Vehicle Code 40509.5 - Hold on a Driver’s License

Vehicle Code 40509.5 VC is the California statute that allows the State to put a hold on a person's driver's license. Under this statute, the DMV can put a hold on a person's driver's license if he fails to appear in traffic court for a ticket or citation.

A hold on a driver's license could result in the suspension of a driver's driving privileges and it remains in place until a motorist appears in court or pays the applicable fine.

Some examples of permissible acts under VC 40509.5 include:

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise to challenge a hold on his/her driver's license. These include showing that the person:

  • Did not receive proper notice of the hold;
  • Failed to appear in traffic court out of necessity; and/or,
  • The clerk of the court made a mistake.

Penalties

Failing to appear in traffic court, per California Vehicle Code 40508, is a crime that can be charged as a California misdemeanor (as opposed to a felony).

Further, once a hold is put on a motorist's driver's license, the DMV can suspend that person's driving privileges under Vehicle Code 13365.2.

If caught driving on a suspended license, the driver can face:

  • Imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months; and/or,
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

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

california driver's license with a hold on it
Vehicle Code 40509.5 VC is the California statute that allows the State to put a hold on a person's driver's license.

1. The Legal Definition of a “Hold” on a California Driver's License

Upon getting a traffic ticket in California, a driver must sign a written promise to appear in traffic court. The driver promises to appear in court at a certain time and date.

Under California Vehicle Code 40509.5 VC, if a driver violates his written promise to appear (and fails to show up), the traffic court judge, or the clerk of the court, notifies the DMV. The DMV then places a hold on the person's driver's license.1

This hold remains on the person's driver's license until the party appears in court and satisfies any accompanying demands.2

Under some circumstances, Vehicle Code 40509.5 says that an arrest warrant can be issued for a person once a hold is placed on that person's driver's license.3 Examples of these circumstances include:

  • When the underlying offense is a misdemeanor or a felony; and,
  • The offender does not have a valid California driver's license.4

Please note that if a hold is placed on a person's license, the court must mail that person a notice of the same, per VC 40509.5(c).5

2. Legal Defenses

A person can try to challenge a hold if one is placed on his license.

Three common ways to challenge a hold are by means of the following defenses:

  1. No proper notice;
  2. Necessity; and/or,
  3. Mistake.

2.1. No Proper Notice

Recall that VC 40509.5(c) mandates the court to notify a driver if a hold gets put on his license. A driver, therefore, can challenge a hold by showing that he was never sent this requisite notice. After all, if no notice, the motorist has no knowledge that he has to appear in traffic court or pay a fine associated with a ticket.

2.2. Necessity

Under a necessity defense, a defendant essentially tries to avoid guilt by showing that he had a sufficiently good reason to commit an offense. People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of VC 40509.5, an accused could attempt to show that he did not appear in traffic court because he had no other choice (e.g., he had to take care of an emergency).

2.3. Mistake

A driver can always challenge a driver's license hold by saying the court made a mistake. The driver would want to show that he did, in fact, appear in court in response to a ticket. If this defense is raised, it is important for the driver to have some type of evidence corroborating his court appearance (e.g., witnesses or documents).

california suspended license
Once a hold is put on a motorist's driver's license, the DMV can suspend that person's driving privileges under Vehicle Code 13365.2

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

Failing to appear in traffic court, per California Vehicle Code 40508, is a crime that can be charged as a California misdemeanor.6

Further, once a hold is put on a motorist's driver's license, the DMV can suspend that person's driving privileges under Vehicle Code 13365.2.7

It is a criminal offense if a motorist is caught driving on a suspended license. The offense is punishable by:

  • Imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months; and/or,
  • A fine of up to $1,000.8

4. Related Offenses

There are three California laws related to Vehicle Code 40509.5 VC. These are:

  1. Failure to appear – VC 40508;
  2. Driving without a license – VC 12500; and,
  3. Failure to present a driver's license – VC 12951.

4.1. Failure to Appear – VC 40508

As stated above, it is a criminal offense if a driver fails to appear in traffic court.

Under Vehicle Code 40508, a driver fails to appear when he is willingly a no-show. It is not a defense if the driver did not intend to break the law.9

It also does not matter whether the offending driver is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.10 He violates Vehicle Code 40508 just by breaking a promise to:

  • Appear in court,
  • Appear to pay bail,
  • Pay bail in installments,
  • Pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • Comply with any condition of the court.11

Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.12

4.2. Driving without a License – VC 12500

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

VC 12500 is typically charged when someone is driving and he or she:

  • Has failed to renew a driver's license, or
  • Never obtained a license in the first place, or
  • Became a California resident and failed to get a new driver's license within 10 days.

Driving without a valid license is a California “wobblette” offense. This means it can be charged as either a California misdemeanor or as an infraction.13

A first offense is usually an infraction. Subsequent offenses under VC 12500 are more likely to be charged as misdemeanors.

As an infraction, driving without a license carries a potential fine of up to $250.14

But if charged as a misdemeanor, VC 12500 can be punished by:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).15

4.3. Failure to Present a Driver's License – VC 12951

Vehicle Code 12951 makes it unlawful for a person to fail to present a driver's license.

There are two ways to violate VC 12951.

The first, set forth in Vehicle Code 12951(a) VC, is to drive a motor vehicle on a highway without the valid driver's license issued to you in your possession.16

The second way to violate this law, under Vehicle Code 12951(b), is for a person to refuse to present a license to an officer when stopped.17

The penalties for failing to present a driver's license depend on whether a person violates VC 12951(a) or VC 12951(b).

If a VC 12951(a) violation, then the offense is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $250.18

If a VC 12951(b) violation, then the offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by:

  • Up to six months in county jail; and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.19

Was a hold placed on your California driver's license? Call us for help…

california drivers license hold traffic defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know received a hold on a driver's license, per Penal Code 40509.5, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 40509.5(a) VC. This section states:

    Except as required under subdivision (b), if, with respect to an offense described in subdivision (d), a person has violated his or her written promise to appear or a lawfully granted continuance of his or her promise to appear in court or before the person authorized to receive a deposit of bail, or violated an order to appear in court, including, but not limited to, a written notice to appear issued in accordance with Section 40518, the magistrate or clerk of the court may give notice of the failure to appear to the department for a violation of this code, a violation that can be heard by a juvenile traffic hearing referee pursuant to Section 256 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, or a violation of any other statute relating to the safe operation of a vehicle, except violations not required to be reported pursuant to paragraphs (1), (2), (3), (6), and (7) of subdivision (b) of Section 1803. If thereafter the case in which the promise was given is adjudicated or the person who has violated the court order appears in court and satisfies the order of the court, the magistrate or clerk of the court hearing the case shall sign and file with the department a certificate to that effect.

  2. See same.

  3. California Vehicle Code 40509.5(d) VC.

  4. See same.

  5. California Vehicle Code 40509.5(c) VC.

  6. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  7. California Vehicle Code 13365.2(a) VC.

  8. California Vehicle Code 14601.1(b)(1) VC.

  9. CALCRIM 2240: Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.

  10. See same.

  11. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  12. California Penal Code 19 PC. Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.

  13. California Vehicle Code 40000.11 VC.

  14. Penal Code 19.8 PC.

  15. Penal Code 19 PC.

  16. Vehicle Code 12951 VC.

  17. See same.

  18. Penal Code 19.8 PC.

  19. California Penal Code 19 PC.

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