Generally speaking, a driver’s license is a document issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) that gives its holder permission to legally operate a vehicle on public roads. If a driver commits certain traffic violations or some other types of legal offenses, the DMV may also suspend or revoke that person’s license. The main difference between a suspension and revocation is how long a person must wait until they can have their license reinstated. 

When the DMV suspends a person’s driver license, it means that they will not be allowed to drive until the license is returned to them. This can happen when a person neglects to pay traffic fines or if they are caught driving without valid auto insurance. A person can usually get their suspended license reinstated by either resolving the issue that caused them to lose it in the first place, or by waiting a specified amount of time.

In contrast, when the DMV revokes a person’s driver license, it means that the license will remain invalidated indefinitely. However, there are certain situations where a person may be able to earn their license back. The most common reason why the DMV may revoke a driver’s license is due to alcohol and drug-related driving offenses. In such a scenario, the revocation acts as a combination of a punishment, a deterrence, and a way to protect other drivers and pedestrians.

When Can a California Driver’s License be Suspended?

According to California state law, a California driver’s license may be suspended by the state, the California DMV, or a court for a variety of reasons, such as if:

  • A driver gets into a car accident and does not have car insurance;
  • The driver fails to report or leaves the scene of an accident;
  • The driver is convicted for driving under the influence (“DUI”);
  • The driver is caught drinking and they are underage;
  • A driver either fails or refuses to take a drug or alcohol test (e.g., breathalyzer, blood test, urine sample, etc.); 
  • The driver has excessive points on their license or driving record;
  • A driver fails to appear in court for a traffic ticket or does not pay the ticket on time; and
  • A driver refuses or fails to pay court-ordered child support. 

This list provides only some of the most common situations in which a California drive may lose their license. However, there may be other reasons that are contingent on the facts of a case or on local regulations enacted in a specific California county. 

How Can a Suspended Driver’s License Be Reinstated in California?

Individuals seeking reinstatement of a suspended California driver’s license must comply with the required steps that correspond to the reason why their driver’s license was suspended. 

For example, if the reason a driver’s license was suspended was due to not having car insurance and getting into an accident, then the person must wait until their mandatory 1-year suspension expires, pay any associated fees, and file proof of financial responsibility (i.e., an SR-22 form). 

If the driver received a DUI and was convicted, they will have to complete a mandatory suspension period, any required courses (e.g., drug and alcohol counseling), pay fines, and complete their prison sentence (if any), before they can have their license reinstated. Also, if they do have to attend a treatment program, they will have to show proof of enrollment and completion of the course. This can usually be accomplished by obtaining a certificate. 

For drivers whose licenses were suspended due to not paying traffic violations or failing to appear in court, they first must complete whichever action they initially refused to do and next must receive an abstract from the court that demonstrates they fulfilled their obligation. They will also need to pay the standard fee to have their license reissued to them. Reissuing a suspended license can cost anywhere from $55.00 to as a high as $300. 

Additionally, depending on the reason why a driver was suspended, they may also apply for a restricted license instead. A restricted license will permit them to use their car for limited reasons, such as driving to and from work or a mandated alcohol rehabilitation program.

What Happens if I Am Caught Driving on a Suspended Driver’s License in California?

There are a number of consequences that a person may face for driving with a suspended or revoked California driver’s license. For one, if caught, they must pay for the citation. As of 2020, the ticket cost for driving with a suspended or revoked license in California ranges anywhere from $300 to $2,000. The amount will depend on the reason why it was suspended or revoked, and also whether the driver is a first-time or repeat offender.

For instance, the ticket cost for a first-time offender usually falls somewhere between $300 and $1,000. In contrast, a repeat offender can expect to pay a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $2,000. 

Other consequences for being caught driving with a suspended or revoked California driver’s license include:

  • Being charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense;
  • Receiving jail time or a prison sentence;
  • Having their license suspended for a longer period of time, or if suspended multiple times, having it revoked; 
  • Being placed on probation; 
  • Having to install an ignition interlock device (“IID”) on their car (for DUI cases); and/or
  • Attending court-ordered rehabilitation classes.

When Can a California Driver’s License Be Revoked?

A California driver’s license may be revoked for a number of reasons. Some of the most common include if:

  • A driver lacks requisite driving skills;
  • The driver exhibits road rage;
  • The person has a physical or mental illness that interferes with their driving that falls below standard safety measures;
  • A driver has an alcohol or drug addiction; 
  • An individual commits driver’s license fraud or forgery; and/or
  • The driver committed a felony offense with their vehicle or is a repeat offender. 

In most instances, the DMV must notify the driver that their license is being revoked and will provide the terms of the revocation. So long as a person does not commit an offense that leads to permanent revocation, they may be able to obtain a new license after a year or longer has passed.

Additionally, a driver may challenge the revocation by requesting an administrative hearing with the DMV. Also, if the driver lost their license due to criminal charges, they should speak to a local criminal attorney to find out whether there are any defenses they can raise against the charges that would allow them to keep their license. 

How Can a Revoked Driver’s License be Reinstated in California?

Although the California DMV reissues licenses for suspensions, it does not do so for a revoked driver’s license. Instead, a person whose driving privileges have been revoked will have to apply for a new license if permitted to do so. This means they will have to pass the written, vision, and driving test all over again. 

They must also complete any required rehabilitation courses, provide the DMV with requisite documentation (e.g., proof of insurance), pay any necessary penalties or fines, and serve any required jail or prison sentences. Additionally, they will also need to pay all administrative, court, and DMV fees associated with obtaining a new license. 

Keep in mind, however, that there are certain criminal acts that will result in permanent revocation. This means that the driver will never be allowed to apply for a new license if convicted. These crimes include assault with a deadly weapon wherein the vehicle was the weapon, DUI murder, and DUI manslaughter. 

What Happens if I Am Caught Driving with a Revoked Driver’s License?

As discussed above, being caught while driving with a revoked driver’s license can carry severe penalties. The driver may have to pay heavy fines, serve a prison sentence, and lose their right to drive permanently. They also can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense, meaning that their actions may result in them having a criminal record. 

Some exceptions or defenses that the driver may be able to raise against criminal charges include:

  • Lack of knowledge or notice (e.g., of the suspension or revocation);
  • The driver has a restricted California driver’s license;
  • A prior suspension or the revocation is invalid; or
  • They were cleared of the physical or mental illness that initially led to the revocation.

Should I Contact a Lawyer If I Have a Suspended or Revoked Driver’s License in California?

Intentionally driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license may result in some serious legal penalties. Thus, if you are facing charges for driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license in California, then you may want to consult a California criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. 

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will be able to guide you through the legal process, can inform you about your rights as a criminal defendant, and will be familiar with the laws that apply in your jurisdiction. Your lawyer will also be able to determine whether there are any defenses available to raise against your charges, and can represent you in court if necessary.