revoked.  Either a notice in the mail was missed or some surcharge needed to be paid or some check was lost by DMV…the list of reasons people seem to be in this position is long.  Unfortunately, affirmative knowledge is not a requirement here as the law states “while knowing or having reason to know” of the suspension or revocation.  Simple evidence from the DMV that a notice of suspension or revocation was sent to the address on file for the motorist would constitute “having reason” to know.  


A misdemeanor or felony conviction should be avoided to the extent it can at all costs. Feifer & Greenberg is happy to discuss your case if you have been charged with AUO and have any questions.  Call  (888) 842-5384 or contact us online to speak with an experienced NY vehicle and traffic lawyer who can answer your questions and provide some guidance during a free, no obligation case review.


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