Driving with a suspended license is a charge under California Vehicle Code 14601.1, and is often incorrectly cited by either California Highway Patrol or local police department.
Whether you got stopped by a rookie cop, or the officer is being lazy, there are plenty of times that I’ve successfully gotten these charges against my clients dismissed because guilt can simply not be established.
As a Los Angeles traffic ticket attorney, I frequently defend clients unfairly charged with driving with a suspended license.
Am I Guilty of Driving with a Suspended License?
To be found guilty of driving with a suspended license:
- your license must be suspended; and
- you must knowingly be driving with a suspended license.
Sometimes an officer will cite you with VC 14601.1 when you simply don’t have your license on you. The proper code section for driving without your license in possession is VC 12951.
In other cases, you may be cited with VC 14601.1 when your license has expired, but when your privileges have not been suspended. The correct code section to be cited with in this situation is VC 12500 (driving with an invalid license).
The hardest element for the prosecutor to prove on a driving with a suspended license charge is the knowledge requirement. Often officers will try to be sneaky and casually ask you when they pull you over, “Did you know your license was suspended?”
If you tell them “Yes, I was aware,” then they will make note of that on the citation and the prosecutor will use your own statement against you to establish your knowledge of the suspension.
The DMV is supposed to send you notice when your license is suspended, but often they don’t or it can’t be proven that notice was actually received by you.
If DMV records show notice of your suspended license was indeed mailed to you, then in court the burden shifts to you to show you did not receive notice (in other words, the law presumes you knew your license was suspended if the DMV properly sent notice).
Is Driving with a Suspended License a Misdemeanor?
On the traffic citation the officer handed you when you were cited for driving with a suspended license, there will be a little box checked next to the VC 14601.1 charge, indicating whether it’s a misdemeanor or an infraction.
VC 14601.1 is actually a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be filed as a misdemeanor or an infraction. It really doesn’t matter which box on the citation the officer checked – it is up to the prosecutor to decide whether to charge it as a misdemeanor or an infraction.
But it’s important to know the gravity of a VC 14601.1 charge. A misdemeanor offense, by definition, means it’s punishable by potential jail time. Practically speaking, the prosecutor usually will not seek jail time for a first offense. However, they may push for a misdemeanor conviction on your record, which usually means higher fines and up to 3 years of probation – not fun!
An infraction, by definition, is punishable by fines only. If you’re convicted of VC 14601.1 as an infraction, your fines will usually be lower than if you were convicted of the offense as a misdemeanor, and there won’t be any probation given for an infraction.
However, whether you’re convicted of VC 14601.1 as either a misdemeanor or an infraction, in either case it will have a significant effect on your DMV record.
Effect of Driving with a Suspended License on Your DMV Record
A conviction under VC 14601.1 results in 2 points on your DMV record. A “point” on your DMV record is part of the point system the DMV uses to track your ability as a driver. If you receive too many points on your DMV record, the DMV can suspend your license for being a “negligent operator.”
Under the DMV point system, you are subject to a negligent operator suspension if you receive:
- 4 points in one year;
- 6 points in two years; or
- 8 points in three years.
Beyond the potential license suspension, points on your DMV record can be seen by your insurer, and used by your insurer in their underwriting process to determine how risky of a driver you are.
Even one point on your DMV record can cause your insurer to raise your insurance premium. Since a conviction under VC 14601.1 carries 2 points, this can be extremely detrimental to your insurance.
Why am I Dealing with Driving with a Suspended License in the First Place?
Interestingly, many of my clients were not even aware their license was suspended in the first place. This is usually because the reason for the license suspension and consequent driving with a suspended license charge is due to an unpaid traffic ticket in collections with GC Services.
GC Services is a collections agency that collects for the Los Angeles County Superior Court for all unpaid traffic tickets.
Frequently, my clients who have tickets in collections have a fix-it ticket they fixed but did not know they had to notify the court.
Or, they were expecting a notice in the mail they never received (news flash: the “courtesy notice” is no longer sent for Los Angeles traffic tickets due to budget cuts so your signature at the bottom of your citation is your written promise to appear in court and the citation itself is your only reminder of your court date).
Many of my clients don’t discover their license was suspended until they try to meet Uber driver requirements.
The point is that in most cases the reason for your suspended license is usually due to a long-forgotten traffic ticket. When you fail to appear on a traffic ticket in Los Angeles County, not only is your case referred to GC Services, but a hold will be placed on your driver’s license under VC 40509.5, which will turn in to a license suspension if you do nothing about it.
Additionally, you’ll be charged with a failure to appear under VC 40508, and your fines will nearly quadruple! In some cases, failure to appear on a traffic ticket results in a bench warrant being issued by the judge.
It is not wise to pay GC Services on an unpaid traffic ticket, however. It’s much better to fight it in court, and I’ve successfully represented thousands of clients in traffic court to prevent the negative consequences of paying GC Services.
Get Help with Your Driving with a Suspended License Charge
As a Los Angeles traffic ticket attorney, I represent my clients on unpaid traffic tickets as well as driving with a suspended license charges.
You can contact me directly for a free consultation by clicking below.