What are the Criminal Penalties for Driving Without a License?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Dec 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

The answer to this question depends on what you mean by "driving without a license."

First, let's say you actually have a valid driver's license--but you forget it at home and end up getting stopped by a CHP or other law enforcement officer. This actually is a crime -- California Vehicle Code 12951 VC failure to display a license

However, failing to show a driver's license, where you simply forgot your license at home, is only a California infraction. It carries a maximum potential fine of two hundred fifty dollars ($250). Not only that, but if you can show the court that you did have a valid license at the time of your arrest, then in most cases you can get the charge dismissed.

Second, let's say you were caught driving at a time when you actually did not have a valid driver's license. Maybe you'd never obtained a license, or maybe your license expired and you did not get around to renewing it.

In that case, you can be charged with Vehicle Code 12500 VC driving without a license. This crime in most circumstances is a California misdemeanor. It carries up to six (6) months in county jail and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).

Finally, let's say you drive without a valid license--and the reason is that your license was suspended or revoked for a particular reason (like a DUI conviction). This is the crime of Vehicle Code 14601 VC driving on a suspended license.

Driving on a suspended or revoked license is a misdemeanor. But the penalty scheme is complicated and depends on why your license was suspended in the first place. More details can be found in our page on penalties, punishment and sentencing for driving on a suspended license.

And if your license was suspended for a DUI conviction, there is a good chance that a driving on a suspended license charge will result in a probation violation in your DUI case. (See our related article, California laws for driving without a license versus driving without a license in possession.)

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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