It is unlawful in California to drive without a valid driver’s license. It is not required that the license you carry is issued by the state of California to be valid.
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. 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.
Vehicle Code section 12500 defines driving without a license as follows:
(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.
(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.
To prove that you are guilty of this offense, the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements2 :
- 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. If you cannot do so, you should find out whether your attorney can try to postpone your case to allow you some time to obtain a license if you are eligible for one.
If you violate subsection (a) of the 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. Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or infraction will be decided based on your driving history.
A misdemeanor charge may result in imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by a fine of up to $1,000, or by both. 3.
A violation of the other subsections of Vehicle Code section 12500 will result in an infraction charge, for which a defendant can incur a penalty of $250. 4
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.5
- 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)6.
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.
Contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation and receive powerful representation with your driving without a license charges.
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- 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. [↩]
- Vehicle Code §§40000.11; 12500 [↩]
- Penal Code Section 19.8 [↩]
- 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 [↩]