The law prohibits operating a motor vehicle while knowing that your driver’s license is either revoked or suspended. If a police officer stops your vehicle and catches you driving on a suspended license, you can face misdemeanor charges. Moreover, if your case goes to court and a state prosecutor obtains a conviction against you, you may incur high monetary fines and even jail time depending on the circumstances.
If you are currently pending criminal charges for driving on a suspended or revoked license, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to advocate for you throughout your case. Once you retain an attorney for legal representation, they can meet with you to discuss the circumstances of your arrest and the facts of your case.
Your lawyer can then determine if you can raise one or more legal defenses to your pending criminal charge. Finally, your lawyer can represent you at all criminal court hearings including your bench or jury trial, and zealously advocate for you at all times.
Your criminal defense attorney will work hard to help you secure the best possible legal result in your criminal case, whether through a charge dismissal or a favorable deal with the state prosecutor handling your case.
When Is It Against the Law to Drive on a Suspended License?
Even though driving on a suspended license is not a crime of violence, a conviction can still result in serious penalties. For you to incur penalties in any criminal case, the state prosecutor must satisfy their legal burden beyond a reasonable doubt.
For a state prosecutor to convict you of driving on a suspended license, they must demonstrate that you:
- Operated a motor vehicle during a time when the state had revoked or suspended your driving privileges
- We're aware that your driving privileges were subject to suspension or revocation at the time you drove your vehicle
If the state prosecutor cannot demonstrate that you had the required knowledge, they should not secure a conviction against you.
Knowledge of a license suspension or revocation is presumed upon meeting all of these requirements:
- The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) mailed you a written notice that indicated that they were immediately revoking or suspending your driving privileges.
- The post office did not return the notice to the DMV as unclaimed or undelivered.
- The DMV sent the required notice to the most recent address they had on file for you.
In some venues within California, the District Attorney’s Office will not prosecute individuals for driving on a suspended license unless they are repeat offenders.
What Are the Most Common Instances When Individuals Drive on a Suspended License
In some cases, the DMV might have suspended the driver’s license for driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). At other times, the offending driver may have operated their vehicle during a court-imposed or administrative suspension such as when a driver refuses to submit to chemical testing as part of a DUI arrest. Some drivers continue to operate their vehicles after a court revokes their license following habitual traffic violations.
In California, a driver can even face a license suspension if they fail to pay child support for some time. Child Support Services can request the DMV to suspend your license, and you can face penalties for continuing to drive - even though the underlying reason for the suspension was not a criminal driving offense.
You might have continued to drive because you needed to get to work and can’t afford to lose your job or to take your children to the doctor or pick them up from school and couldn’t rely on anyone else. The prosecutor or judge may not take your reasons seriously or treat them with any sympathy. That’s why you will need a strong lawyer to argue in favor of your extenuating circumstances and against unnecessarily harsh punishments.
The State Prosecutor’s Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case
In a driving, while suspended case, as in all criminal cases, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. Therefore, they must satisfy each and every legal element of the underlying offense beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction against you. If they are unable to satisfy even one element, your entire case may be subject to a dismissal by the court.
The individual facing the criminal charges or the defendant does not need to prove anything in the case. However, their lawyer can introduce one or more legal defenses on their behalf to the judge or at trial. A defense attorney can work to “poke holes” in the prosecution’s case and prevent the state prosecutor from satisfying their legal burden.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can review the circumstances of your charge with you and determine if you are eligible to raise a legal defense at trial. If so, your lawyer can help you formulate potential defenses and can assert those defenses on your behalf in court on your trial date.
Potential Penalties Upon Conviction for Driving While Suspended
If the state prosecutor handling your case secures a conviction against you, a sentencing judge then has the task of imposing one or more legal penalties in your case.
Driving while your license is suspended is a misdemeanor offense in California. However, the penalty or penalties that a judge imposes typically depend on the reason why the court or DMV suspended your license in the first place.
In cases where a driver incurred a license suspension for incompetent, negligent, or reckless driving, they can face incarceration in the county jail for a period of between five days and six months, a maximum monetary fine of $1000, and/or an informal probationary period that lasts for a maximum of three years.
If the individual received a license suspension for operating their vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the driver might incur a maximum monetary fine of $1000, incarceration in the county jail for a period of between 10 days and six months, an informal probationary period that lasts for a maximum of three years, and mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle.
An IID is a portable breathalyzer device that an individual must breathe into prior to starting their vehicle. If the device detects any alcohol on their breath, it will not allow their vehicle to start. In addition to paying for initial installation costs for the IID, the offending driver may also need to pay for ongoing maintenance on the device.
Next, if the driver incurred a license suspension for being a habitual traffic offender, they can receive a maximum monetary fine of $1000, a 30-day jail sentence, and/or an informal probation that lasts a maximum of three years.
If the driver incurred a license suspension because they refused to undergo chemical testing or operated a vehicle with an unlawful BAC, the driver can incur a maximum monetary fine of $1000, incarceration at a county jail for a maximum of six months, and an informal period of probation lasting for a maximum of three years.
Finally, if the driver incurred a license suspension or revocation for some other reason, pursuant to a “catch-all” provision in the California Criminal Code, the driver can receive a maximum monetary fine of $1000, incarceration in a county jail for a maximum of six months, and/or an informal probationary period lasting a maximum of three years.
In addition to potential legal penalties upon conviction, an offender may also need to deal with one or more collateral consequences of their conviction. For example, a driver with a criminal conviction record may have difficulty finding or keeping a job or gaining admission to a college, university, or educational program. This is because prospective employers and educational institutions regularly perform criminal background checks on individuals. If they uncover a criminal conviction history, they may deny the application.
If you ultimately sustain a criminal conviction, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can represent you at your sentencing hearing. Your lawyer will argue for a fair and reasonable penalty on your behalf and work to minimize or eliminate the penalties and collateral consequences you face due to your conviction.
What Are Some Potential Defenses Against Driving While Suspended?
In response to driving while suspended criminal charges, a driver may assert one or more legal defenses to negate the state prosecutor’s legal burden of proof. First, a driver may allege that they did not know that the DMV had suspended or revoked their license. If the driver did not have the required knowledge, the prosecutor might not satisfy that element of their case.
A driver might also argue that they had a valid driver’s license at the time of their arrest. If you can introduce evidence that your license was valid, your criminal case may be subject to dismissal.
Finally, you might argue that you had to drive while your license was suspended or revoked due to necessity. To show necessity, you will typically need to demonstrate that you had a sufficiently good reason for violating the law.
If you raise a necessity defense, you essentially “plead guilty with an explanation.” For example, you might allege that an emergency medical situation arose that required that you operate your vehicle even while your driver’s license was subject to suspension or revocation.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help you determine if you’re eligible to raise one or more of these legal defenses to your driving while suspended charge. If so, your lawyer can advance the defense in court on your behalf by calling witnesses to testify and introducing supporting documentation. Your attorney will do everything possible to obtain a complete dismissal of your pending criminal charge.
Potential Effects of a Criminal Conviction on Immigration
If you are currently an immigrant to the United States, operating a vehicle on a suspended or revoked license will likely not have any impact on the status of your immigration. Therefore, you should not be subject to deportation. However, if you face other charges as well, discuss their potential implications on your immigration status with your attorney.
Do I Qualify for Expungement if Convicted of Driving on a Suspended License?
If you ultimately sustain a conviction for driving on a suspended license, you may be eligible to obtain an expungement under certain circumstances. For a judge to expunge this offense from your criminal record, you must have successfully completed all of the terms of any probation that a judge imposed. Alternatively, you must have completed any jail term that a judge imposed. In some cases, a judge can even award an expungement in the event you violated your probation in some way.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer to Represent You in Your Case Today
If you are currently pending criminal charges for driving a motor vehicle while your license is subject to suspension or revocation, time is of the essence in your case. Therefore, you should contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney near you as soon as possible. Once you retain legal counsel, your lawyer can begin representing you and advocating for you immediately. If you wait too long to retain legal counsel, an attorney may not have sufficient time to investigate the circumstances of your arrest and enter an appearance on your behalf.
A criminal defense attorney needs time to formulate a strong legal defense for your charge and prepare your case for trial. They may also need to speak with witnesses and obtain important documents to use as evidence during your criminal trial. All of this can take a significant amount of time.
Having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side increases your chances of obtaining a favorable result in your case. Your attorney can advocate for you at every stage of the proceedings, including during police interrogation up until the time of your trial or sentencing hearing. Most importantly, your lawyer can represent you in all courtroom proceedings and advocate for the best possible result on your behalf.
Failing to seek help from a defense lawyer can mean harsher penalties or even a wrongful conviction. You might lose your license for much longer than the original suspension. You can eliminate or minimize these consequences by never waiting to seek legal help as soon as you are under arrest for driving on a suspended driver’s license.