Vehicle Code § 12951 CVC makes it an infraction to drive without your driver’s license in your possession, and a misdemeanor to refuse to present your license if requested to do so by a peace officer.
A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by
- up to 6 months in jail time and
- fines of up to $1000.00 plus penalty assessments.
The language of the code section states that:
12951. (a) The licensee shall have the valid driver’s license issued to him or her in his or her immediate possession at all times when driving a motor vehicle upon a highway.
Any charge under this subdivision shall be dismissed when the person charged produces in court a driver’s license duly issued to that person and valid at the time of his or her arrest, except that upon a third or subsequent charge the court in its discretion may dismiss the charge. When a temporary, interim, or duplicate driver’s license is produced in court, the charge shall not be dismissed unless the court has been furnished proof by the Department of Motor Vehicles that the temporary, interim, or duplicate license was issued prior to the arrest, that the driving privilege and license had not been suspended or revoked, and that the person was eligible for the temporary, interim, or duplicate license.
(b) The driver of a motor vehicle shall present his or her license for examination upon demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code.
- driving a car without possessing a California driver’s license.
- a police officer stopping you for speeding, and you refusing to present your driver’s license.
- operating a vehicle after leaving your driver’s license at home.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest charges under this statute. A few common ones include lawyers showing that:
- you had a valid license at the time you were stopped,
- you were not the driver of the vehicle, and/or
- a law enforcement officer stopped you without probable cause.
Driving a car without a license is an infraction punishable by a $250 fine.
Refusing to present a driver’s license is a misdemeanor offense punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to six months.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is unlawful under Vehicle Code 12951?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. What is unlawful under Vehicle Code 12951?
Per Vehicle Code 12951(a), it is unlawful to drive a vehicle without a valid driver’s license issued by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).1
Per Vehicle Code 12951(b), it is a crime if all of the following are true:
- you drove a motor vehicle,
- a peace officer demanded that you present your driver’s license for the officer to examine, and
- you did not present your driver’s license in response to the officer’s request.2
Note that in most cases it is also unlawful under VC 1295b to refuse to present evidence of vehicle registration once requested to do so by a police officer.3
Under the provisions of this code, a “motor vehicle” includes all of the following:
- passenger vehicles,
- motor scooters,
- school buses,
- commercial vehicles, and
- truck tractors and trailers.4
A prosecutor has the burden of proof under this statute, meaning that they have to prove that you violated this law beyond a reasonable doubt.
2. Are there legal defenses?
You have the right to contest charges under this statute with a legal defense. Three common defenses include showing that:
- you had a valid driver’s license when stopped.
- you were not the driver of a vehicle.
- the police stopped you without probable cause.
2.1. Valid driver’s license
This defense applies to the situation where you get stopped by the police and fail to have a driver’s license in your possession. If you then go to traffic court and prove that you had a valid driver’s license at the time you were stopped, the judge can dismiss any charges that were filed.5
2.2. Not the driver
Only drivers can violate this vehicle code section. This means it is always a defense to show that you were not operating a motor vehicle. Perhaps, for example, you failed to have a driver’s license but were a passenger in the vehicle.
2.3. No probable cause
Law enforcement can only stop or arrest you if they have probable cause that you committed an offense. This means you can challenge a charge under this law by showing that the police never had probable cause to pull you over.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of Vehicle Code 12951(a) is an infraction. The offense is punishable by a maximum fine of $250.6
A violation of Vehicle Code 12951(b) results in misdemeanor charges. These criminal charges are punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.7
Note that a judge does have the discretion to award you with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three laws related to CVC 12951. These are:
- driving without a license – VC 12500,
- resisting arrest – PC 148, and
- false identification to a police officer – PC 148.9.
4.1. Driving without a license – VC 12500
Under California Vehicle Code 12500 VC, driving without a license is the crime where you operate a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license.
Unlike with VC 12951, VC 12500 is a traffic violation typically charged when you are driving and you:
- have failed to renew your driver’s license,
- never obtained a license in the first place, or
- become a California resident and fail to get a new license within 10 days.
4.2. Resisting arrest – PC 148
Under Penal Code 148 PC, resisting arrest is the crime where you willfully resist, delay, or obstruct law enforcement officers or emergency medical technicians in the performance of their official duties.
As with violations under VC 12951, you can challenge violations of this statute by showing that police never had probable cause to stop you.
4.3. False identification to a police officer – PC 148.9
Per Penal Code 148.9 PC, false identification to a police officer is the crime where you knowingly provide false identification to a police officer.
As with violations of VC 12951b, violations of this law can result in misdemeanor charges punishable by up to six months in jail.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law offices/law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California State, including those in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego.
- California Vehicle Code 12951a CVC.
- Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) 2222 – Failing to Present Driver’s License.
- In re Arturo D. (2002) 27 Cal.4th 60.
- CALCRIM 2222.
- California Vehicle Code 12951a VC.
- California Penal Code 19.8PC.
- California Penal Code 19 PC.