California Vehicle Code § 14601 prohibits individuals from driving when they are aware that they have a suspended or revoked license, and violation of this section is a misdemeanor potentially punishable by fines, jail time, and probation.
The reason why the driver’s license was originally suspended will almost always impact the severity of the punishment. For example, the punishment for driving on a license that was suspended for failure to pay a traffic ticket will typically be less severe than the punishment for driving on a license suspended because of a DUI conviction.
The Driver Must Have Notice of the License Suspension or Revocation
A charge of driving on a suspended license is valid only when the driver knew about the license suspension or revocation at the time when they were driving and cited. Ultimately, the burden is on the prosecutor to show that the driver knew of the suspension or revocation beforehand.
Some ways that the prosecutor may show knowledge include evidence that:
- The DMV mailed notice of the suspension to the defendant’s correct address
- A peace officer previously informed the defendant that his license was suspended for a particular offense.
- The defendant was convicted of a crime for which his license was suspended.
Driving on a Suspended License Statutes
Vehicle Code (“VC”) § 14601 is divided into five separate Driving on a Suspended License charges, and each charge has its own standard and consequences – some relatively minor while others are more severe.
- General Prohibition (VC § 14601.1(a)) – This section applies generally and prohibits knowingly driving on a license that was suspended or revoked for any reason other than those discussed in below. An example of when this section might apply is a charge of driving on a license that was suspended for failure to pay a speeding ticket.
- Reckless Drivers (VC § 14601(a)) – This section specifically prohibits knowingly driving on a license that was suspended for:
- (1) reckless driving;
- (2) drug or alcohol abuse;
- (3) a disability that prevents you from driving safely; or
- (4) being declared an incompetent or negligent driver.
- DUI Convictions (VC § 14601.2(a)) – Prohibits knowingly driving on a license that was suspended or revoked as part of a DUI conviction by the court. The penalties for a violation of this section include a mandatory minimum 10 day jail sentence for a first-time conviction and a mandatory minimum 30 day jail sentence for second and subsequent convictions.
- Habitual Traffic Offenders (VC § 14601.2(a)) – Prohibits knowingly driving on a suspended license and then accumulating a “driving history” while your license is suspended. You may be deemed a “Habitual Traffic Offender” in violation of this section if, during a 12-month period when your license is already suspended, you are convicted of any of the following driving offenses:
- (1) two or more serious crimes such as DUI and reckless driving;
- (2) three or more basic moving violations such as speeding; or
- (3) three or more accidents causing injury and/or property damages of at least $750.
- DMV DUI-Related Suspensions (VC § 14601.5(a)) – Prohibits knowingly driving on a license that was suspended by the DMV for:
- (1) refusing to submit to a DUI chemical test when arrested for DUI;
- (2) refusing to submit to a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (“PAS”) test while on probation for DUI;
- (3) driving with a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) of .01% or greater while on probation for DUI;
- (4) driving with a BAC of .08% or greater under Vehicle Code § 23152(b);
- (5) if you are under 21 years old, refusing to submit to a PAS test or driving with a BAC of .01% or greater; or
- (6) driving a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .04% or greater.
Defenses for Driving on a Suspended License
Depending on the facts of a particular case, the following defenses, among others, may be asserted to challenge a charge of driving on a suspended license:
- The driver reasonably did not know that his or her license was suspended
- The driver held a valid restricted license, not a fully suspended or revoked license
- The police stop resulting in the driving on a suspended license charge was unlawful
- The conviction that originally resulted in the suspended license was invalid or unlawful.