Driving on a Suspended License in California
- Vehicle Code §14601 -
Driving on a Suspended License – VC 14601
California Vehicle Code section 14601 (VC 14601) makes it a misdemeanor crime to drive a motor vehicle whenever the person’s license has been suspended or revoked.
California law distinguishes the crime of driving on a suspended license based on the reason for the underlying suspension.
For example, a person whose driver’s license was suspended as a result of a prior DUI will be charged with violating Vehicle Code section 14601.2. However, a person whose driver’s license was suspended because of a prior conviction for reckless driving will be charged with violating Vehicle Code section 14601.
Other laws that apply to driving on a suspended license include:
VC §14601 – Driving on Suspended License After a Conviction for Reckless Driving
VC §14601.1 – Driving on Suspended License Generally
VC §14601.2 – Driving on Suspended License After DUI Conviction
VC §14601.5 – Driving on Suspended License After DMV Suspects DUI
VC §14601.3 – Driving on Suspended License After Designated a Habitual Traffic Offender
1. What are the elements of driving on a suspended license?
While the penalties for driving on a suspended license (discussed below) may vary depending on the specific section of the vehicle code that was violated, the elements of the crime are relatively the same.
Before anyone can be found guilty of driving on a suspended license, the prosecutor must prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defendant drove a motor vehicle while his or her driving privilege was suspended or revoked, AND
When the defendant drove, he or she knew that the privilege had been suspended or revoked.
A jury is permitted, but is not required, to find that the driver was aware of the suspension or revocation if it finds that the DMV mailed the driver a notice of suspension or revocation to the most recent address reported to the department.
2. What are the penalties for driving on a suspended license?
Generally, every section for driving on a suspended license carries the same maximum penalty.
For a first offense, the maximum penalty is a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 6 months. A second or subsequent offense for driving on a suspended license carries a maximum fine of $2,000 and up to 1 year imprisonment in the county jail.
What differentiates the sections from one another are the MINIMUM penalties for driving on a suspended license.
For example, a person convicted of VC 14601 for driving on a suspended license after their license was suspended for reckless driving must be sentenced to a minimum of 5 days imprisonment in the county jail. A second or subsequent conviction within five years increases the minimum penalty to 10 days imprisonment, regardless of whether the defendant is granted probation.
A judge may also order several days of jail time as a condition of probation.
3. What are some common defenses to driving on a suspended license?
There are many defenses an experienced criminal defense lawyer can use to defend someone accused of driving on a suspended license in violation of vehicle code section 14601. Consider the following defenses:
Lack of Knowledge –
By far the most common defense to a charge for driving on a suspended license is a lack of knowledge of the suspension. As indicated above, the burden of proving that the defendant had knowledge of the suspension is on the prosecutor bringing the charges.
While mailing a of notice of the suspension may be considered, a jury is not required to find that the defendant knew of the suspension just because the notice was mailed. It is not uncommon for someone to move and fail to update their address with the DMV.
When this is the case, it often helps to provide proof of residence when negotiating a case with the prosecutor. A reasonable prosecutor will almost always take this evidence into consideration when deciding whether to move forward with a criminal prosecution.
Exception for Employment –
Another defense that may apply is the "exception" to the crime of driving on a suspended license. The exception permits a person to drive a motor vehicle that is owned or utilized by the person’s employer on private property that is owned or utilized by the person’s employer.
A good example of this is someone who maintains a golf course. That person would not be guilty of driving on a suspended license where the person was cited for operating a company golf cart on the company’s private golf course.
Misdemeanor Judicial Diversion –
Another great option to consider is misdemeanor judicial diversion pursuant to penal code section PC 1001.95. This section permits a judge to pause a misdemeanor proceeding to permit the defendant to complete several negotiated terms of diversion.
If the defendant completes all of the terms of diversion, then the criminal case against the defendant must be dismissed and any arrest or detention for the offense must be sealed. Terms of diversion often include:
Paying a fine
Completing community service
An educational class on the dangers of driving
Community service is almost always included as a term of diversion.
It’s important to remember that every case is different. If you or someone you love has been charged with violating VC 14601 for allegedly driving on a suspended license, it is important you contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.
4. What's the difference between driving without a license and driving on a suspended license?
A crime that is often related to driving on a suspended license is vehicle code section VC 12500. VC 12500 makes it a crime to operate a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license. This section applies to those who never got a license in the first place.
A violation of VC 12500 can be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. If charged as a misdemeanor (which is often the case), the maximum penalty for driving without a license is 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. If charged as an infraction, then the maximum penalty for driving without a license is a fine of $250.
Please note that the fact that a person never obtained a driver’s license is NOT a defense to driving on a suspended license. Even though the person may have never gotten their license to drive, the DMV may have suspended their ability to get a driver’s license.
If this is the case, the driver may still be guilty of the more serious offense of driving on a suspended license under VC 14601.
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