California prohibits its residents from being behind the wheel while their driver’s license is suspended. In the event of an arrest, while driving in this situation, you will be charged with a misdemeanor, which involves mandatory imprisonment. Some people facing these charges are not aware of the consequences of being convicted for this crime. As a result, they end up pleading guilty without even putting up any defense. At San Jose Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we advise you to get help from our criminal attorneys so that they can fight your driving crimes charges. For a better insight of driving crimes, we have discussed the legal definition of driving with a suspended license, reasons for a license suspension, elements the prosecution attorney must prove, penalties for the crime, possible legal defenses, and other related offenses.

Legal Definition of Driving With a Suspended License

As per the California VC 14601, it is illegal to operate a vehicle on a suspended driver’s license while you have full knowledge that your driving privileges have been suspended or revoked. People confuse a lot between revocation and suspension, but VC 14601 explains the difference. The Vehicle Code defines license suspension as a temporary loss of driving privileges, which can be reinstated once the driver meets the set conditions while license revocation is permanent loss of driving privileges or waiting to apply again after being eligible for driving privileges.

Reasons for a License Suspension

The court, Department of Motor Vehicles, and the arresting officer has the authority to take away your driver’s license. Various reasons can trigger a license suspension. They include:

  • Lack of insurance
  • Failure to file a report with the DMV after an accident
  • A conviction for driving while intoxicated
  • Refusal to submit a chemical test
  • Failure to appear before a court
  • Mental or physical impairment that could make it unsafe to operate a car
  • Reckless driving
  • Failure to pay child support

Despite all the above reasons for a license suspension, to be convicted for driving on or with a suspended license, the prosecution carries the burden of proof. They must convince the court that you were aware of the suspension or revocation of your driving privileges.

Elements the Prosecution Must Prove

In order to find you guilty of driving with a suspended license, the prosecution must prove that:

  • You or the defendant operated a vehicle while his or her license was suspended or revoked, and
  • The defendant is presumed to have the knowledge or to have been aware that the driver’s license was suspended or revoked.

The first element is a cakewalk for the prosecution attorney, but to prove the second element is not natural. To confirm that you knew that your driving privileges had been suspended, the following must be true:

  • The Department of Motor Vehicles notified you on license suspension via mail
  • The notice of suspension had been mailed to you through the most recent mail address on the DMV file, or
  • The notification was not sent back to the DMV as unclaimed or undeliverable.

Alternatively, if a law enforcement officer served you with the notice in person after an offense like DUI warranting license suspension and confiscated your license, or a judge communicated the suspension or revocation to you after a conviction that led to license suspension, then you will be presumed to have had knowledge that the license was suspended or revoked.

Despite these things being right, it is not enough evidence to show that you were aware of the license suspension. It just creates a presumption to the jury who can decide either you knew about the suspension or not. You will have to hire a criminal attorney for your defense.

Reinstating a Suspended Driver’s License

You might assume that once the suspension period expires, you can regain your driving privileges. However, that is untrue because there are specific steps you should take to have the privileges reinstated. Between the years 2006 and 2013, the California DMV suspended 4.2 million driver’s licenses due to unpaid court fines. A license suspension should, however, not mean that you will never be behind the wheel again. You can have the license reinstated if you:

  • Complete your sentence, program or the license suspension period
  • Pay a visit to the DMV with all the necessary documents
  • Provide discovery to prove you are insured
  • Pay reinstatement costs
  • Pay any required court fees

The reinstatement will depend on the reason for license suspension. If it appears as if getting back your driving privileges might take long, you can opt to apply for a restricted license. However, the only drivers that can apply for a restricted license are those that have been arrested and charged with DUI or driving without car insurance. To get the restricted license:

  • You must enroll in a DUI program and provide proof of enrollment certificate,
  • Go to the local DMV office and apply for the restricted license,
  • Provide evidence for financial responsibility, and
  • Pay the reissuance fee

California Laws on Driving with a Suspended License and Their Penalties

The requirements for being reinstated depending on the reason for suspension. California has various laws for operating a car with driving privileges suspended. Violation of these statutes is a misdemeanor with no state imprisonment. However, a conviction attracts fines and a sentence to the county jail. The penalties for a conviction vary greatly depending on:

  • The reason for license suspension
  • Your driving history, and
  • If you have a prior conviction for violating VC 14601

Below are each statute and its penalties.

  1. California VC 14601

As per VC 14601, you are forbidden from doing the following:

  • Driving recklessly
  • Knowingly drive on a suspended license
  • Operate a motor vehicle negligently
  • Drive while on alcohol or addicted to drugs

Of all the foregoing reasons, reckless driving is the leading cause of license suspension. The penalties for conviction VC 14601 are:

  • County jail sentence of not less than five days and no more than one hundred and eighty days and,
  • A fine of between dollars three hundred and dollars one thousand for first offenders.

If the first offenders take a plea bargain for VC 14601.2, they pay an additional penalty evaluation fees and install an interlock ignition device. For second and subsequent offenders within five years, the penalties are:

  • A sentence of between ten days to three hundred and sixty-five days in jail,
  • A fine of at least $500 and no more than $2,000,
  • Penalty assessment and installing an ignition interlock device.
  1. VC 14601.1

Under this statute, it is illegal to drive when you are fully aware that your driving privileges have been suspended even if the reasons for suspension are not mentioned in the statute. If you are convicted as per this statute, the penalties include:

  • A fine of between $300 to $1,000, and
  • A maximum of six months in jail

In case you are for a VC 14601.2 plea agreement, you will part with the fine plus penalty assessment cost and mandatory installation of IID.

For second and subsequent offenders within sixty months, the penalties are:

  • One to twelve months in jail
  • Dollars five hundred to dollars two thousand fine
  • Penalty assessment or
  • Installation of an interlock ignition device for a plea bargain for VC 14601.2 charge.
  1. VC 14601.2

The Vehicle Code Section prohibits you from driving if you know that the license has been suspended because of driving under the influence. A conviction under this statute is punishable by:

  • Ten days to one hundred and eighty days behind bars,
  • $300 to $1,000 fine plus penalty assessment and mandatory installation of an interlock ignition device.
  1. VC 14601.3

The statute applies to habitual traffic offenders. It forbids you from accumulating multiple driving-related offenses or charges while your driving privileges are on suspension. As per VC 14601.3, you are a habitual traffic offender if you accumulate the following traffic offenses within one year while your license is suspended:

  • Another VC 14601 violation
  • Violation of VC 23152
  • A speeding violation
  • Three or more crashes resulting in injuries or loss of property valued no more than $750,
  • Three or more general moving violation

VC 14601.3, therefore, does not only prohibit persons from driving while their privileges are in suspension but also to accumulate traffic offenses while knowingly driving on a suspended license. If you are found guilty as per VC 14601.3, the penalties will be:

  • Thirty days. jail time
  • One thousand fine plus penalty assessment

Habitual traffic offenders, on the other hand, are punished by six months of jail time and a two thousand fine. The punishment for second and subsequent offenders under this statute is similar to that of habitual traffic offenders.

  1. VC 14601.5

Under this statute, it is illegal to drive on a suspended license whose suspension resulted from a refusal to take a chemical test or a DUI charge. Some of the things that VC 14601.5 prohibits include:

  • Driving with an illegal BAC
  • Failure to submit a sample for a chemical test after a DUI arrest.
  • An underage DUI charge involving a refusal to submit a preliminary alcohol screening test or with a BAC of 0.01% or higher.
  • Refusal to submit to a chemical test on suspicion of DUI when you are on probation.

The penalties if the court finds you guilty under this statute include:

  • No more than six months of jail time or
  • A fine of $300 to $1,000, plus penalty assessment or both and installation of IID for first-time offenders.

If you are arrested for a second or subsequent offense within five years, the punishment is ten days to a year in jail, a fine of $500 to $2,000, and compulsory IID if you take a plea bargain for VC 14601.2 charge.

These penalties have severe consequences in your life, although they might not seem so in the initial stages. You can avoid these consequences by hiring an attorney to put up a persuasive argument.

Legal Defenses to Driving with a Suspended License

An accusation of operating a vehicle with driving privileges suspended does not automatically mean you will, too, or you are guilty of the offense. An excellent attorney can put up several defense strategies to avoid charges or a conviction. Some of the common defenses you can apply to your case include:

  1. Lack of knowledge

Proving knowledge is one of the critical elements the prosecution attorney relies on to convict suspects for violating VC 14601. You would be presumed to have had knowledge when the concerned agencies took the constitutional steps to notify you of the suspension. But if the procedure used to inform you of the suspension was unsuccessful, improper, or insufficient, then you have a strong defense that can have the charges dropped.

  1. Plea bargains and dismissal

The prosecution is never willing to spend a lot of time and resources on a case they are not guaranteed of winning or where the defendant has a little or clear criminal record. Due to that, the prosecution can be willing to lower the charges to a lesser offense or charge you with an infraction so that they can move to more serious cases. If you have made steps to have your license reinstated before the end of the case or you have little or no criminal history, your chances of being granted a plea bargain are high.

  1. You were driving on a restricted license

If a license has been suspended or revoked, you can apply for a restricted driver’s license if you are eligible. The license allows you to drive for specific duties like work, school, or anywhere else where the court gives a green light while your license is on suspension. If you were arrested for operating a car with driving privileges suspended but then you have a restricted license, and you were driving within your scope or the terms of the restricted license, then the charges against you should be dropped. The defense is, however, limited to those being charged under VC 14601.2 and 14601.5.

  1. Your driving privileges suspension was invalid

The basis underlying driving privileges suspension must be legal. If your attorney has reason to believe that the license was suspended without cause or there was an error in the discovery against you, then the suspension becomes invalid. Your attorney can file a petition to have the suspension dropped, thus eliminating the offense of driving with a suspended license.

  1. Violation of constitutional Rights

Everyone has the right to be free from illegal search, seizure, and arrest. If you believe that the evidence being used against you in court was obtained in violation of your constitutional rights and you can prove so, the proof will be removed from the case. The prosecution is left with a weak lawsuit, which might compel them to go for a lesser charge or drop the charges.

Driving with a Suspended License and Related Offenses

Certain offenses can be charged in place of or alongside VC 14601. These offenses include:

  1. Driving without a license

As per VC 12500 (a), it is a crime to drive without a valid driver’s license. If you are in California and you are from another jurisdiction, you still have the right to drive if:

  • The license was issued in the state where you reside and
  • It is valid for the car you are driving

You will be charged with driving without a license if:

  • You become a resident of California, and after ten days, you have not yet obtained a driver’s license.
  • You failed to renew the license or
  • You never obtained the license in the first place

The primary difference between driving with a suspended license and driving without a license is that you can’t be charged with driving without a license if your license is suspended. VC 12500 is, therefore, a lesser charge than VC 14601, and you don’t need to know about your driver’s license suspension. Driving without a license can be filed as a misdemeanor or infraction. If your driving history is relatively clean, you will face non-criminal infraction charges, but it must be your first offense.

As an infraction, a conviction for driving without a license carries a maximum fine of dollars two hundred and fifty. But if you are charged with a misdemeanor and convicted, the penalties include:

  • Jail time of no more than six months
  • A fine no more than one thousand dollars

You can prevent the above penalties by building a solid defense. Some of the arguments you can make to fight the charges include:

  • You were not driving
  • You were a visitor in California below the age of 18 but a holder of a valid driver’s license from another jurisdiction.
  • You were lawfully exempt from holding a license
  • You had a valid license, but you did not have it at the time of the arrest.
  1. Failure to show a driver’s license

California VC 12951 prohibits individuals from driving without a license in their possession or failing to display the license to the arresting officer upon request. Refusal to show your license is charged as a misdemeanor. The charge can be dismissed later if you provide a valid license. But for persons from a different jurisdiction, it is mandatory to possess a driver’s license.

VC 12951 is violated in two ways. The first way is codified under VC 12951 (a), and it happens when you operate a car on a highway without having a valid driver’s license. The other way you can violate the statute is codified under VC 12951 (b), and it’s when you fail to show the license to the peace officer.

The penalties for violating VC 12951 (a) are an infraction and a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty dollars. If you provide a valid license before the court, the charges will be dismissed. However, if it is your third or subsequent offense for driving without a license, then the court might not dismiss the charges.

The penalties for violating VC 12951 (b) are:

  • A misdemeanor or summary probation
  • Maximum jail time of six months
  • No more than one thousand dollars in fine

The possible legal defenses that can be used to fight these charges include arguing that the peace officer was not enforcing the Vehicle Code and that he or she violated the search and seizure laws. Providing a valid license can also help have an infraction charge dismissed.

  1. DMV hearing

Rather than having to face driving crimes that are related to driving with a suspended license, you can avoid them altogether. You do that by fighting the suspension before you end up on the wrong side of the law. California DMV has the mandates of suspending or revoking licenses. Your license will be suspended if you are being accused of driving under the influence, operating a motor vehicle negligently, or a mental or physical condition that prevents you from driving safely.

After a case has been filed against you to the DMV, you have until ten days to file for a DMV hearing; otherwise, your license will be suspended. You are entitled to this hearing before your driving privileges go on suspension. If you have been arrested for driving crime from the beginning of 2019, know that you can continue driving without restrictions as long as you have installed an IID in your car.

For negligent operators who have received many DMV points, when you receive a letter notifying you of a negligent operator hearing, you should respond fast so that you can be granted a negligent operator hearing. It will help you prevent the suspension.

Also, if you are a person with a physical or mental issue that interferes with your driving capabilities and your license is about to be suspended, you can request a reexamination hearing. Here, the DMV evaluates if you have lost your driving abilities or not. The reason for the evaluation is that some people might suffer a condition that is associated with loss of driving skills but still be capable of driving safely. A hearing, therefore, grants them an opportunity to prevent a license suspension.

Find a San Jose Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Just because you have been accused of driving with a suspended license doesn’t mean you will be charged or convicted. What matters is the experience of the attorney you retain. Therefore, if you or a loved one is facing charges of operating a vehicle with driving privileges suspended, contact the California Criminal Lawyer Group. Our experienced attorneys will discuss the case and come up with the best possible defenses. Reach out to us at 408-622-0204 for a zero-obligation consultation.