Driving on a suspended license in California can result in fines, further license suspension, jail time, and other significant penalties. If you or a loved one have been charged with this crime, do not take it lightly or simply assume you can do nothing to fight the charges. Only by securing the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer can you maximize your chances of a favorable outcome to your case.
At Leah Legal, we understand your situation if you have been accused of driving with a suspended license. We know the relevant California statutes and Los Angeles and Southern California court processes "like the back of our hand," and we will apply that knowledge in your behalf and fight tenaciously for your future.
For a free legal consultation and to learn more about the law and available defense strategies for this practice area, call us anytime 24/7 at 818-484-1100.
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Causes of License Suspension in California
Driving a vehicle with a suspended or revoked license is a distinct offense in California, covered under Vehicle Code Section 14601. Regardless of why the license was revoked or for how long, if you operated a motor vehicle on a public highway while you knew that your license was in suspension, you can be charged under VC 14601.
However, the reason for the suspension will affect which subsection of VC 14601 you are charged with and the sentence you ultimately receive if convicted.
Here are some of the most common reasons why a California driver's license gets suspended/revoked:
- DUI or DUID, whether for a BAC of .08% or higher or for driver impairment due to intoxication regardless of the BAC.
- Refusal of a DUI chemical test, thus violating the "implied consent" rule.
- Wet or dry reckless driving, with or without injury caused.
- Operating a motor vehicle in a negligent or grossly negligent manner.
- Being labeled a habitual traffic offender after accumulating too many points on your driving record.
- Operating a motor vehicle without the mental/physical ability to do so safely.
- Getting caught with no auto insurance coverage after getting into a car accident.
- Failure to pay a traffic ticket or to appear in court after being issued a traffic ticket.
- Failure to pay child support.
- Evading a police officer.
Each of these offenses can lead to a driver's license suspension, but the duration will vary considerably, ranging from 30 days to 4 years or more (for certain repeat offense DUIs). And those offenses which carry longer suspension periods will generally also carry more severe penalties if you are caught driving on a license suspended for that offense.
A Breakdown of VC 14601
As mentioned above, VC 14601 has many subsections, each covering different underlying offenses that led to a license suspension. To give you a basic idea of how this works, here is the breakdown:
- VC 14601a covers driving on a license under suspension for reckless driving, negligent/incompetent operation of a motor vehicle, for driving while mentally or physically impaired so that you cannot operate the vehicle safely, and driving while addicted to drugs or alcohol.
- VC 14601.2a addresses driving on a license suspended for a DUI or DUID. This is the most severely punished subsection under VC 14601.
- VC 14601.3 deals with driving on a license suspended for being a habitual traffic offender, which occurs when you had three or more accidents, three or more significant traffic violations, or two or more very serious traffic violations in a one-year period.
- VC 14601.1a covers driving with a suspended license for any and all reasons not already addressed in 14601a, 14601.2a, and 14601.3.
What Must the Prosecution Prove?
In order to gain a conviction on a charge of driving with a suspended license (VC 14601), the prosecutor must prove the following two elements of the crime beyond reasonable doubt:
- You did, in fact, drive a vehicle on a public highway in California while your driver's license was suspended.
- You were aware at the time you drove the vehicle that the license was suspended.
The fact that your license was suspended is rarely at issue in these types of cases, although it can happen that a license is suspended by mistake. Usually, the case turns on whether or not you were aware of the suspension.
How do prosecutors seek to prove you knew your license was suspended? Here are some evidences they use:
- A California DMV notice of driver's license suspension was mailed to your most recently reported address and was not returned to the DMV as undeliverable.
- You were given notice of the license's suspension personally by a police officer or in court by the presiding judge.
Unfortunately, California reverses the normal "innocent until proven guilty" principle in driving with a suspended license cases. They use, instead, what is called "rebuttable presumption." So, it is possible to bring forward evidence that you did not know of the suspension and win a case in this manner, but unless this is done, a presumption of such knowledge is assumed by the court.
Each subsection of VC 14601, driving with a suspended license, is punished differently, and the defendant's past criminal record and details of each case can also affect the sentence. And if you have a 2nd driving with a suspended license conviction within 5 to 7 years of the 1st one, the sentence will be enhanced.
While penalties differ based on why your license was suspended and are stricter for such things as DUI, habitual traffic offender, or vehicular manslaughter, here is a basic breakdown of the possible punishments you could face.
Driving on a suspended license (VC 14601) is a misdemeanor charge. First-time offenses are punishable by:
- Between 5 days and 6 months in county jail.
- Summary probation.
- A fine of from $300 to $1,000 or more.
A repeat offense within 5 years of the first will result in a $500 to $2,000 fine and the usual county jail term. However, a second offense requires a minimum of 10 days in jail even if probation is granted.
If the underlying reason for the suspension was a DUI, driving with a suspended license requires at least 10 days spent in jail even for a first-time offense and at least 30 days for a second offense. Additionally, it will require you install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle at your own expense during the remainder of your probation period. A good lawyer, however, may be able to help you get your DUI probation period shortened or even canceled.
Finally, we should mention that driving with a suspended license can have particularly harsh repercussions for green card holders and other legal resident aliens. Immigrants would be wise to hire a defense lawyer with expertise in both VC 14601 defense and in immigration law.
Two Related Offenses
Two offenses similar to but different from driving with a suspended license are sometimes confused with VC 14601.
Driving without a valid driver's license (VC 12500) covers driving without ever applying for and receiving a California license and driving when your license has already expired. It does not concern driving with a suspended license and is a lesser offense, always charged as either a misdemeanor or a mere infraction. Many people who move in from out of state fail to get a California license in time and end up facing this charge. It is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail (when charged as a misdemeanor), but usually, if the violation was unintentional and you hurry up and apply for a license before your court date, your lawyer can help you get a lenient sentence.
Failure to present a valid driver's license (VC 12951) is an infraction. This charge concerns simply the fact that you forgot your driver's license at home or another location or lost it, and thus, could not produce it when asked to do so by police. The maximum penalty for VC 12951 is a $250 fine.
Possible Defense Strategies for VC 14601
At Leah Legal, we have successfully handled numerous driving with a suspended license cases in the past, and we will know how to build an appropriate and effective defense strategy for your upcoming case.
Here are a few of the defenses we most commonly employ:
- Lack of knowledge. The prosecution must prove not only that you drove while your license was suspended but that you were aware of the suspension at the time of the incident. It is not always easy for the prosecutor to prove this. For example, if your notice of license suspension from the DMV was sent to an old address and the new resident did not write "return to sender" on the envelope and return it, this could be a valid defense.
- Wrongful suspension. In some cases, the DMV may make a mistake and wrongfully suspend or revoke a person's license. On top of that, they may not even know the DMV has done this until pulled over by police. While rare, this can and does happen.
- Restricted license. After a DUI suspension, you may have been issued a restricted license allowing you to drive to/from work and DUI class. It could happen that, despite using your restricted license appropriately, you were stopped by police and accused of driving with a suspended license. If so, we at Leah Legal will be able to clear this up and win your case in court.
Getting Your Driver's License Reinstated
When your California driver's license is suspended or revoked for a period of time, and when you have completed any required DUI school, defensive driving course, or probationary period, you will then be ready to get your license reinstated.
Many wrongly assume that immediately after the license suspension period ends, they can rush out and start driving again. This is not the case and can lead to a driving with a suspended license charge.
In many cases, including DUI suspensions, you will need to get an auto insurer to both cover you and to issue an SR22 form to the DMV. This form makes it clear that the insurer understands the added risk of insuring you due to your recent license suspension. You will likely have to pay more for car insurance, but you can still shop around to get the best deal possible.
Once insured, you need to contact the DMV and pay a driver's license reissue fee. The fee amount varies based on why the license was suspended, but the highest fee is $125.
At Leah Legal, we can help guide you through the process of getting your license reinstated. We understand how confusing the process can sometimes be and how crucial it is to have a valid license so you can work, visit family and friends, shop for groceries, and continue to lead a normal life.
Contact Us Today for Assistance
At Leah Legal, we have a long track record of winning driving on a suspended license defense cases, securing for our clients the best possible outcome, be that a dismissal, an acquittal, or a reduced charge and/or sentence.
We have served the Los Angeles Area for many years and have handled virtually every scenario likely to come up in this practice area, and we will know how to build you a solid defense.