As anyone who has spent hours waiting in line at the DMV can attest to, obtaining and/or renewing a valid California driver’s license can often be inconvenient and time-consuming. However, all California drivers (and those who permanently move to California from out-of-state) are required to have a valid California driver’s license. Those caught can be criminally prosecuted under California Vehicle Code Section 12500 VC.
In order to prove that a defendant is guilty, a prosecutor must be able to prove following elements:
- The defendant drove a motor vehicle on a highway
- When the defendant drove, he or she did not hold a valid California driver’s license
- AND the defendant was not excused from the requirement to have a California driver’s license
The term highway refers to any area that is publicly maintained and open to the public for the purposes of vehicular travel, including streets. A motor vehicle would include a passenger vehicle, motorcycle, motor scooter, bus, school bus, commercial vehicle, truck tractor and trailer.
2. Related Offenses
Similar offenses include the following:
- Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License – California Vehicle Code Section 14601 VC
- Failing to Present Driver’s License – California Vehicle Code Section 12951 VC
A man has a valid license but forgets to renew it. The license expires and he continues to drive despite the expiration. The man is stopped by the police on an unrelated traffic offense. He could be charged pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 12500 VC., call Wais Azami.
Another man permanently moved to California from Texas but continues to drive with Texas plates and his Texas driver’s license. Even though the man has a valid Texas license, he could be charged because he failed to obtain a California license. Someone who moves to California has 20 days to obtain a California license.
In another example, a man who splits his time between New York and California is stopped while driving in California for work. Although he has an apartment in California, his primary residence is in New York, and he has a valid New York license. This man would not be guilty because he would be excused from the requirement of having a California license.
4. Possible Defenses
As described above, if the defendant was excused from the requirement of having a valid California driver’s license, he or she would not be criminally liable for this offense. This would include out-of-state drivers visiting California, those who maintain primary residences out-of-state, or those who moved to California within the previous 20 days.
For defendants who do have valid licenses, but simply do not have their licenses with them at the time they were stopped, they could be charged with failing to present a driver’s license under California Vehicle Code Section 12951 VC, which is an infraction.
When you drive without a license it is a “wobbler” offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is six months in jail and a $1,000 court fine. If charged as an infraction, the maximum penalty is a $250 court fine. In many cases, prosecutors are willing to reduce a California Vehicle Code Section 12500 VC charge to an infraction or even dismiss the case if the defendant is able to obtain a valid California driver’s license while charges are pending.
6. Criminal Defense for Driving without a License
Under California Vehicle Code Section 12500 VC is a criminal offense that can result in a conviction on someone’s record if not handled properly. As a result, it is advisable to to hire an attorney experienced in these matters. Call Wais Aza at 714-321-9999.