In California, you must have a legally-issued and valid driver’s license if you decide to hit the open road. What happens if you drive without a license in California? The answer depends on which California Vehicle Code Section you violate. First-time offenders may be able to walk away from the offense with barely more than a slap on the wrist. Repeat offenders, however, can face serious consequences that may limit the ability to enjoy certain privileges.
If you have been cited for driving without a license in California, then contact Los Angeles criminal lawyer Ambrosio Rodriguez for a free consultation. Even a minor blemish on your criminal record can cause challenges and consequences in your everyday life. The best way to limit any negative consequences of driving without a license in California is to hire an experienced attorney to handle your case.
Driving Without a License
What happens when you drive without a license in California? The consequences you may face will depend on which California Vehicle Code Section you violate. In California, there are three primary ways to violate the law:
- Driving without a valid license issued;
- Driving on a suspended license; and
- Refusing to show your license to law enforcement upon request.
Driving Without a Valid License Issued
California Vehicle Code Section 12500(a) VC makes it a crime to drive a motor vehicle on a highway without a valid license. In California, a highway is defined as any “way or place of whatever nature” that is publicly maintained and open for public use for the purpose of traveling in a vehicle. A highway is specifically defined to include a street. So, you may be guilty of driving without a license if you drive on a public road.
What makes a license valid? To be valid, a license must be:
- issued by your home state,
- not expired, and
- issued for the type of vehicle you are driving.
For example, if you are from Oregon and are driving a passenger car through the state of California, you must have a current standard driver’s license issued by Oregon. Alternatively, if you are a California resident who is driving a motorcycle along the Pacific Coast Highway, you must have a current motorcycle driver’s license issued by the state of California.
Driving a special class vehicle (commercial truck, motorcycle, etc.) without the appropriate driver’s license – regardless of the fact that you hold a valid regular driver’s license – is a violation of California law.
Driving On a Suspended License
California Vehicle Code Section 14601 VC makes it a crime to knowingly operate a motor vehicle when your driver’s license has been revoked or suspended. You may be charged with this crime if you drive a car after your driving privileges have been formally revoked by the state.
Common reasons your California driver’s license may be revoked or suspended include for reckless driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or being afflicted with a mental or physical condition that would make it unsafe to drive.
Driving Without a Physical License/Refusing to Display Your Driver’s Licence
California Vehicle Code Section 12951 VC makes it an offense to operate a car without physically having a valid driver’s license in your possession. If, when you are formally charged in court, you can produce your driver’s license and prove that it was (a) issued and (b) valid at the time of your arrest the charges can be dropped.
It is also a crime to refuse to display your driver’s license to a law enforcement officer when it is requested. The law enforcement officer must be actively enforcing the provisions of the Vehicle Code for you to be guilty of this offense.
Penalties for Driving Without a Driver’s License
The severity of the penalty you may face will depend on which California driving without a license law you break.
- Driving without a valid license can be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor. An infraction is punishable by a monetary fine of no more than $250. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail, no more than 3 years of summary probation, and/or monetary fines of no more than $1,000. Repeat offenders may also have their car impounded for up to 30 days.
- Driving on a suspended license can be charged as a misdemeanor offense, but the specific terms of the penalty will depend on why your license was suspended or revoked. Penalties can include up to one year in county jail, summary probation, monetary fines, and installation of a certified ignition interlock device on any vehicle you own or operate.
- Driving without a physical license can be charged as an infraction, punishable by a monetary fine of up to $250. If you can prove that you had a valid license at the time of your citation the charges may be dropped.
- Refusing to display your driver’s license to a law enforcement official is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in county jail, monetary fines of no more than $1,000, and/or summary probation.
Defenses to Driving Without a License
There are a few defenses to driving without a license in California. An experienced California criminal defense attorney can help to determine which defense(s) may be applicable to your situation. Defenses can include:
- The driver’s license was valid at the time of the stop;
- The driver’s license was validly issued by another state;
- Lack of required knowledge (when driving on a suspended license);
- The law enforcement officer was not actively enforcing the vehicle code at the time of the stop;
- Improper search and seizure; and
- Improper arrest.
The specific facts and circumstances of your case will dictate which defense(s) may be appropriate.
Experienced Los Angeles Unlicensed Driver Attorney
Driving without a license may not seem like a big deal but a conviction has the ability to disrupt your day-to-day life. A mark on your criminal record can make it difficult to land a new job or rent an apartment. Multiple offenses can lead to time behind bars and the temporary loss of your car. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to handle your case will increase your chances of reducing these and other negative consequences. Contact Los Angeles driving offense attorney Ambrosio E. Rodriguez today to schedule a free consultation.