California Unlicensed Drivers
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California Vehicle Code 12500a vc makes it a crime for anyone to drive in the state if they don’t have a valid driver’s license.
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California Penal Code 12500 — License requirements: “(a) A person may not drive a motor vehicle upon a highway, unless the person then holds a valid driver’s license issued under this code, except those persons who are expressly exempted under this code.”
A driver’s license does not have to be issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
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California Vehicle Code 15020 VC – The Driver’s License Compact (DLC): “(b) It is the policy of the party states to: (2) Make the reciprocal recognition of licenses to drive and eligibility therefore more just and equitable by considering the overall compliance with motor vehicle laws, ordinances and administrative rules and regulations as a condition precedent to the continuance or issuance of any license by reason of which the licensee is authorized or permitted to operate a motor vehicle in any of the party states.”
The minimum requried is that the driver’s license be (1)unexpired (2)from the state of residence, and (3)appropriate for the type of vehicole being driven (mortorcycle, car, commercial truck, etc.)
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Vehicle Code 12500 VC. “(b) A person may not drive a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle upon a highway, unless the person then holds a valid driver’s license or endorsement issued under this code for that class, except those persons who are expressly exempted under this code, or those persons specifically authorized to operate motorized bicycles or motorized scooters with a valid driver’s license of any class, as specified in subdivision (h) of Section 12804.9. (c) A person may not drive a motor vehicle in or upon any offstreet parking facility, unless the person then holds a valid driver’s license of the appropriate class or certification to operate the vehicle. As used in this subdivision, “offstreet parking facility” means any offstreet facility held open for use by the public for parking vehicles and includes any publicly owned facilities for offstreet parking, and privately owned facilities for offstreet parking where no fee is charged for the privilege to park and which are held open for the common public use of retail customers. (d) A person may not drive a motor vehicle or combination of vehicles that is not of a type for which the person is licensed.”
If you are cited by the cops for driving without a license, then you must appear at court on the date stated on the ticket. An attorney can make this appearance on your behalf. If you do not arrange for legal representation and you don’t shows up, a bench warrant for your arrest will be issued.
Driving without a license is a comparatively lesser offense, but it is still a misdemeanor. If you are convicted you will have a misdemeanor on your criminal record. A California criminal defense lawyer is your best bet to try to get this charge reduced to an infraction or completely dropped.
You can be charged you with Vehicle Code 12500 vc if you get caught driving under these circumstances:
1. Your license expired and you did not renew it
2. You have never had a driver’s license
3. You established residency in California but have not received driver’s license from California
Our criminal defense attorneys want to share this infornation with you about driving without a license:
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To get a conviction for driving without a license these two things must be proven:
1. You drove on a street or highway
2. You did not hold a valid driver’s license at that time
Most crimes require the District Attorney to prove all the elements. But driving without a license is special because the burden of proof is usually on you to prove that the second element is not true (prove that you DID have a license). The law takes this position due to the “rule of convenience.” This special rule reasons that it is easier for you to prove that you had a license than it is for the state to prove that you did not.
Note that California Vehicle Code 12500 a vc says that you must have a “validly issued” license to drive a vehicle. It does not say that you must have the license with you, however presenting the license is the best way to prove that you are in compliance. If you are pulled over and you forgot your license at home, you could be cited for California Vehicle Code 12951, an infraction. If you later prove that you did have a “validly issued” license then that infraction can be dropped.
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Driving on a suspended or revoked license is illegal under California Vehicle Code 14601. It is a different crime than driving without a validly issued license. Driving with a revoked or suspended license is more serious. It is also harder for the district attorney to prove because he/she must prove that you knew your license was revoked or suspended. The penalties are also more severe than driving without a valid license. Those penalties include higher jail sentences and allow for increasing amounts of jail time if you are convicted again later.
For more information about driving on a suspended or revoked license you may want to search for articles on Vehicle Code 14601 driving on a suspended or revoked license.
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Driving without a valid driver’s license in California is punished as what is called a “wobbler”. The punishment for a wobbler depends on the circumstances. District attorneys can file charges as either an infraction (non-criminal), or as a misdemeanor.
The circumstances that the district attorney will look at when choosing to file charges as an infraction or a misdemeanor is your driving history. For a first offense, being charged with the infraction is common. If it is charged as a misdemeanor, you negotiate on the charge. It helps if you can legitimately obtain a license.
One circumstance that may encourage the district attorney to file misdemeanor charges is if you have an arrest warrant. If you currently have an arrest warrant it is wise to contact an attorney now and have it taken care of.
If you are convicted for a misdemeanor driving without a license you may receive any or all of the following:
1. Maximum of six months jail time
2. Three years summary probation
3. 30-day impound of your car
4. Maximum $1,000 fine
If your conviction is for an infraction, you would get:
1. Maximum $250 fine
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The best option is always to prove that you did in fact have a validly issued license at the time of the incident. If you can’t prove that, then your attorney should attemp to postpone the case as long as possible. This would give you time to attain a valid license, whit helps tremendously during negotiations unless you are a repeat offender.
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Since most undocumented immigrants who come to California have to work, many are forced to violate section 12500 of the Vehicle Code regularly when they drive to work without a license. Using public transportation whenever possible is the best way to avoid arrest.
If you have more questions we invite you to contact us. You may also find helpful information by searching for Vehicle Code 14601 Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License and California Bench Warrants and Arrest Warrants.
Call us for help
If you or a loved one is charged with Vehicle Code 12500 (a) vc driving without a license and you would like to dicide if you need an attorney, we invite you to contact us at the Law Offices of Marc Grossman. We offer free consultations in office or by phone. We have local offices in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena, Ventura, Orange County, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, San Diego, Riverside, and throughout California.