If you are charged with driving without a license, then you immediately contact San Diego criminal defense attorney Vikas Bajaj to handle your case. Driving without a license in California is against the law. If you drive without a license you can face penalties that include monetary fines, summary probation, and even time in jail. In some cases, California may even impound your car for up to 30 days. Call today for a free consultation.
Driving Without a License
In California, it is a crime to operate a motor vehicle without a valid license. Specifically, Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC states that “a person may not drive a motor vehicle upon a highway unless the person then holds a valid driver’s license.” In the most basic terms, it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle on any road in California that is publically maintained, open to the public, and intended to be used for vehicle travel if you do not have a valid license.
What does it mean to not have a valid license? To be considered valid, a driver’s license must be:
- lawfully issued in the state where you live,
- appropriate for the type of vehicle you are driving, and
- current (not expired or out-of-date).
Examples of situations when you may be in violation of Vehicle Code 12500 VC include:
- Driving with an expired license;
- Residing in California but displaying a driver’s license issued by another state;*
- Driving with a license that is not valid for the type of motor vehicle you are operating;
- Failing to ever apply for and receive a driver’s license.
*In California, once you establish residency in the state you are required to apply for a California driver’s license. Displaying a driver’s license issued by another state – when you have established residency in California – is in violation of the law.
Penalties for Driving Without a License
What happens if you drive without a license in California? The charge of driving without a license can be either an infraction or a misdemeanor. The severity of the charge will depend on the facts and circumstances of your specific case. In most cases, a first-time offense is charged as an infraction. Repeat offenders or those who operate commercial vehicles without a specialty license are more likely to face harsher criminal consequences.
If you are charged with an infraction for driving without a license in California you may be required to pay a fine of no more than $250.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor for driving without a license in California you may be required to pay a fine of no more than $1,000, be sentenced to no more than 3 years of summary probation, and/or sentenced to no more than 6 months in county jail. Motor vehicles of repeat offenders may also be impounded for up to 30 days.
Offenses Related to Driving Without a Valid License
Vehicle Code 12500 VC specifically prohibits driving without a valid license. What happens if you do have a valid license but forget your wallet at home? What happens if your license is suspended and you take your motorcycle for a ride down the Pacific Coast Highway anyway? California has related offenses on the books that supplement Vehicle Code 12500.
In California, it is a misdemeanor offense to knowingly drive on a suspended license. The exact sentence will depend on why your license was suspended and how many times you have driven on a suspended license. Possible reasons that your license may have been suspended include (1) you were convicted of or pleaded guilty to a reckless driving offense, (2) you were arrested and/or convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and (3) you suffer from a mental or physical condition that makes it unsafe to operate a motor vehicle. Potential consequences of driving on a suspended license (Vehicle Code 14601) include a sentence of no less than 10 days in county jail, probation, monetary fines, and the installation of an ignition interlock device on any vehicle that you own or drive.
It is an infraction to operate a motor vehicle without the current physical possession of a valid driver’s license (Vehicle Code 12951). Infractions are generally punished by a fine. If you can show proof that you had a legally-issued and valid driver’s license at the time of your arrest the court can drop the charges against you. You will be required to present the valid license in court.
It is a misdemeanor offense to refuse to show your driver’s license to a law enforcement official who is actively enforcing the California vehicle code. Refusal to show your driver’s license (Vehicle Code 12951) is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, summary probation, and up to 6 months in county jail.
Defenses to Driving Without a License
When you are charged with driving without a license in California you must be given the opportunity to defend yourself in a court of law. Hiring an experienced California defense attorney to handle your case will significantly reduce the potential for negative consequences. Your California driving without a license attorney may argue:
- You were not driving at the time of the alleged offense;
- You were in possession of a valid driver’s license;
- You lacked the required knowledge (when driving on a suspended license);
- The law enforcement officer was not actively enforcing the Vehicle Code when he or she requested to see your license;
- You forgot your license at home but later established that you did, in fact, have a valid license at the time of the offense;
- You were the victim of an illegal search and seizure; or
- You were the victim of an illegal arrest.
The specific defense(s) that may be available to you will depend on the specifics of your case.
Fighting Driving Without a License Charges
When you are charged with driving without a license in California you may think that it is no big deal. However, the consequences can disrupt your daily life and potentially derail a bright future. If you are charged with a misdemeanor offense you can be sentenced to serious jail time and be required to adhere to strict probation guidelines for up to 3 years. Future employers or landlords may not look kindly on any red flags that show up on a background check. The best thing to do following an arrest or charge for driving without a license is to contact an experienced California attorney to handle your case.
For the past 16 years, San Diego criminal defense attorney Vikas Bajaj has handled thousands of criminal matters. He has successfully helped clients like you fight the criminal charges against them. Take the initiative to prevent serious negative consequences and contact his office today to set up a free consultation. When you meet, Mr. Bajaj will listen to your case, explain your legal rights, and answer any questions you may have.