Vehicle Code 14601 VC – Driving on a Suspended License

Updated

Under Vehicle Code 14601 VC, it is illegal for a person knowingly to drive in California with a suspended or revoked driver's license. This offense is a misdemeanor that can carry up to 6 months of jail time and a fine of up to $1000 plus court costs. 

14601 VC states that "no person shall drive a motor vehicle at any time when that person's driving privilege is suspended or revoked…if the person so driving has knowledge of the suspension or revocation.”

Examples:

Defenses

A defendant can raise a legal defense to challenge a charge under this statute. Common defenses include:

  • no knowledge,
  • no suspension, and/or
  • necessity.

Penalties

A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor. This is opposed to a felony charge or an infraction.

The offense is punishable by:

A judge can award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

suspended california license
Vehicle Code 14601 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to knowingly drive with a suspended or revoked driver’s license.

1. When is it a crime to drive on a suspended license?

A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a person under VC 14601:

  1. the defendant drove a motor vehicle while his driving privilege was suspended or revoked, and
  2. when the defendant drove, he knew that his driving privilege was suspended or revoked.1

Note that a defendant:

  • must actually know that his license was suspended,
  • to be guilty under this statute.2

This knowledge is presumed if all of the following are true:

  1. the DMV mailed a notice to the defendant telling him that his driving privilege had been suspended/revoked,
  2. the notice was sent to the accused's most recent address, and
  3. the notice was not returned to the department as undeliverable or unclaimed.3

2. Are there legal defenses?

A defendant can try to beat a charge under this statute with a good legal defense.

Three common defenses are:

  1. no knowledge,
  2. no suspension, and/or
  3. necessity.

2.1. No knowledge

Recall that a defendant is only guilty of this statute if:

  1. he drove on a suspended license, and
  2. he knew that his license was suspended/revoked.

This means it is a legal defense for an accused to say that he did not have this knowledge.

Example: The DMV suspends Tina's driver's license for accumulating too many points and becoming a negligent operator. The notice of suspension is mailed to an old address and she never becomes aware of it. The police pull her over for a broken taillight and discover that she is driving on a suspended license. Tina is not liable 

2.2. No suspension

An accused can only be guilty under these laws if his license was suspended. Therefore, it is a defense for a defendant to show that he had a legal license when caught driving.

2.3. Necessity

Under a necessity defense, a defendant essentially tries to avoid guilt by showing that:

  • he had a sufficiently good reason,
  • to commit the crime.

People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of this statute, an accused could attempt to show that he committed the crime since he had no other choice. Perhaps, for example, the defendant drove because of an emergency.

man behind bars for driving on a suspended license in California
Driving with a suspended license can result in a fine and/or jail time in California

3. What are the 14601 VC penalties?

A violation of Vehicle Code 14601 is a misdemeanor.

Note that:

  • the exact punishment that a person receives will,
  • depend on why the person's license was previously suspended.

Further, punishments will be determined by the following statutes:

3.1. Reckless, negligent, or incompetent driving – VC 14601

This statute punishes a driver if he:

  1. drove on a suspended license, and
  2. received a license suspension for reckless, negligent, or incompetent driving.4

In these situations, a driver will receive the following punishment:

  • informal probation for up to three years,
  • custody in county jail for five days to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.5

3.2. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs – VC 14601.2

This statute punishes a driver if he:

  1. drove on a suspended/revoked license, and
  2. received a license suspension because of a DUI conviction.6

In these situations, a driver will receive the following punishment:

  • informal probation for up to three years,
  • imprisonment in county jail for 10 days to six months,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000, and/or
  • installation of a certified ignition interlock device.7

3.3. Habitual traffic offenders – VC 14601.3

This statute punishes a driver if he:

  1. drove on a suspended license, and
  2. received a license suspension for being a habitual traffic offender.8

In these situations, a driver will receive the following punishment:

  • informal probation for up to three years,
  • custody in county jail for up to 30 days, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.9

3.4. Refusing to submit to a chemical test or driving with an unlawful BAC – VC 14601.5

This statute punishes a driver if he:

  1. drove on a suspended license, and
  2. received a license revocation for refusing to submit to a chemical test or drove with an unlawful BAC.10

In these situations, a driver will receive the following punishment:

  • informal probation for up to three years,
  • custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.11

3.5. License suspension or revocation for other reasons – VC 14601.1

This is a catch-all statute that punishes a driver if he:

  1. drove on a suspended/revoked license, and
  2. received a license suspension for any reason not previously mentioned.12

In these situations, a driver will receive the following punishment:

  • informal probation for up to three years,
  • custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.13
us immigration services
Driving on a suspended license will not impact a person’s immigration status.

4. Are there immigration consequences?

Driving on a suspended license will not impact a person's immigration status.

Sometimes non-citizens can be:

after being convicted of a California crime.

For example, a non-citizen defendant will be:

A conviction under this statute, however, will not produce this result.

5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?

A person can get an expungement if convicted under this statute.

A judge will award an expungement if the following are true:

  • the defendant completed probation (if imposed), or
  • the defendant completed his jail term (if imposed).

Note that a judge may even award an expungement if an accused committed a probation violation.

6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?

A conviction under these laws does not hurt a person's gun rights.

Some California crimes result in a person losing his rights to:

  • own a gun,
  • purchase a gun, and
  • possess a gun.

Driving on a revoked license, though, will not produce either of these results.

7. Are there related offenses?

There are three crimes related to driving on a suspended/revoked license. These are:

  1. driving without a license – VC 12500,
  2. failing to present a driver's license – VC 12951, and
  3. unlawful use of a driver's license – VC 14610

7.1. Driving without a license – VC 12500

Vehicle Code 12500a VC makes it unlawful to drive in California without a valid driver's license.

Note that the driver's license does not have to be from California. It can be from any jurisdiction as long as:

  1. it was issued by the state or country in which the driver resides, and
  2. it is currently valid for the type of vehicle the driver is driving.

7.2. Failing to present a driver's license – VC 12951

Vehicle Code 12951 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to:

  1. drive without a valid license in his possession, or
  2. refuse to show that license to a police officer.

Note that it is possible for a person to be charged under both:

  • VC 12500, and
  • VC 12951.

7.3. Unlawful use of a driver's license – VC 14610

Vehicle Code 14610 VC is the statute that makes it a crime to unlawfully use a driver's license.

Unlawful use is when a person:

  • possesses a suspended or canceled license,
  • lends a driver's license to another person,
  • refuses to surrender a suspended license,
  • allows a person to unlawfully use a license, and
  • duplicates or alters a license.

For additional help...

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For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

For information on similar crimes in Nevada or Colorado, please see our articles on:

Legal References:

  1. CALCRIM No. 2220 - Driving with Suspended or Revoked License. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition).

  2. People v. Spence (2005) 125 Cal.App.4th 710.

  3. CALCRIM No. 2220 - Driving with Suspended or Revoked License.

  4. California Vehicle Code 14601 VC.

  5. See same.

  6. California Vehicle Code 14601.2 VC.

  7. See same.

  8. California Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC.

  9. See same.

  10. California Vehicle Code 14601.5 VC.

  11. See same.

  12. California Vehicle Code 14601.1 VC.

  13. See same.

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