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Vehicle Code 12500 – Driving Without A License

Statutory Language

12500(a) A person may not drive a motor vehicle upon a highway, unless the person then holds a valid driver's license issued under this code, except those persons who are expressly exempted under this code.

(b) A person may not drive a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle upon a highway, unless the person then holds a valid driver's license or endorsement issued under this code for that class, except those persons who are expressly exempted under this code, or those persons specifically authorized to operate motorized bicycles or motorized scooters with a valid driver's license of any class, as specified in subdivision (h) of Section 12804.9.

(c) A person may not drive a motor vehicle in or upon any off street parking facility, unless the person then holds a valid driver's license of the appropriate class or certification to operate the vehicle. As used in this subdivision, “off street parking facility” means any off street facility held open for use by the public for parking vehicles and includes any publicly owned facilities for off street parking, and privately owned facilities for off street parking where no fee is charged for the privilege to park and which are held open for the common public use of retail customers.

(d) A person may not drive a motor vehicle or combination of vehicles that is not of a type for which the person is licensed.

Potential Sentence: This offense is a wobbler. As a misdemeanor, someone guilty of this offense can be charged a fine of up to $1,000, or can be sentenced to county jail for a maximum of six months. As an infraction, this offense could result in a fine of up to $250.

DMV Consequences: This violation does not carry any points on your DMV driving record.  Traffic school is not required since there are no points to remove.

What the prosecution must prove: In order to be found guilty of a VC 12500 violation, the prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant drove a vehicle on a highway or off street parking facility, AND
  • The defendant did not have a valid drivers license at the time he or she operated the vehicle.

Explanation of the law:

  • VC 12500 is a wobbler. This means that the offense may be charged as a misdemeanor or infraction. Offenses originally charged as a misdemeanor may be reduced to an infraction depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's driving record.
  • The term “valid license” includes properly issued and valid drivers licenses from other states.
  • To be driving with a valid license, you must be driving the type of vehicle which is permitted by the class of license you have. i.e. a person driving a big rig truck must have a class A license or they can be charged with driving without a license due to the fact they do not have a commercial license.
  • A “highway” is any road or freeway.
  • An “off street parking facility” is a place held open to the public for parking purposes. The parking facility may be publicly owned, or privately owned if no fee is charged to park (i.e. parking area in front of a retail store).
  • The act of “driving” means the person is operating the vehicle in question. For example, a person who pulled to the side of the road and is in the driver's seat with the engine running when police arrive could be charged with VC 12500.
  • A person could be convicted under this section even if they drive a vehicle other than a car, i.e. a motorized scooter or motorized dirt bike.
  • Defenses:
  • Defendant did not actually operate vehicle: The defendant must be actually have been seen driving the vehicle when the officer issues a citation. The officer and prosecution must have direct evidence, or sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove this point. Scenarios where officers cite someone sitting in a car on the side of the road with a 12500 charge can be challenged on the first element of the offense requiring “driving” by the defendant.
  • Valid out of state license: A person cited for driving without a California license may be able to prove they are not guilty of a CVC 12500 offense if they in fact held a valid out of state license. However, this defense can prove difficult to use where the person is living in California while attempting to drive on an out of state license. Using this defense is highly fact specific and is best handled by an attorney who can determine whether you have a valid reason for using an out of state license.

Resources:

Driving on a Suspended License:

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