Driving on a suspended or revoked license is a strict liability crime; meaning you can be charged with it whether you know your license is suspended or not. One of the most important reasons for keeping your license information/address up to date with the DMV is to receive the notice whether your license has been suspended or revoked. The DMV will normally mail notices out of suspension or revocation to the address on your license and they will keep a record of the type of notice sent to you; it will be noted on your DMV record whether you were mailed a notice, were orally told in court of suspension, etc., so it will already be known what kind of notice you have received. If you do not receive the notice, it is still not a defense but may impact whatever deal may be offered (misdemeanor versus an infraction, amount of fine, etc.). It can also be more than an infraction, which means you do face some jail time on this offense
Your license can be suspended for more than just getting a DUI or points on your license. It can also be revoked or suspended for failing to appear in court (for tickets or otherwise), for receiving too many tickets, for moving violations, and for failure to pay for child support. The burden is on a defendant to prove that they held a valid license if charged with this offense. In other words, the prosecution would prove that you did not hold a license, and then the defense would be obligated to present evidence otherwise. When the DMV booklet states that “driving is a privilege, not a right”, it means just that. Saying you had to drive to get to work is not a defense. Saying you could not get a license because you could not afford to pay your child support is not a defense. Saying you could not get a license because you are not a citizen, is not a defense. And again, saying you did not know your license was suspended or revoked is not a defense.
In many states, this is a priorable crime, meaning that the punishment increases every time you are caught and prosecuted for it. It is possible to do jail time on this particular offense and with each successive offense, more and more jail time. It also becomes increasingly difficult to get a license after being convicted of this offense because it results in more points on your license and receiving too many of these offenses can also result in suspension or revocation.
Elements, crimes and defenses vary from state to state and within the federal system. If you or someone you know is charged with any crime, as always, you should consult a local attorney, licensed to practice in your jurisdiction and preferably one practicing only criminal law. You can always look for your local criminal attorney at http://www.crimelawyers.org.