Suspended or Revoked Driver's License in California

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What Is Revocation of a Driver's License?

In California, as in all other states, driving is a privilege, not a right. The right to hold a driver’s license may be revoked if the person commits certain offenses. Revocation means that the person’s privilege to drive a vehicle is terminated for a period of time, after which a new driver’s license must be obtained. The license may be revoked either by a court or by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

When Can a Driver’s License Be Revoked in California?

The California Vehicle Code at sections 13100-13376 provides a comprehensive list of offenses that may lead to a revoked driver’s license. Some of the most common reasons include: reckless driving; a history of drug or alcohol abuse; physical/mental disability that prevents the person from safely driving; and being declared a negligent driver. Also, a driver’s license may be revoked due to DUI (driving under the influence) violations and DUI-related offenses such as refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test.

Once a person’s driver’s license is revoked, it becomes an additional criminal offense to drive with a revoked license. Driving with a revoked or suspended license is a criminal misdemeanor in California and is different from driving without a license, which is completely separate offense.

What Are the Penalties for Driving with a Suspended or Revoked License?

The penalties for driving without a license vary depending on the reason why the license was revoked. This is covered in section 14601 of California's Vehicle Code. For non-DUI related offenses, the sentencing includes:
  • First time conviction: A fine ranging anywhere from $300 to $1000, plus possible jail time ranging from five days to six months.
  • Second offense within five years: Fines from $500 to $2000, plus jail time of no less than 10 days and no greater than 1 year. 
The penalties are harsher if the license was revoked due to a charge involving a DUI offense. They are the same as listed above for the first offense. However, a second offense will result in fines ranging from $500 to $2000, and a minimum of 30 days in a county jail, up to one year maximum. At this point the court will require the offender to install an interlock mechanism on the vehicle’s ignition in order to monitor their driving.   

How Does a Prosecutor Prove I Drove on a Revoked License?

The prosecutor must prove two elements: first, that the person drove while their license was in fact revoked or suspended; and secondly, that the person knew that their license was revoked or suspended at the time they drove. The second element is the more difficult part to prove.

Are There Any Defenses?

Most of the defenses to the charge of driving on a revoked license involve the requirement that the person knew that their license was revoked (i.e., the “knowledge” requirement). It is a defense to the charge if:
  • The license was not actually revoked or suspended: Sometimes people’s names are erroneously included on the list of revoked licenses
  • The person did not know that their license was revoked: For example, the DMV may have failed to mail the person a notification of revoked license.
  • Issues with identity: The person was mistakenly identified
  • Emergency situations: In limited circumstances an emergency situation may justify driving with a revoked license

Finally, you should be aware that in California, a revoked license is not automatically reinstated when the period of revocation or suspension ends. The person must take affirmative steps with the court and DMV to apply for a reinstated or new license. 

A common reason why repeat offenses occur are that the revocation period is already terminated, but the person failed to take steps to obtain a new license. Therefore, be sure to take the proper steps to renew your license once a period of revocation is over.

Do I need a California lawyer for a charge of driving on a revoked license?

Driving on a revoked or suspended license is a criminal offense that may carry with it severe penalties. A lawyer can help you prepare your case and understand your options under California driving laws. This is especially true if the current charges are for a repeat offense, which will result in stricter consequences. Be sure to periodically check that your license is valid and make sure to carry it with you whenever you drive.

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Last Modified: 03-11-2014 02:56 PM PDT

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