Although this difference seems obvious, people often mistake the non-criminal infraction of driving without a license in one's possession for the more serious misdemeanor offense of driving without a valid license.
California Vehicle Code 12951 penalizes driving without a license in your possession. As previously stated, this is a non-criminal infraction that prosecutors must dismiss if you later prove that you were validly licensed at the time of your offense.
California Vehicle Code 12500 VC driving without a valid license is typically charged as a misdemeanor. This offense is charged when…at the time you are caught driving…the California Department of Motor Vehicles — or the DMV from another state — hasn't issued you a license.
As a misdemeanor, California Vehicle Code 12500 VC driving without a license subjects you to a six-month county jail sentence and a maximum $1,000 fine. However…if after you are charged with this offense…you take affirmative steps to secure a valid driver's license, your VC 12500 misdemeanor will likely be reduced to a non-criminal infraction or dismissed altogether. (See our article, "What are the penalties for driving without a license in California?")