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What Is Driving on a Suspended License (VC 14601)? Fines?

One of the more common offenses our clients face, usually in conjunction with other offenses such as DUI or speeding, is driving without a valid license, a violation of California Vehicle Code § 12500(a), or driving on a suspended or revoked license, a violation of Vehicle Code § 14601.
The Point of This Article:  Driving without a valid license can be filed as an infraction or a misdemeanor, depending upon the facts of the case and defendant’s prior criminal history.  If defendant later obtains a valid license, the case will often be dismissed or reduced to an infraction with just a court fine.  However, for those who chronically drive without a valid license, the judge can impose up to six months in county jail.
Sometimes, the client is driving without a valid license because he or she is not a U.S. Citizen, but with the enactment of AB60, effective January 1, 2015, any California resident may apply for a driver’s license, regardless of one’s immigration status.  The applicant, of course, must be the proper age and otherwise still qualify, i.e. pay off all outstanding traffic tickets and show proof of identity and residency.
Often, the client is not aware that his or her license has expired or, less frequently, the client recently went to the DMV to rectify the problem, but as Murphy’s Law applies, the traffic stop occurs before the DMV mails the new license.
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Charges of violating Vehicle Code § 12500(a) can arise for other reasons, too.  It may be that the client never received a driver’s license at all, perhaps because the person is not a U.S. citizen (because a social security number is required to get a license). The person also may have moved from another state to California and failed to apply for and receive a California driver’s license yet.
When any of these situations arise, clients often believe there is no reason to appear in court at all.  This is a big mistake, as a failure to appear in court or have an attorney appear for you can and usually does result in the judge issuing a bench warrant for the client’s arrest.  Once the arrest is made, bail to be released can be up to $30,000. 
When a charge of driving on a suspended or revoked license (Vehicle Code § 14601) is bundled with other charges, for example DUI, the client must also appear in court or have an attorney appear for them if the charges are misdemeanor DUI.  Driving on a revoked or suspended license is more serious than just driving without a valid license, although it is often difficult for the District Attorney to prove because the prosecutor must prove the driver knowingly drove on a suspended or revoked license.
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If the client is stopped and does not have his or her license in his possession, this is an infraction (Vehicle Code § 12951). As long as the driver can later produce the license to the prosecutor, the charge is often simply dismissed.
Charges for driving without a valid license (Vehicle Code § 12500(a)) can be filed as a misdemeanor or an infraction.  Such a violation is charged as infraction when the client has never before been charged with this, and or a misdemeanor if the client has.  If filed as a misdemeanor, the maximum jail time is six months, the maximum fine is $1,000 and the court may impound the car for up to thirty days, at the client’s expense.  When the case is filed as an infraction, the maximum fine is $250 and there is no jail time involved.  

For more information about the court process in general, click on the following articles:
  1. What Is an Arraignment?
  2. What Is the Difference Between an Infraction and a Misdemeanor?
  3. Good Faith Exception to Officer’s Execution of an Improper Search Warrant Does Not Have Similar Application to an Improper Traffic Stop
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