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Driving on a Suspended License in California: Understanding VC 14601

Under California Vehicle Code 14601, it is a crime to drive a motor vehicle when you know your driver’s license has been revoked or suspended. If you are pulled over by law enforcement and are found to be driving with a suspended license, you can be arrested, have your car impounded, and be charged with a misdemeanor that carries significant penalties. However, the unique facts of your situation and the underlying reason for the license suspension or revocation will determine the penalties you face, and your options for defense.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers have earned national recognition for their work protecting the rights, freedoms, and futures of clients charged with all types of crimes, from the most serious felony offenses to misdemeanor allegations such as driving on a suspended license. On this blog, we provide information about VC 14601 and your rights when charged.

VC 14601: Driving on a Suspended License

Under California’s Vehicle Code, the crime of driving on a suspended license consists of two primary elements:

  1. You were operating a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked driver’s license;
  2. You knew of the suspension or revocation at the time you were driving.

While the first element is straightforward, the concept of knowing that you had a suspended or revoked license can create the potential for a legal defense. Under the law, the presumption is that motorists know when their driving privileges are suspended or revoked if all the following applies:

  • A notice was mailed to the motorist about a license suspension or revocation;
  • The notice was delivered to the most recent address reported to the DMV, court, or law enforcement agency; and
  • The mailed notice was not returned as undeliverable.

Knowledge of a suspension or revocation may also be proven if law enforcement officers personally served the motorist a notice of the suspension or revocation, or when a judge informed the motorist at the time of sentencing in court for the underlying violation which resulted in the driving privilege penalty.

Why Driving Privileges May be Suspended

A California driver’s license can be suspended or revoked for a number of reasons, including:

  • A DUI conviction
  • Chemical test refusal during a DUI stop
  • Reckless driving
  • Outstanding warrants
  • Prohibitive physical or mental condition
  • Failures to pay traffic fines, child support, civil judgment for a car accident, or maintain car insurance
  • Being a habitual traffic offender (multiple traffic offenses)

Driving on a Suspended License Penalties

Driving on a suspended license is a misdemeanor. However, the penalties you may face can vary depending on the underlying reason for the suspension or revocation. For example, potential penalties for a first offense, in addition to court-imposed fines of up to $1,000, may include:

  • DUI conviction – 10 days to 6 months in County jail
  • Chemical test refusal – Up to 6 months in jail (no minimum sentence)
  • Reckless driving and specific offenses – 5 days to 6 months in jail
  • General reasons not listed in statutes – Up to 6 months in jail (no minimum sentence)
  • Habitual traffic offender – 30 days

Any future convictions for driving on a suspended or revoked license can substantially elevate penalties. Additionally, the offense adds two points to a motorist’s DMV record, which can have added consequences such as higher insurance premiums. Accumulation of too many points within a certain period of time can result in an additional license suspension or revocation.

Protecting Your Rights & Future

Driving on a suspended or revoked license is a serious criminal offense, as lawmakers, law enforcement, and the court take the stance that it shows a disregard for the law, and may pose dangers to public safety. Although the allegations are serious, there may be options for waging an effective defense, which may include challenging the essential elements of the crime prosecutors must prove (i.e. knowledge of suspension), showing that you were lawfully driving on a “restricted” license, challenging law enforcement protocol during the arrest (i.e. lack of probable cause), or working to reduce charges, penalties, and any time behind bars.

Our criminal defense team at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP has secured hundreds of criminal case dismissals for clients across Southern California, and has the experience and resources to help clients seek the most positive resolutions possible – whether that means a case dismissal or reducing penalties and protecting their freedom. If you have questions about this offense or any other criminal allegation, our firm is readily available to help. Call (800) 462-7160 or contact us online to request a FREE case evaluation.