In California, it is illegal to drive if your license has been revoked or suspended. If you are caught driving on a suspended license, you may be arrested and may face some additional consequences and expenses. There are a number of reasons why someone’s license may be revoked including a penalty for DUI.
Penalties for driving on a suspended license vary depending on why your license was suspended or revoked, but, regardless of why your license was suspended there are legal defenses and ways to fight charges of driving on a suspended license. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can examine the specifics of your case and build the best defense defense strategy for you.
Legal definition of driving on a suspended or revoked license – Vehicle Code 14601 VC
According to California Vehicle Code section 14601, driving on a suspended license is defined as driving a motor vehicle at any time while your driving privilege is suspended or revoked with knowledge of the suspension or revocation.
Because the process of license suspension is complicated and it is very expensive to get a restricted license, it is common for people facing DUI penalties to be charged with driving on a suspended license. Although the process is understandably complicated and you may face challenges getting to work or other transportation-related issues, it is illegal to drive on a suspended license and doing so carries big risks.
There are a number of reasons why a person’s license may be suspended or revoked. Some of those reasons include:
- A California DUI conviction
- Reckless driving (Vehicle Code 23103), reckless driving that causes injury (Vehicle Code 23104), or reckless driving that causes one or more injuries (Vehicle Code 23105)
- A mental of physical disability
- Having too many points on your driver’s license
- Having been in a car accident without proof of insurance
- Being declared a negligent operator of a motor vehicle
- Failing to appear in court
- Having unpaid parking tickets
There are two main components that make up the legal definition of driving on a suspended or revoked license:
- The defendant drove a motor vehicle while his or her license was suspended or revoked
- The defendant/driver was aware that his or her driving privileges were suspended or revoked at the time.
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If all of the following are true, then you are presumed to have had knowledge that your driver’s license was revoked or suspended at the time that you have been charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license:
- You were mailed a notification of your license suspension or revocation by the California DMV.
- The notice of suspension or revocation was sent to the most recent mailing address that you reported to a government agency including the DMV, a law enforcement agency, or a court.
- The notice of suspension or revocation has not returned to the DMV as undeliverable or unclaimed.
Alternatively, it will be presumed that you had knowledge that your license was suspended or revoked if:
- A police officer served you with a notice of the suspension or revocation when you were arrested for an offense warranting suspension or revocation (such as DUI). The officer may have also confiscated your license, if possible.
- A judge informed you of the license suspension or revocation at the time that you were sentenced for the violation that resulted in the suspension or revocation.
If one of these things is true it is presumed that you had knowledge of the suspension or revocation of your license. However, it does not prove that you had knowledge, and a criminal defense attorney may challenge that presumption and may be able to prove to a jury that you did not have knowledge of the suspension or revocation.
Having your driving privilege reinstated
If you have had your driver’s license suspended, you are still not allowed to drive until you take the necessary steps toward having your driving privileges reinstated. That means that you and still be charged with driving on a suspended license if you drive before taking the necessary steps, even if the suspension has expired. In order to prevent being charged you must:
- Take the proper steps to reinstate your driving privileges with the DMV, or
- Prove to the court that you have completed all of the requirements of your probation.
There will be different requirements for reinstating your license depending on the reason for your suspension. It is important that you understand what the specific requirements are for you based on your charges and the details of your case.
California statutes on driving with a suspended or revoked license
The penalties for driving with a suspended or revoked license will depend on why your license was suspended or revoked in the first place. There are different statues for driving on a suspended or revoked license for certain kinds of offenses. These statutes are detailed below:
License suspended/revoked for specific offenses – Vehicle Code 14601 VC
Under California Vehicle Code 14601 VC, it is illegal to drive any motor vehicle, such as a car or motorcycle, if you know that your driver’s license has been suspended or revoked for any of the following reasons:
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- A physical or mental condition that negatively effects your ability to drive safely
- Reckless driving (either “dry reckless” or “wet reckless” driving)
- Being declared a “negligent” or “incompetent” operator.
Of these reasons, reckless driving is the most common, as it is also a common charge reduction from California DUI charges. The main difference between “dry reckless” and “wet reckless” driving charges being the inclusion of the involvement of alcohol and harsher penalties for a “wet reckless” driving conviction.
License suspended/revoked for general offenses – Vehicle Code 14601.1 VC
Vehicle Code 14601.1 VC is a more general or “catch-all” statute that allows you to be charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license if you had knowledge that your license has been suspended or revoked for any reason, including those not listed in the specific offenses statute described above.
License Revokes/suspended for DUI – Vehicle Code 14601.2 VC
Under Vehicle Code 14601.2 VC, it is illegal to drive a vehicle if you have knowledge that your license has been suspended or revoked because of a DUI conviction. Of all of the Vehicle Code 14601 violations, this is the most serious and carries harsh penalties.
Habitual traffic offenders – Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC
Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC makes it illegal to accumulate multiple driving-related charges and offenses while your license is suspended or revokes. Under this statute, you can be declared a “habitual traffic offender” and convicted of driving on a suspended or revoked license in California if you were convicted or involved in any of the below offenses during a twelve-month period while your license was suspended or revoked:
- Another Vehicle Code 14601 violation
- A DUI violation, Vehicle Code 23152
- Two or more serious driving crimes including reckless driving (Vehicle Code 23103)
- A speeding violation, Vehicle Code 23109
- Three or more general moving violations
- Three or more accidents involving injury or at least $750 worth of damage to property.
Driver’s license suspensions/revocations for chemical test refusals and other DUI offenses – Vehicle Code 14601.5 VC
Under California Vehicle Code 14601.5, it is illegal to drive on a license that you know has been suspended or revoked for various reasons related to chemical test refusals and certain DUI-related circumstances including:
- Driving with an illegal blood alcohol concentration of:
- 0.01% or greater while on probation
- 0.08% or greater in violation of Vehicle Code 23152(b)
- 0.04% or greater while driving a vehicle that requires a commercial license
- A “chemical test refusal” following a DUI arrest
- A charge of California DUI while under 21 with refusal to submit to a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) or had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.01% or greater
- Refusal to submit to a chemical test if you are suspected of DUI and are currently on probation for drunk driving.
5.1. Vehicle Code 12500 VC Driving Without a License
Driving without a license is related to the offense of driving with a suspended or revoked license, but is a less serious offense.
To be charged with driving without a license under Vehicle Code 12500 VC you do not need to have knowledge that you were unlicensed or why, you only need to have been caught driving a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license.
Vehicle Code 12500 VC may be charged as either a misdemeanor or and infraction. You will likely only be charged with an infraction if it is your first offense and you have a relatively clean driving record.
5.3. Vehicle Code 12951 VC Failure to Show a Driver’s License
Failure to show a driver’s license is another offense less serious than driving on a suspended or revoked license. You may face penalties for a Vehicle Code 12951 VC offense if you:
- Drive without a valid driver’s license in your possession. This includes leaving your license at home.
- Refuse to present your license at a police officer’s request when operating a vehicle.
Refusing to show your license to a police officer is a misdemeanor offense. If you possess a valid driver’s license that was not in your possession at the time of the infraction, you can likely have the charge dismissed by later showing that you did indeed possess the license at the time.
It is not necessary to possess a California driver’s license to drive in California, but you must carry a valid license issued by another state or country.
In California, driving on a suspended license in violation of Vehicle Code 14601 VC is a misdemeanor offense. The exact penalties will depend on the reason why your license was suspended or revoked in the first place, your driving history, and whether you suffered prior convictions for driving on a suspended license.
Potential penalties include:
- A fine of $300 to $1,000 for first time offenders and up to more than $2,000 for multiple offenders, and/or
- A county jail sentence of 5 days to 6 months for first-time offenders and 10 days to 1 year for multiple offenders
Additional penalties are added for multiple offenses that occur within 5 years of a prior offense.
Penalties for a Vehicle Code 14601 conviction do not include time in California state prison.
If you are convicted for driving on a suspended license for DUI, you may also be required to install an ignition interlock device that acts as a Breathalyzer and prevents you from operating your vehicle if alcohol is detected on your breath.
Defenses to VC 14601 Charges
There are a variety of defense strategies that a criminal defense attorney may use to fight Vehicle Code 14601 charges. The most common include lack of knowledge of the suspension/revocation, invalid suspension/revocation, and the right to drive under a restricted license.
Lack of Knowledge
In order to be convicted of driving on a suspended or revoked license, the prosecution must be able to prove that you had knowledge of the suspension/revocation. If your notice of suspension was sent to an old addressor lost in the mailing process, or if you were never notified of your suspension/revocation by the DMV or a law enforcement officer, you may be able to have your charges dropped.
You were driving on a “restricted” California driver’s license
If you are able to show that you have a “critical need to drive” upon the suspension of your license, you may be granted restricted driving privileged instead. On a restricted license you will be able to drive to work, school, a court-ordered DUI school, or anywhere else permitted by the court.
If your license is restricted, you may be able to have your Vehicle Code 14601 charges dismissed by demonstrating that you were driving within the terms of your restricted license.
Your California driver’s license suspension / revocation was invalid
You can have your Vehicle Code 14601 charges dismissed if the suspension or revocation of your license was invalid, for example, if there are errors in the evidence presented against you.
Plea bargains and dismissals
A prosecutor may be willing to reduce your Vehicle Code 14601 offense to a lesser offense or an infraction like a moving violation in order to save time and resources. If you have little or no criminal history, this strategy may be favorable for you.
California DMV Hearings
You may be able to fight having your license suspended or revoked in the first place by requesting a hearing before the DMV with the help of a defense attorney. You have ten days from the date of your notification of suspension/revocation by the DMV to request a hearing. In California, everyone is entitled to a hearing before the DMV before they can have their privileges suspended or revoked. The best way to defend yourself against charges of driving on a suspended or revoked license is to avoid the suspension/revocation in the first place.
If you’ve been charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license under California Vehicle Code 14601 VC, having a skilled defense attorney on your side is of the utmost importance. Depending on the details of your case, with a good legal defense team, you may be able to have your charges reduced or even dropped. As a California criminal defense attorney with over 30 years of experience, I am confident that I can build a strong defense strategy in order to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Don’t wait, call my firm to schedule your consultation today!