driving without a license in california

What is the Law for Driving Without a License in California?

Under California Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC, it is a crime to drive without a license in California. This means that you failed to renew your driver’s license or you never got one in the first place. In order to be guilty of driving without a license in California, these elements have to be true:

  • You drove on a street or highway, and
  • At the time that you were driving, you did not hold a valid driver’s license.

The license must be valid in the state in which you live and for the type of vehicle that you are driving. If you have established residency in California but have not obtained a California driver’s license, then you can be charged with this crime.

Penalties for Driving Without a License in California

Driving without a license in California can be charged as either an infraction or a misdemeanor depending on your driving history. If it is your first offense, they may only give you an infraction. As an infraction, the only penalty is a maximum $250 fine.
The penalties as a misdemeanor can be:

  • Informal probation for up to three years,
  • Up to six months in a county jail,
  • A fine up to $1,000, and/or
  • A possible 30-day impound of your car, depending on if you have any other driving offenses.

Legal Defenses for Driving Without a License in California

Driving without a license in California is different than most crimes is that the prosecution does not have to prove that you were driving without a license, but you have to prove that you did have a license at the time you were driving. This is the most effective legal defense option.
If you have not yet found residency in California, then you could argue that you weren’t obligated to have a California’s driver’s license.
If you are initially charged with a misdemeanor, the prosecutor may be willing to reduce or dismiss the charges if you obtain a driver’s license afterward. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help postpone the proceedings long enough for you to obtain a driver’s license.

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