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What Is Driving with Expired Registration (VC § 5204(a))?

In a fair number of cases that our office handles, for example quite often in DUI, police will stop a car for expired registration tags, as can be seen from the month and year stickers on the car’s rear license plate  When this happens at night while the police car is following our client from 50 yards or more behind, we often wonder how the police can read the three-letter black and white month sticker that is just about an inch high and 1.25 inches long, or the colored year sticker that is even smaller and more difficult to read in the dark.
Brief Synopsis: Driving with expired registration (Vehicle Code § 5204(a)) is an infraction with a fine of $25, plus penalties and assessments (total perhaps $173 in late 2018).  If the registration expired over six months earlier, police may impound the vehicle.  There are no DMV points associated with this violation.
Indeed, we find it more likely that the expired registration was only discovered after police make the traffic stop, which calls into question the real reason for the traffic stop and if it was pretextual due to the time of night (or early morning), the fact that our client is observed leaving a parking lot by a bar, or the area of the stop.  A motion to suppress evidence is then considered, to exclude all evidence gathered and observations made after the stop, including one’s BAC and / or controlled substances found or stolen property found in the car.

It merits mention that this section is enforceable against even a parked car under Vehicle Code § 5204(d).

Nonetheless, if one faces charges for driving with expired registration, what is the maximum punishment that one faces?  The answer is a $25 fine, plus penalties and assessments.  This is an infraction.  Jail and probation are not part of the punishment, although the police officer will certainly admonish the driver to go to the DMV and renew one’s registration, which can be expensive.

As mentioned above, there are penalties and assessments.  What are these?  They are additions to the base fine.  For example, every fine has $29 added to it for each $10 in the base fine.  Therefore, for a $25 base fine, $58 will be added, making it $83.

Car on FreewayCar on Freeway

On top of this, there is also a 20% state surcharge added to the base fine under Penal Code § 1465.7, which will add $5 to the fine, boosting it to $88.

In addition, $40 also is added the base fine for a court security fee.  This raises the total owed to $128.

As if this is not enough, there is a $35 criminal conviction fee added for an infraction under Government Code § 70373, making the total owed $163.

If the driver was cited and released at the scene, but with a promise to appear in court later, the judge can add a $10 citation processing fee under Penal Code § 1463.07 and Government Code § 29550(f).  This can make the mere $25 fine a whopping $173.

One may wonder where such money goes.  The base fine is distributed to various programs and funds, depending upon the size of the base fine.  Ten dollars of the base fine is allocated to a state penalty fund.  Seven dollars of the base fine is allocated to a county penalty fund.  Five dollars of the base fine is allocated to a state court construction fund to keep building and modernizing courthouses.

If more than six months have passed since the tags (or stickers) expired, the police may impound the car under Vehicle Code § 22651(0)(1).  The fees associated with towing and getting the car out of impound can be astronomical, often over $100 per day.

If one receives a ticket for violating Vehicle Code § 5204(a), no points are assigned by the DMV for the violation.

It is likely that the police officer making the traffic stop will ask the driver for proof of registration, which can send one scrambling through documents in the glove box or center console.  If the driver cannot find proper registration documentation, the officer can also cite the driver for driving without proper registration, a violation of Vehicle Code § 4000(a)(1).

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