Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC -Habitual Traffic Offenders in California

California Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC is the California statute that defines a "habitual traffic offender." Under this statute, a habitual traffic offender is any person that drives on a suspended or revoked license and accumulates points on his DMV record. Points get accumulated via traffic offenses.

Examples include:


Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under this section. These include showing that an accused party:

  • Had no notice or knowledge of a license suspension;
  • Acted out of necessity; and,
  • Was falsely arrested.


A first conviction results in imprisonment in a county jail for 30 days and a $1,000 fine.

A second, or any additional conviction, results in imprisonment in a county jail for 180 days and a $2,000 fine.

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

young man receiving traffic ticket california
California Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC is the California statute on habitual traffic offenders.

1. The Legal Definition of a Habitual Traffic Offender

California Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC penalizes habitual traffic offenders.

A driver gets this label if he drives on a suspended or revoked license and accumulates a driving record history. A history is created when a driver receivs points on his DMV record.1

Under this section, a prosecutor must prove the following elements to show that a person is a habitual traffic offender:

  1. The defendant drove a vehicle;
  2. The defendant's driving privileges had been previously suspended or revoked;
  3. The defendant knew of this suspension/revocation; and,
  4. Within 12 months of the suspension/revocation, the defendant endured:
  5. Two or more convictions that resulted in two points on his DMV record.
  6. Three or more convictions that resulted in one point on his DMV record.
  7. Three or more accidents that were subject to the reporting requirements of VC 16000.2

As to the third element above, knowledge, a driver is presumed to have knowledge of a suspension/revocation if the DMV mailed such a notice to the driver.3

2. Legal Defenses

A person accused of this offense can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that it is critical for an accused to hire an attorney to get the most effective defense.

Three common defenses are that the accused person:

  1. Had no notice or knowledge of license suspension;
  2. Acted out of necessity; and/or,
  3. Was falsely arrested.

2.1. No Notice or Knowledge of License Suspension

Recall that a person can only be charged under Vehicle Code 14601.3 if he has knowledge that his driving privileges were previously suspended or revoked. A driver typically gains this knowledge by receiving a notice from the DMV, via regular mail, that informs of the suspension/revocation.

Thus, a solid defense is for a person to assert that he never received proper notice, and therefore, had no knowledge that his license was in fact suspended or revoked.

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 the crime. People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of habitual traffic offender charges, an accused could attempt to show that he only drove on a suspended or revoked license, or committed a moving violation, since he had no other choice (e.g., because of an emergency).

2.3. False Arrest

Traffic offenses and accidents often happen quickly. Therefore, it is sometimes very difficult to find eyewitnesses that can corroborate charges under VC 14601.3. This can lead to false arrests and misidentifications of offenders. If a prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is the person who committed an offense, or caused an accident, then the charges should be dismissed.

man behind bars california traffic violations
A conviction of Vehicle Code 14601.3 can lead to a fine and/or jail time

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

The penalties for habitual traffic offenders depend on the number of times a person is convicted under Vehicle Code 14601.3.

Upon a first conviction, a defendant receives:

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for 30 days; and,
  • A $1,000 fine.

Upon a second conviction, or any subsequent offense within seven years of a prior conviction, a defendant receives:

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for 180 days; and,
  • A $2,000 fine.

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to charges involving habitual traffic offenders. These are:

  1. Driving with a suspended license – VC 14601;
  2. Driving without a license – VC 12500(a); and,
  3. Failing to present a driver's license – VC 12951.

4.1. Driving with a Suspended License – VC 14601

California Vehicle Code 14601 VC makes it a crime for a person to knowingly drive with a suspended or revoked driver's license.4

California law presumes a person knows of a driver's license suspension or revocation if ALL of the following three things are true:

  1. The California DMV mailed a notice to a party informing him that his license had been suspended or revoked;
  2. That notice was sent to the person's most recent address, as reported by that person to the DMV; and,
  3. The notice was not returned to the DMV as undeliverable or unclaimed.5

A person can be guilty of driving on a suspended license if his license was suspended or revoked for any number of reasons, including:

Driving on a suspended license is a California misdemeanor. The potential punishment includes a county jail sentence and substantial fines.6

However, the exact penalty for VC 14601 driving on a suspended license will depend on why a person's license was suspended or revoked in the first place.

4.2. Driving without a License – VC 12500(a)

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

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

Driving without a valid license in California is a “wobblette” offense. This means it can be charged as either a California misdemeanor or a non-criminal infraction.8

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

As an infraction, driving without a license carries a potential fine of up to $250.9

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 $1,000.10

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

A driver in California is subject to penalties for failing to present a driver's license, per Vehicle Code 12951 VC.

There are two ways to violate VC 12951.

The first, set forth in Vehicle Code 12951(a) VC, is for a motorist to drive on a highway without having his valid driver's license in his possession.11

The second way a person violates this law, as set forth in VC 12951(b), is when he simply refuses to present a license to an officer when requested to do so.12

The penalties for failing to present a driver's license in California depend on whether a driver has violated Vehicle Code 12951(a) or Vehicle Code 12951(b).

If a motorist simply drives without a valid license in his possession, he will be charged with a California infraction.13 The only penalty is a fine of up to $250.14

A person successfully charged with VC 12951(b) will be guilty of a misdemeanor.15 The potential penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail; and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.16

Were you accused of being a habitual traffic offender in California? Call us for help…

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

If you or someone you know has been accused of violating California Vehicle Code 14601.3 we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM. (For similar accusations in Colorado, please visit our article on Colorado's "Habitual Traffic Offender" Designation and DARP.)

Legal References:

    1. California Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC.

    2. California Vehicle Code 14601.3(a)(1) -(a)(3) VC.

    3. California Vehicle Code 14601.3(b) VC.

    4. California Vehicle Code 14601-14601.5 VC.

    5. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions ("CALCRIM") 2220.

    6. See California Vehicle Code 14601 VC - 14601.5 VC.

    7. California Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC.

    8. California Vehicle Code 40000.11 VC.

    9. Penal Code 19.8 PC.

    10. Penal Code 19 PC.

    11. California Vehicle Code 12951(a) VC.

    12. California Vehicle Code 12951(b) VC.

    13. Vehicle Code 12951 VC.

    14. Penal Code 19.8 PC.

    15. Vehicle Code 40000.11 VC.

    16. Penal Code 19 PC.

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