Driving Without a License Can be a Misdemeanor in California
Under Vehicle Code section 12500(a), it is unlawful to drive a motor vehicle without holding a valid driver’s license.
Since VC 12500 is known as a “wobbler” offense, the prosecutors representing the State may opt to charge you with either an infraction or with a misdemeanor under this code section.
An infraction is punishable by fines only. A misdemeanor is punishable by time in jail and/ or fines.
Am I Going to Jail for My Misdemeanor Driving Without a License Charge?
Just because a case could be charged as a misdemeanor, it doesn’t mean it always will be. The code section you are being charged with is written in the middle portion of the citation given to you by the officer. Directly to the right of the listed charge are two letters: “M” and “I.”
These letters represent misdemeanor and infraction, and the officer will circle one to indicate how he thinks the offense should be charged.
However, if the officer circled “I”, that doesn’t mean you will necessarily be charged with an infraction. It is up to the prosecutors (the District Attorney or City Attorney) to decide whether or not to charge the offense as a misdemeanor or an infraction.
But even if you were actually convicted in court for a misdemeanor driving without a license offense, this doesn’t mean you will be sentenced to jail by the judge. Factors the judge (and prosecutor) examine when considering whether jail time is appropriate include:
- Whether you have any prior convictions for the same offense, and if so, the number of prior offenses and how long ago they were received.
- Your driving record.
- Your ability to get a valid driver’s license.
Often, when our clients get a valid California driver’s license we are able to negotiate a dismissal or reduction of the offense from a misdemeanor to an infraction.
Even if jail is not a reality in your situation because the circumstances don’t justify that strong of a sentence, you still don’t want to be convicted of a misdemeanor because that conviction will go on your criminal record and is discoverable by a background check.
If you’ve already received a misdemeanor driving without a license conviction on your record, all hope is not lost. Expungement lawyers can help you get an expungement to remove the misdemeanor from your criminal record.
Why Was I Charged With Misdemeanor Driving Without a License When I Already Have a Valid License?
VC 12500 is an appropriate charge when you are truly driving in California without a valid license, but many of our clients are often charged INAPPROPRIATELY with this offense.
Often, an officer will cite a driver with VC 12500 when you are driving on a foreign driver’s license. A “foreign” driver’s license could be either a valid driver’s license from another State or from another country.
You are allowed to drive in California with a foreign driver’s license as long as you haven’t established residency in California. Once residency has been established, you are expected to be driving with a California driver’s license.
Examples of behaviors that do not establish residency:
- You are in California attending university.
- You are in California for a temporary job assignment.
- You are visiting relatives in California.
Examples of behaviors that establish residency include:
- You own a home in California and are living in it.
- You pay taxes in California.
- Your car is registered in California.
- You are registered to vote in California.
Often, whether you’ve established residency in California is a factual question, and arguable before the judge. This is why we don’t simply accept whatever the officer summarily decides to write down on the citation as a valid statement of the situation.
An officer on the side of the freeway has limited time and attention to devote to citing you with the proper code section (if any). Depending on the experience of the officer, you may have been incorrectly cited and you may have an absolute legal defense that would entitle you to a complete dismissal of the charges.
Lawyers Can Help with Misdemeanor Driving Without a License Charges
As discussed above, being cited, charged, and prosecuted does not mean you did something wrong. When you don’t correctly understand the law, its requirements, and the appropriate circumstances under which to be charged, it can be a scary feeling when you have the government trying to prosecute you for a misdemeanor offense.
As a traffic defense law firm, we help our clients in Los Angeles and Orange Counties fight misdemeanor driving without a license charges to ensure the State is not over-charging you, over-prosecuting you, and unduly harassing you. As a driver in California you are afforded all of the legal rights governing defendants of this State, and it’s our job to help make sure your interests and legal rights are protected.
If you’d like a free phone consultation with me (Attorney Paul Denni), please call me at 888-250-8450, or use the Contact Form below.