There are several vehicle code sections which address driving while having a suspended or revoked license. All related offenses are part of the VC 14601 family of offenses. Each addresses a unique type of license suspension and carries different sentences and other consequences. All of these offenses carry points (2 points) that will be assessed to your DMV driving record once you are found guilty or plea no contest.
California Vehicle Code 14601.1 – Driving on a suspended or revoked license
14601.1.(a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle when his or her driving privilege is suspended or revoked for any reason other than those listed in Section 14601, 14601.2, or 14601.5, if the person so driving has knowledge of the suspension or revocation. Knowledge shall be conclusively presumed if mailed notice has been given by the department to the person pursuant to Section 13106. The presumption established by this subdivision is a presumption affecting the burden of proof.
Potential Sentence: For a first offense, you can be charged up to $1000 in fees (plus additional assessments) or up to six months in the county jail or sheriff's work project. You can also receive a combination of both fines and jail time/work project depending on the circumstances. Repeated convictions for this offense will augment these fines. Serious repeat offenders may not have the option to pay fines and must instead resolve the matter through jail time.
DMV Consequences: Each violation of VC 14601.1 carries two points that will be assessed to your DMV record. This means that if you receive just two VC 14601.1 charges within one year (or a 14601 offense following a recent DUI) of each other, you will have another suspension placed on your record in addition to the current suspension.
Additional Consequences: The vehicle you drove during the violation may be impounded at the scene of the offense. In general, the first time you are caught driving on a suspended/revoked license, the vehicle is typically impounded for thirty days. However, police do have the ability to hold the vehicle in impound for up to six months.
Vehicle impounds cause additional problems for persons convicted under this section because the violator will need to pay expensive tow and impound fees in order to secure a release of the vehicle.
In more severe cases, the court may decide to carry out a forfeiture of your vehicle, meaning
they will take it permanently.
What the prosecution needs to prove for this violation:
- The defendant operated a vehicle on a public road,
- That the defendant was aware (had knowledge) his or her license was suspended or revoked,
The prosecution must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
Explanation of the Law:
- The term “vehicle” means any type of motor-driven vehicle such as a car, motorcycle, scooter, bus, or truck tractor.
- A public road, or highway, is essentially any road that is open for the transit of vehicles.
- “Knowledge” of the suspension means that the driver was previously advised of the license suspension or revocation and thus was aware of their invalid license status when they were pulled over by police officers. The prosecution create a presumption towards the element of knowledge by showing that the DMV sent out a notice of suspension or revocation through mail and the mail was not returned as undeliverable or unclaimed. It is also possible for a person may also receive notice of a license suspension by the court during an appearance, or via written notice from a law enforcement officer.
- Per the case In re Murdock (1968) 68 Cal.2d 313, actual knowledge of the suspension is required to uphold a conviction for a driving on a suspended license offense. In this case, the defendant failed to update his address on DMV files several times. Subsequently, his license was suspended by DMV and a notice was sent out to his last known address. Obviously, since the defendant no longer resided at that address, he never received the notice of suspension. The defendant was stopped by police and charged with driving on a suspended license. At trial, the prosecution argued that the defendant's lack of knowledge was the result of his own failure to abide by the legal requirement to update his address, thus he should be held accountable for driving on a suspended license. The court disagreed, and held that the defendant needed to have actual knowledge of the suspension in order to be found guilty.
- Also, since mailed notice to the correct address is merely a presumption that the defendant had the requisite knowledge, it is possible for an attorney to challenge that presumption at trial or through negotiations with the prosecutor. An attorney may present certain facts of a case to show that the properly addressed notice was ineffective in giving the defendant actual knowledge of his or her license status.
- A license continues to be suspended or revoked until it is officially reinstated. According to the case People v. Gutierrez (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th Supp 1, just because the time limit on a suspension lapses does not automatically reinstate driving privileges. The license itself does not regain lawful status until the defendant completes all necessary steps as prescribed by the DMV. Thus, someone driving when their suspension has ended, but the license has not been restored, can be found guilty of driving on a suspended license.
- Even if a person has never had a license, they can have a valid suspension or revocation which is citable. Under People v. Matas (1988) 200 Cal.App.3d Supp. 7, a person who never applied for a license nor had one issued is subject to the same offense and applicable penalties as other drivers who operate vehicles during a license suspension/revocation. It is appropriate for police to issue a citation for a 14601 offense under these circumstances even though it seems like the lesser offense of CVC 12500 (driving without a license) is proper.
- A person can simultaneously be cited for a DUI and a 14601 offense. This concept was solidified in the case In re Hayes (1969) 70 Cal.2d 604. There, the court found that the two charges were not mutually exclusive, and an inebriated driver can be arrested for DUI while at the same time being charged with driving on a suspended license. In holding so, the court established that California Penal Code 654 (prohibiting multiple punishments for the same act) did not apply.
- Lack of Knowledge of Suspension
The lack of the required knowledge of the suspension is usually the strongest defense to fighting a 14601 charge. There are many situations in which a lack of knowledge may arise. For example, as described above, a defendant may have committed the lesser offense of failing to update their current address with DMV records, and thus did not receive the notice of action in the mail. This would preclude the prosecution from successfully meeting the knowledge element.
In some cases, some courts can be persuaded that the mailed notice of action (even if not returned undeliverable) fails to comply with the case law standard of actual knowledge.
- Invalid Suspension – in order for a driver to be held accountable for driving on a suspended license, he or she must have a valid suspension in place. It is possible that a person could have their license suspended due to DMV or court error, or due to the misunderstanding of the applicability of a suspension/revocation under some circumstances. For example, someone could be suspended for failing to complete a DMV class when in fact they did so, and properly submitted proof of such to the courts. If this proof is not properly recorded by DMV, it could cause the system to show a suspension when in fact none should be in place. Thus, it could appear to a citing law enforcement officer that a driver should be cited for a 14601 offense when in fact they should not because the suspension should've been lifted, and the driver would have believed that his or her license was now valid (addressing the element of knowledge).
- Not actually operating vehicle – Perhaps the most essential element of this offense is that the defendant must actually be driving a vehicle for the 14601 offense to apply. It is not uncommon that drivers are cited with driving on a suspended license when the police did not actually witness them driving.
For example, A (valid license) is driving a vehicle and B (suspended license) is the passenger. The car breaks down on the highway and A decides to go to a gas station down the street to ask for help while B stays with the car. While A is gone, a police officer comes onto the scene where the broken down vehicle is. The police officer may believe that B had drove the vehicle to its location because he is the only one there despite B's claim that A was the driver. The officer may believe he has enough reasonable suspicion to cite B for driving on a suspended license. By hiring an attorney, B may be able to successfully challenge this ticket with the attorney's help in eliciting A's witness statement and other facts to present to the court.
- Driving on a valid restricted license: In some cases, a person who has a suspended license may qualify to receive a restricted license to allow them to travel to and from work or other important activities. Technically, an officer cannot cite a driver for acting within the bounds of the restricted license. Sometimes a driver may still get a citation under VC 14601 if the officer does not believe they are limiting their travel to the defined purpose of the restricted license. In such a case, an attorney can help fight the case to show that the defendant did in fact adhere to the restrictions imposed by the court.
Other ways an attorney can help with a VC 14601.1(a) offense: Out of all the “driving on a suspended/revoked license” offenses, the 14601.1 is the only offense that is sometimes treated as a “wobbler.” This means that some courts may agree to reduce the offense from its misdemeanor status to an infraction. Even though the conviction will still cause two points to be issued on a driving record, many defendants would prefer to have an infraction on their record rather than a misdemeanor for employment purposes or otherwise.
Other types of Driving on a Suspended License Offenses
The 14601.1 charge is mainly for administrative type suspensions, but there are many other 14601 offenses that address specific suspension reasons.
California Vehicle Code 14601.2 – Driving while license suspended for DUI
(a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle at any time when that person's driving privilege is suspended or revoked for a conviction of a violation of Section 23152 or 23153 if the person so driving has knowledge of the suspension or revocation.
For a first offense, a convicted defendant can be sentenced to county jail time for a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of six months. In addition, the defendant will also be sentenced to pay a fine of $300 to $1,000 (base fine amount).
If a defendant is convicted of this offense within five years of another conviction for driving on a suspended license, he or she will be sentenced to serve time in county jail for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year. The defendant will also have to pay a fine amount between $500 and $2,000. Since these dollar amounts are base fines, the final amount owed will likely be higher as the court will add on various required assessments.
If a defendant is convicted of a second (or additional) offenses within five to seven years of a prior conviction, a grant of probation will require that the defendant serve at least ten days in county jail as a condition of such probation.
Furthermore, regardless if the conviction for 14601.2 is a first offense or subsequent offense, the court will require that the defendant install an Ignition Interlock Device on any vehicles he or she owns or regularly operates.
Additional Applicability: A driver of an off road motor vehicle can be cited under this section even if operating the vehicle in an area designated for off highway motor vehicles.
California Vehicle Code 14601.5 – Driving while license suspended for Refusing Chemical test or excessive blood alcohol
(a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle at any time when that person's driving privilege is suspended or revoked pursuant to Section 13353, 13353.1, or 13353.2 and that person has knowledge of the suspension or revocation.
For a first-time conviction, a defendant can be sentenced to serve time in the county jail for a maximum time period of six months. A defendant can also be fined an amount between $300 and $1,000. The court can also impose a combination of fines and jail time as a sentence. Additionally, if the defendant is convicted under this section within five years of a prior offense for driving on a suspended license, the court will impose a sentence of at least 10 days (but not more than one year) of jail time and a fine ranging from $500 to $2,000.
Where the court accepts a plea to this charge in lieu of a CVC 14601.2 charge, the court may require an Ignition Interlock Device to be installed on the defendant's vehicles.
Explanation of the Law: When a driver refuses to take a chemical test (such as a breathalyzer) when suspected of driving under the influence, DMV can take action to suspend the license of a period of one year. When the driver is later caught driving with a suspension imposed under VC 13353, he or she will be cited with driving on a suspended license pursuant to VC 14601.5. The 14601.5 section is also appropriate for suspensions placed for the failure to submit to a Preliminary Alcohol Screening Test (PAS) or where an adult driver had a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .08 or more, or a driver under the age of 21 had a BAC of .01 or greater.
In order to prove the defendant is guilty of this offense, the prosecution needs to prove that the defendant was driving a vehicle and had knowledge that his or her license was suspended at the time they operated the vehicle. These elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction.
California Vehicle Code 14601.3 – Habitual Traffic Offender
(a) It is unlawful for a person whose driving privilege has been suspended or revoked to accumulate a driving record history which results from driving during the period of suspension or revocation. A person who violates this subdivision is designated an habitual traffic offender.
For purposes of this section, a driving record history means any of the following, if the driving occurred during any period of suspension or revocation:
(1) Two or more convictions within a 12-month period of an offense given a violation point count of two pursuant to Section 12810.
(2) Three or more convictions within a 12-month period of an offense given a violation point count of one pursuant to Section 12810.
(3) Three or more accidents within a 12-month period that are subject to the reporting requirements of Section 16000.
California Vehicle Code 14601(a) – Driving while suspended for Reckless Driving
14601. (a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at any time when that person's driving privilege is suspended or revoked for reckless driving in violation of Section 23103, 23104, or 23105, any reason listed in subdivision (a) or (c) of Section 12806 authorizing the department to refuse to issue a license, negligent or incompetent operation of a motor vehicle as prescribed in subdivision (e) of Section 12809, or negligent operation as prescribed in Section 12810.5, if the person so driving has knowledge of the suspension or revocation. Knowledge shall be conclusively presumed if mailed notice has been given by the department to the person pursuant to Section 13106. The presumption established by this subdivision is a presumption affecting the burden of proof.