In my 21+ years of practice here in Fairfax County, I have handled many of these cases. I developed the following explanation to help folks understand why many Judges in Virginia take Driving after Suspension or Revocation so very seriously:
For traffic offenses, there are three basic penalties:
Suspension of Drivers License; and Active or Suspended Jail Time.
Fines and License Suspension
Fines are appropriate for most simple, minor traffic offenses.
For more serious offenses, or for failure to pay fines, the Court will move on to the next level, and Suspend the Driver's License.
Continued Driving after Suspension is Like Asking for Jail Time.
If somebody Drives after Suspension, the Court has limited options:
The Court can "give another chance" on fines or suspension; or
The Court may impose Jail Time.
A Driver who fails to pay fines, and/or continues to drive, after suspension of license, is effectively challenging the Court to "do something about it." Under those circumstances, it is understandable that a Court would impose Jail Time.
I don't mean to suggest that every conviction of Driving on Suspended License results in jail. In fact, many first offense cases will not result in active jail time. Very often, we will be able to see the charge reduce or dismissed, or a Court might only impose "suspended jail time" and inactive probation, In any event, it is certainly an offense which you would rather not have on your driving record, if it can be avoided.
There are many defenses to a charge like this that can only be evaluated by an attorney, reviewing a hard copy of your DMV driving record.
Additional resources provided by the author
Fairfax County Traffic and Criminal Defense