Driving on a suspended license in California can have significant penalties including further license suspension or revocation, fines, and jail time. If you are charged with this crime, do not take the matter lightly or think that there’s nothing you can do about it. Just because you were arrested does not mean that you are guilty. You can avoid jail time and other severe penalties by securing the services of a criminal defense attorney with extensive experience and a proven track record of success in representing clients accused of driving crimes.
You will find that kind of attorney at Justin Lo Law. Our attorneys have a deep understanding of the statutes and processes that govern such offenses. When you retain our services, you can be sure that we will employ every tactic possible to fight tenaciously for your future. For a free case review and to learn about the defense strategies that may apply to your case, call us anytime 24/7 at 310-248-7385.
Driving on a suspended license in California is a crime covered under Vehicle Code Section 14601. According to the statute, you are guilty of a crime if you drive a motor vehicle at any time when you know that your license has been suspended or revoked. A driver’s license in California can be suspended/revoked for any of the following reasons:
- Operating a vehicle in a negligent manner
- Wet or dry reckless driving
- Failure to pay child support or a fine following a traffic court appearance
- Not having proof of insurance
- Refusing a DUI chemical test
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a 00.8 blood-alcohol content or higher
- You are a habitual traffic offender due to excessive points on your driving record
- Not having proof of insurance
- Medical condition or mental/physical disability that may affect you ability to operate the vehicle safely
- Evading a police officer
The duration of a suspension will vary considerably from 30 days to 4 years or more. The period also depends on whether the offense is a repeat. More often, offenses of driving on a suspended license carrying a longer suspension period will also have more severe penalties.
According to CALCRIM 220, the prosecutor must prove two elements of the crime for someone to be found guilty of VC 14601 violation. These elements are:
- You did, in fact, drive a vehicle while you license was revoked or suspended
- When you drove the vehicle, you were aware that your driving privileges were suspended or revoked.
The first element is pretty straightforward and the main focus is on the issue of whether or not you were aware that the license was suspended. It is presumed that you knew of the suspension if the following are true:
- The California DMV mailed the notice to your latest address or you were given the notice in person by the presiding judge or a law enforcement officer, or
- The DMV did not get the mail back if it was sent to the wrong address
Unfortunately, when it comes to cases related to driving with a suspended license, California reverses the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Instead, “rebuttable presumption” is used and the jury may conclude that you had knowledge. However, it is possible to bring forward evidence to challenge the presumption and prove your innocence.
For example, Jane is a 68-year-old woman with a mental condition. Her son contacts the DMV to have her license revoked. The DMV sends a notice of suspension to Jane’s old address, but she has moved. The new residents threw the notice away and this means it was never returned back to the DMV as uncalmable or undeliverable. The prosecutor will have the presumption that Jane knew about the revocation of the license, but this does not mean that she must be found guilty. Jane can work with her attorney to prove that she had moved and did not receive the mail. This may be able to show that she no actual knowledge and so is not guilty of driving on a suspended license.
It is possible to find yourself on the wrong side of the law if you drive just because the suspension period has collapsed. In California, you are not allowed to drive until you take affirmative steps in having your license reinstated after a suspension. For instance, if you were given a 3-month suspension, and you drove on the 31st day from when the suspension took effect, you could still be prosecuted for driving on a suspended license. You are therefore required to follow the necessary steps involved in regaining your driving privilege with the DMV. Also, your license may be reinstated if you prove to the court that you acted with the terms of your probation. The procedure that will be followed in reinstating a driver’s license varies depending on the reason for the suspension.
VC 14601 driving on a suspended license is always charged as a misdemeanor. This means that no time is served in California state prison but the potential penalties many include time in county jail, a fine, or both. Factors that determine the exact penalties and punishment for driving with a suspended license include the reason you license was suspended, your driving history all driving related offenses including those out-of-state convictions), and whether you suffered prior convictions for VC 14601 violation. For a first time offense, driving on a suspended license is punishable by a fine of from $300 to $1,000 or more, anywhere from 5 days to 6 months in jail and a summary probation of up to 3 years. For a second or consecutive offense, within 5 years of the previous, you will face 10 days to a full year of jail time, and a $500 to $2,000 fine. A minimum of 10 days in a county jail is mandatory even if probation is granted.
If your driver’s license was in the first place suspended because you were driving under the influence of alcohol or an intoxicating drug, driving with a suspended license will require a minimum of 10 days spent in jail for first-time offenders, and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days for a second-time offender. In addition, you will be required to have a mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) at your own expense. An IID is a breathalyzer that only allows one to operate a vehicle after they provide a breath sample that is alcohol free. The IID installation will stay in place during the remainder of your probation period.
It is also important to mention that green card holders and other legal resident aliens can face harsh repercussions if arrested while driving on a suspended license. If you fall in this category, it would be wise to hire an attorney with expertise in both immigration law and VC 14601 defense.
There are various legal defenses that an experienced driving offenses defense attorney could argue on your behalf in order to fight VC 14601 charges. At Justin Lo Law, we will review your case in order to build an appropriate and effective defense strategy that will ensure the best outcome possible. Below are some of the defenses we commonly employ in fighting charges of driving with a suspended license:
- Lack of knowledge
In order to prove that you violated Vehicle Code 14601 driving on a suspended or revoked license, the prosecution must prove not only that your license was suspended, but also that you were aware of the suspension. The VC 14601 statute requires both prosecutors and defense attorneys to focus on the key fact of knowledge. It could be that the notice of the revocation or suspension was mailed but got lost or went to an old address. Maybe the new resident did not return the envelope as is required. Also, it could be that a judge or other law enforcement officer never told you about your suspension. A seasoned criminal defense attorney could use these facts to prove your lack of knowledge.
- You were driving on a restricted license
There are exceptions to the law that requires one not to drive on a suspended license. You can be granted restricted driving privileges if the court determines that you present a critical need to drive. If you are granted a restricted license, you will be able to drive to and from a court-ordered DUI school, to and from school or work, and any other place that the court allows you to. It could be that in your case, you had a restricted license but you were stopped and arrested by police on grounds that you were driving with a suspended license. If you had a restricted license, that may be raised as valid defense to the charges of driving on a suspended license in California. However, you will only get a restricted license if the initial reason for its suspension was DUI under Vehicle Code 14601.2.
- Your driver’s license was suspended or revoked wrongfully
It is possible for the DMV to make a mistake and issue a suspension or revocation unlawfully. It could be that there an error occurred and the suspension was passed using evidence from your prior convictions. The DMV may not even know that mistake or error occurred until you are pulled over by police and arrested. If this is the case, your attorney can prove the invalidity of the license to get the charges dismissed.
There are two offenses that are sometimes confused with VC 14601 but they hold significant differences. The first is VC 12500, Driving without a valid driver’s license. This statute makes it a crime to drive a vehicle without ever applying for and receiving a driver’s license. It also applies in cases where license has already expired. Compared to driving with a suspended license, violation of VC 12500 is a lesser offense that’s always charged as either a mere infraction or misdemeanor. Many of those who end up facing this charge are individuals who move in from out of California and fail to get a license in time. The penalties for this offense include a maximum of 6 months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000. If you did not commit the offense intentionally and you attempt to correct your mistake by applying for a license before you are issued with a court date, your defense attorney can build help you get a lenient sentence.
The second crime is VC 12951, Failure to present a valid driver’s license. This simply concerns cases where one has a valid driver’s license but has lost it, or has left it at home or any other place. One is arrested if he/she fails to produce the license when asked to do so by the police. This offense is usually an infraction and the charges can be dismissed if you show that you indeed have a valid license. However, if you refuse to display the license to an officer, you will be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250.
If you are charged with driving on a suspended license, your attorney can file for plea bargains and dismissals. Prosecutors are often willing to reduce VC 14601 charges to the lesser offense of driving without a valid license. In practice, prosecutors prefer to save their time and resources in dealing with more serious offenses and getting a dismissal can be quite easy especially if you have little or no criminal history.
Contact Us Today for Assistance
If you or your loved one has been charged with driving on a suspended license in California, contact Justin Lo Law for a free consultation. Our driving offenses attorneys will use every resource at our exposure to develop an effective defense strategy that will help point out any weakness in the prosecution’s case. Our attorneys have the skills and experience to analyze the case from every angle possible. We will fight to have the charges dropped if your license was suspended or revoked wrongfully. Pick up your phone and call 310-248-7385 or fill our contact form for a free, no obligation initial consultation.