If you violate subsection (a) of Vehicle Code section 12500 by driving a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license, the violation can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a less serious offense – an infraction.
When Is Driving Without A License A Misdemeanor?
Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or infraction will be decided based on your driving history. However, in my experience 12500 VC is usually charged as a misdemeanor.
Watch this video to get a better understanding of driving without license laws in California.
Below, I will explain vehicle code 12500 VC which is Californa’s law on driving without a license including what penalties you may be facing as either a misdemeanor or infraction.
If you have a valid driver license from your home state or country, you may drive in this state without getting a California driver license as long as your home state license remains valid and you have not become a resident of California.
When Do You Need To Get A California Drivers License If You Become A Resident?
A person that becomes a California resident must get a valid drivers license within 10 days of becoming a resident.
You become a resident when you do any of the following:
- File for a homeowner property tax exemption
- Vote in a California election
- Pay resident tuition at a school located in California
- Receive any benefits that would only be provided to state residents.
Exceptions include individuals dropping off people in the state such as taxi drivers or rideshare drivers5.
Failure to have a valid California license or a license from your home state or country will result in a violation of Vehicle Code section 12500.
To prove that you are guilty of this offense, the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements7 :
- Defendant was driving a motor vehicle on a street/highway;
- At the time defendant was driving, he/she did not have a valid driver’s license.
The best way to fight this offense is to prove that you were in fact licensed at the time of driving without a license.
This type of case is prosecuted by the city attorneys office as opposed to the district attorney’s office which handles felonies.
Former city attorney prosecutor Diana Aizman explains that
I often postpone cases to allow some time to obtain a license so that my clients can earn a dismissal in their cases which is really important if the case is charged as a misdemeanor.
Lack of Possession of License:
Pursuant to Vehicle Code section 12951, a licensee who fails to have a driver’s license in his or her immediate possession while driving a motor vehicle on a street or highway, will be charged with an infraction.
However, any charge will be dismissed when the person charged produces in court a driver’s license duly issued to that person and valid at the time of his or her arrest.
If you are knowingly driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license, pursuant to Vehicle Code §14601, you may be facing more serious penalties, depending on why your license was suspended or revoked. For example, your license may have been suspended for any of the following reasons.8
- Negligent or reckless driving
- Incompetent operation of a motor vehicle (e.g. due to mental or physical disability)
The following are penalties that an offender may be facing:
First Time Offender:
Upon a first conviction, by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days or more than six months and by a fine of not less than three hundred dollars ($300) or more than one thousand dollars ($1,000)9.
If the offense occurred within five years of a prior offense that resulted in a conviction of a violation of this section or Section 14601.1, 14601.2, or 14601.5, by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than 10 days or more than one year and by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars $500 or more than $2,000.
If the offense occurred within five years of a prior offense that resulted in a conviction of a violation of this section or Section 14601.1, 14601.2, or 14601.5, and is granted probation, the court shall impose as a condition of probation that the person be confined in a county jail for at least 10 days.
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- Vehicle Code §§40000.11; 12500 [↩]
- Penal Code 19.8 PC. [↩]
- Vehicle Code 12500(a) – A person may not drive a motor vehicle upon a highway, unless the person then holds a valid driver’s license issued under this code, except those persons who are expressly exempted under this code. [↩]
- Vehicle Code 12500(b) – A person may not drive a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle upon a highway, unless the person then holds a valid driver’s license or endorsement issued under this code for that class, except those persons who are expressly exempted under this code, or those persons specifically authorized to operate motorized bicycles or motorized scooters with a valid driver’s license of any class, as specified in subdivision (h) of Section 12804.9. [↩]
- Vehicle Code 12505(c) – Any person entitled to an exemption under Section 12502, 12503, or 12504 may operate a motor vehicle in this state for not to exceed 10 days from the date he or she establishes residence in this state, except that a person shall not operate a motor vehicle for employment in this state after establishing residency without first obtaining a license from the department. [↩]
- If you become a California resident, you must get a California driver license within 10 days. Residency is established by voting in a California election, paying resident tuition, filing for a homeowner’s property tax exemption, or any other privilege or benefit not ordinarily extended to nonresidents. [↩]
- Elements. Veh. Code, § 15200. [↩]
- Penal Code 14601(a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at any time when that person’s driving privilege is suspended or revoked for reckless driving in violation of Section 23103, 23104, or 23105, any reason listed in subdivision (a) or (c) of Section 12806 authorizing the department to refuse to issue a license, negligent or incompetent operation of a motor vehicle as prescribed in subdivision (e) of Section 12809, or negligent operation as prescribed in Section 12810.5 , if the person so driving has knowledge of the suspension or revocation. Knowledge shall be conclusively presumed if mailed notice has been given by the department to the person pursuant to Section 13106. The presumption established by this subdivision is a presumption affecting the burden of proof [↩]
- Penal Code 14601(b)(1) Upon a first conviction, by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days or more than six months and by a fine of not less than three hundred dollars ($300) or more than one thousand dollars ($1,000 [↩]