In the state of California, individuals who commit certain offenses may have restrictions placed on their driver’s licenses. These restrictions take two common forms: license suspension, and license revocation. Suspension is a withholding of driving privileges for a defined period of time (usually from six months to four years). Revocation is the outright termination of an individual’s driving privileges.

Suspension or revocation actions are taken by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Individuals may apply for reinstatement of their license after a suspension, and for a new license after a revocation (the revocation period typically lasts between one and five years). If an individual is caught driving during the period when their license is suspended or revoked, that individual faces additional penalties.

When Can a California Driver’s License be Suspended?

A California driver’s license may be suspended for a variety of reasons, which include (but are not limited to):

  • The licensee (the person with the license) gets into an auto accident, and, at the time of the accident, the licensee does not have car insurance.
  • The licensee leaves the scene of an accident without reporting the accident.
  • The licensee is convicted of driving under the influence (DUI).
  • The licensee refuses to submit to a drug or alcohol test.
  • The licensee has developed too many points on their license.
    California has a point system that assigns a numerical value (point value) value to traffic infractions and  accidents. Points are added to an individual’s driving record as they are incurred. If an individual exceeds a certain number of points, their license will be suspended.

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

Individuals seeking reinstatement of a suspended license must do the following:

  • Complete the full term of the suspension and pay any required fines and penalties.
  • Complete any required courses (such as any Alcohol and Drug Education Counseling program).
  • Complete the prison sentence for the crime that resulted in the suspension.  
  • Go to the local DMV office and provide any required documentation. Such documentation typically includes (among other things) registration information and proof of insurance.
  • Pay any applicable reissue, reinstatement, or court fees.

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

Driving with a license that has been suspended is a crime under California law. To prove this crime, the prosecutor must simply show that: 

  1. The individual drove a motor vehicle while their driver’s license was suspended; and 
  2. At the time of the driving, the individual knew their license was suspended.  

Penalties for driving on a suspended license include potential jail time and fines. The specific penalty depends upon the reason why the license was suspended in the first instance.

When Can a California Driver’s License Be Revoked?

A California driver’s license may be revoked for a variety of reasons. If an individual has committed certain criminal offenses, their license will be automatically revoked. These offenses include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Reckless driving causing bodily injury.
  • Second and subsequent DUI convictions.
  • Commission of a felony that involves the use of a motor vehicle.
  • Manslaughter resulting from the driver’s use of their motor vehicle. 
  • Failure to appear in court to plead to any of these charges.

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

California does not offer reinstatement of revoked licenses. Rather, an individual whose license has been revoked, and who seeks to drive again, must apply for and obtain a new license once the period of revocation is over.  

Individuals applying for a new license must do the following:

  • Complete the full term of the termination suspension, take any required courses (i.e., Alcohol and Drug Education; Traffic School), pay any required penalties and fines, and serve any required jail time.
  • Go to the local DMV office and provide any required documentation. Such documentation typically includes (among other things) registration information and proof of insurance, as well as evidence of satisfactory completion of any required courses.
  • Pay any applicable reissue, administrative, and court fees.

Commission of certain offenses results in permanent license revocation, meaning the person whose license was revoked cannot apply for a new license. These offenses include:

  • Felony assault with a deadly weapon, where the vehicle itself was used as the weapon.
  • DUI murder (murder committed while an individual is driving under the influence).
  • DUI manslaughter (manslaughter committed while an individual is driving under the influence).

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

Driving with a license that has been revoked is a crime under California law. To prove this crime, the prosecutor must simply show that: 

  1. The individual drove a motor vehicle while their driver’s license was revoked; and 
  2. At the time of the driving, the individual knew their license was revoked.  

Penalties include (for a first conviction) jail time of anywhere from 5 days to six months, and a fine of anywhere from $300 to $1,000.

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

California license suspension, revocation, and reinstatement laws and can be difficult to understand. A local criminal defense lawyer will be able to review your case, advise you as to your rights, options, and potential defenses (e.g., the suspension or revocation was invalid), and can represent you at hearings and other proceedings so you can get your license reinstated as quickly as possible.