Is Driving Without a License a Misdemeanor in California?

Author’s Note: Although I am a practicing attorney in Los Angeles County and Orange County, this article pertains to law that is applicable throughout California. 

Were You Charged with Driving Without a License?

Vehicle Code 12500 (VC 12500) is the California code section that applies to driving without a license.

You should be cited with this charge only when:

  1. you are not driving with a valid CA, foreign state, or foreign country driver’s license (assuming you haven’t established residency in CA); and
  2. your license is not suspended (if your license is suspended you should be charged with VC 14601.1)

However, many officers issues this citation incorrectly because (in your favor) they should have cited you with VC 14601.1, or (not in your favor) you are driving with a valid foreign driver’s license.

So Tell Me, Is Driving Without a License a Misdemeanor in California?

The question: Is driving without a license a misdemeanor in California? is a trick question because, the answer is – it depends!

Driving without a license (VC 12500can be filed as either a misdemeanor or an infraction.

Some courts routinely file driving without a license charges as misdemeanors, while others treat them as infractions.

As a traffic ticket attorney who is experienced in handling these matters in court, my goal when fighting misdemeanor VC 12500 charges is to get them knocked down to infractions, or dismissed altogether.

The only thing better than a VC 12500 as an infraction would be a complete dismissal, which can be achieved if you were driving with a valid foreign license, a valid CA license, or if the prosecution isn’t able to prove you weren’t.

What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and an Infraction?

The main difference between a misdemeanor and an infraction is the type of punishment that’s involved.

A misdemeanor offense is punishable by time in jail. An infraction is punishable only by the payment of fines.

The reasons a conviction under VC 12500 as an infraction is better than as a misdemeanor are several:

  • an infraction has lower fines
  • an infraction won’t go on your DOJ record (although it will go on your DMV record)
  • most employers won’t ask about infractions for job purposes

How Can an Attorney Help?

My name is Paul Denni. I’m a traffic defense and record expungement attorney in Southern California. That means I help you keep your record clean, and if your record already has convictions on it, then I help clean up your criminal record.

You can reach me for a free phone consultation at 888-250-8450 or use the Contact Form below.

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