Driving with no license is seen as a serious crime that could land you in jail for a good period of time in California; yet, many people do not know this until they are on the wrong side of the law. When you find yourself in such a situation, you need to seek the services of a reputable attorney firm to argue your case. Vista Criminal Attorney firm is a highly regarded criminal defense law firm with attorneys who are knowledgeable about California criminal law. They will successfully handle any case involving driving with no license by providing a strong defense for their clients.

What is Driving Without a License Offense under California Law?

Under the laws of the state of California, operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license is criminalized, and the offense is punishable under California Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC. The driver’s license does not necessarily have to be issued by the government of the state of California. It can be from any state or country provided:

  1. The driver obtained it from the state or the country in which they come from, and,

  2. It is valid during inspection for the kind of vehicle the driver is operating.

Note that the definition of a motor vehicle under the law of the state of California includes a motorcycle, a passenger vehicle, a motor scooter, a school bus, a bus, a truck tractor, a trailer, and a commercial vehicle. There are some exemptions however for drivers operating specific official vehicles.

A Driving without a license offense is differentiated from driving on a suspended license offense in that the former cannot be charged if the defendant’s license was suspended or annulled by the California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Driving on a suspended license is classified as a more serious offense and is punishable under Vehicle Code 14601 VC. A person’s license can only be suspended if she/he has violated one or numerous driving laws as stipulated under California laws.

Who is Obligated to Have a Driver’s License Under the California Vehicle Code?

Under the provision of the Vehicle Code 12500(a), any California resident who drives on any public road or in any public parking facilities must possess a valid driver’s license issued by the state of California. However, there are certain people, as earlier mentioned who do not need to have a California driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle in California. They include;

  • Government officials who are driving a non-commercial vehicle, which is possessed by the government of the United States, only when they are on official business (Vehicle Code 12501(a));

  • Persons driving farm implement vehicles, for instance, tractors, on some other road but public highways (Vehicle Code 12501(b));

  • Persons driving vehicles that can be classified as off-highway road machines such as quad bikes or an ATVs across public highways (Vehicle Code 12501(c));

  • People of 18 years and above who are visiting California and have a valid driving license from their countries or states of origin, (Vehicle Code 12502(a) (1));

  • 21 years and above non-California residents who, in case they are transporting dangerous substances, have a valid driver’s license from other U.S states or Canada permitting them to do so, ( Vehicle Code 12502(a) (2); and,

  • Non-California residents who hold a lawful diplomatic license corresponding to the kind of vehicle they are driving. (Vehicle Code 12502(a) (3).

A person coming from a different state can only operate a vehicle in California with their respective driver’s license if;

  • They are 18 years old, or as provided in section 1.4, are sixteen (16) or seventeen (17) years;

  • They have a current and a validly issued license from their home state,

  • Their license is legal, acceptable and matches the vehicle they are driving.

A foreign driver’s license is legally acceptable in the state of California provided the license holder is 18 years old, the license is currently and validly issued by the holder’s country of origin, and it matches the vehicle the holder is operating.

For non-residents whose countries do not issue a driver’s license, they are allowed to drive only if they are over the age of 18 and, they are driving a foreign automobile they own for not more than 30 days. As soon as the 30 days elapse, the person must acquire a California driving license.

Under California law, persons under 18 years but 16 or 17 years old who are citizens of other countries or come from another state are only allowed to operate a motor vehicle for a period not exceeding 10 days, from the day they entered the state of California. The law, however, provides exceptions if the person has a validly issued driver’s license by the state or the country they reside in, if they have acquired a non-resident juvenile’s certificate, and have submitted legal proof for financial responsibility. If such minor drivers have the mentioned documents in their immediate possession then they may be allowed to drive past the 10 days.

People who move to reside in California must obtain a California driver's license in 10 days after acquiring residency. One is considered a resident if they have either voted in an election in California, is paying a resident education fee, has filed to be exempted from homeownership property tax or is receiving any other privileges that non-residents do not get. There are certain exceptions though, for people whose job involves driving, for instance, taxi and delivery drivers. They are supposed to get a California driving license prior to driving for work purposes. This provision excludes daily driving to work and back home.

Situations Where You Can be Charged with a Driving Without a License Offense

A person can be charged with driving with no license only if they were driving on a highway, a public parking lot or a public street at that specific time of arrest, and at that moment they did not possess an up to date and legally acceptable driver’s license or they had not obtained a License to drive as required by law in California.

For instance, Eddy moves from New York to Vista to work on a contract for seven months. He does not obtain a California driving license since his New York one is still legitimate. After the contract, the company offers Eddy a long term role in Vista making him rent an apartment and use his car. Up to this point, Eddy can still lawfully use his New York Driver’s License. After some time, he registers to cast a ballot in the California election thus, qualifying him as a resident in California. Due to this, Eddy must now get a mandatory California driver’s license in the first 10 days of registration as a voter for him to continue driving.

The Vehicle code 12500 VC punishes persons who operate motor vehicles without having obtained a California license in the first place.

If you get pulled over and you don't have your license in your immediate possession, you might be charged under the Vehicle Code 12951 VC. This offense is an infraction and is punishable by a maximum fine of two fifty dollars, ($250). In most, cases the charge is dismissed if the defendant presents a valid license to the court, which was valid when they were arrested.

In case a driver was driving and they decline to show their driver’s license to an officer of the law, they will be committing misdemeanor offense as per this code. This offense punishable by;

  • A fine not exceeding $1000, or

  • A maximum of six months in a county jail, or

  • Both.

The charge characteristically comes up if the police stop a driver who is hiding their identity for typically suspicious reasons.

The state of California has not enacted a mandatory ‘stop and identify’ law as it is done in other states. Therefore, persons stopped by enforcers of the law do not need to show their identification except if they are driving.

In case a driver gives false information to an officer of the law, they are liable for two offenses which include;

  1. Presenting false ID to an officer of the law (Penal Code 148.9), and

  2. Providing erroneous information to an officer (Vehicle Code 31 VC).

These are misdemeanor offenses and are punishable by a maximum of six months incarceration in prison and/or considerable fines.

What California Law Says about a Driver’s License and Undocumented Immigrants

The California Assembly Bill 60 (AB-60) allows residents who cannot substantiate their legal stay in California to apply for a special driving license. They need to have to have passed a driver’s test and have qualified for vehicle insurance in California. The license is referred to as an AB-60 driver’s license and it may be used for identification. This driver’s license;

  • May give the holder the authority to drive to any place within the state of California;

  • Has a feature on the front side which differentiates it from other licenses. The features indicate that the license can only be used for driving purposes as provided in the AB-60 law;

  • Cannot be used by anyone to discriminate against the license holder or to try and question their citizenship or immigration status.

Note that an AB-60 license cannot lawfully be used for other purposes. Thus, it does not qualify the holder to get employment, to register as a voter or allow them to acquire other public benefits. It also does not shield anyone from discrimination by federal agencies or police officers from other states.

Penalties for a Driving Without a License Offense

Driving without a license offense can be filed as an infraction, where this offense attracts only a penalty of a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty dollars or a misdemeanor, where this offense is punishable with any of the following ways:

  • Not more than three years of misdemeanor probation,

  • Not more than six months in a California County facility,

  • A fine not exceeding a thousand dollars ($1000),

  • If the defendant has had a conviction for this offense or other driving-related offenses, then there’s a possibility that their vehicle could be impounded for 30 days.

What Determines Whether a Driving Without a License Offense is a Misdemeanor or an Infraction?

For driving with no license to be filed as a misdemeanor or an infraction, there are factors the prosecution should consider with the respondent’s driving history being the most important of those factors. If the defendant is being charged for the first time, then the crime will be treated as an infraction, any successive offenses may be judged as misdemeanors as decided by the court.

What a Prosecutor Must Prove for a Driving Without a License Conviction

For a defendant to be convicted of driving without a license, the prosecutor must establish the following basic facts of the crime which include; the defendant was driving on a street or a highway, that at that moment they were driving they did not have an authentic and validly issued driver’s license or that they had been legally required to obtain a driver’s license from the California DMV.

Under the Vehicle laws of the state of California, a license does not necessarily have to be supplied by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to be considered valid. A valid license is one which;

  • Is currently and validly issued by any other country or state,

  • Matches the type of vehicle the driver is driving, and,

  • Does not compel the driver to acquire a driver’s license in California, for instance, after they become residents of the state of California. (Vehicle Code 15000)

In a driving without a license case, the approach to the burden of proof concept is quite unusual unlike as it is with most other cases, where the prosecutor must substantiate all the basic facts of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. As for persons charged under VC 12500, the prosecuting attorney does not have to prove that they were driving without a license, they only have to allege the same. The defendant will then have to prove that they were validly licensed. The idea behind this approach is that it is much easier for a defendant to prove the presence of a valid license than it is for the prosecution to prove the lack of one.

You may assume that since the prosecuting attorney has access to the DMV site, they could easily confirm that you are licensed, but, this nevertheless is not the case in law. The defendant has to carry the responsibility of proving that they are validly licensed by producing their license in court if charges against them are filed under the California Vehicle Code 12500 VC.

Legal Defenses for a Driving Without a License Charge

Under California VC 12500, a defendant can fight a driving with no license charge in three possible ways.

  1. The defendant can indeed prove that they possessed a valid license during the moment of the crime. It should be easy if it was obtained in California. In case it was obtained from another country or state, the prosecution might want the defendant to prove that they were not California residents at the time of arrest, and therefore were not obligated under the law to have obtained the California driver’s license and, the license they had from the other country or state was valid. A criminal defense attorney can help the defendant argue on this line by producing motor vehicle documents from the defendant’s licensing authorities or demonstrating that the accused is a registered voter and pays residential taxes to that other country or state.

  2. The criminal defense attorney can also seek to postpone the case to give the defendant time to acquire a driver’s license. It will be more convenient if they are facing a misdemeanor crime. However, the prosecution can only allow the postponement of the case, if this is the defendant’s first time breaking this law.

  3. If it is a misdemeanor offense, the criminal defense attorney can try to bargain the reduction of the charges down to infractions which reduces the punishments to more lenient ones. Nevertheless, this is not that simple especially if an arrest warrant was out for the defendant when they committed the alleged offense.

Finding a Driving Without a License Defense Attorney Near Me

Vista Criminal Attorney has experienced Criminal lawyers who will not leave your case to chance. They are conversant with all the different types of cases of driving with no license and will help you prepare a strong defense. Stop wasting time that could be put towards your case, contact us at 760-691-1551 and let us begin developing your defense. We represent clients in court who been charged in the Vista area and all the surrounding areas in North County, under the Jurisdiction of California Law.