Many people who are stopped in San Diego while driving without a driver’s license (Vehicle Code Section 12500) or on a suspended driver’s license (Vehicle Code Section 14601) assume that they’ll only receive a traffic citation and have to pay a fine. Unfortunately, driving without a license or on a suspended license can result in a misdemeanor conviction—a criminal offense. Rather than being a slight inconvenience, it could result in jail time, probation, community service, substantial fines and long-term consequences that come with a criminal record.

First, if you’re charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license or without a license, do not talk to the police officer! If they try to speak to you, assert your right to a lawyer and refuse to answer questions.

There are a number of ways you can avoid the negative consequences of a conviction. As your attorney, I may be able to get the charges reduced to a mere infraction, which entails a fine but no jail time, probation or a criminal record. I have also successfully helped many people obtain a dismissal on charges of driving with no license or on a suspended license.

As a former CA prosecutor with nearly a decade of criminal law experience, I’ve handled thousands of cases in and around San Diego County and can put this to use reduce or even eliminate the consequences you face. If you  have any questions as you’re reading this, I invite you to schedule a free case evaluation.

Driving on a Suspended or Revoked Driver’s License

A number of situations might lead you to have your driver’s license suspended or revoked, including failure to appear, failure to pay child support or court fines, habitual traffic offender status, vehicular manslaughter convictions, or DUI/DWI convictions.

For a prosecutor to obtain a conviction for driving on a suspended driver’s license, he or she must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your license was in fact suspended or revoked and that you knew of the suspension or revocation. There are two common ways the prosecutor will attempt to establish this. The first is by introducing evidence that you were mailed a DMV notice regarding your license suspension or revocation and that the notice was not returned because it could not be delivered or went unclaimed. The second is by providing evidence of prior court proceedings in which the judge informed you that your license was being suspended or revoked.

Even if the prosecutor establishes that the DMV notice was sent and not returned, the judge or jury is not obligated to find that you had knowledge of your license suspension. There are many reasons why you still may not have received notice. Your address may have changed, or your mail may have been intercepted, particularly if you do not have a locked mailbox. Often after carefully searching the court records, I also find no indication that you were informed of your license suspension or revocation.

Additionally, while it is always my goal to seek dismissal of your pending charges, I may be able to establish that there was no reasonable suspicion to justify the initial traffic stop or that the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had knowledge of the revocation. Where the evidence against you is overwhelming, I typically seek to have the charges reduced to driving without a valid driver’s license, which is simply an infraction. This means you would receive neither a criminal record nor jail time.

Driving Without a Driver’s License

For the prosecutor to obtain a conviction for driving without a driver’s license, he or she must show that you operated your vehicle on a street or highway without a validly issued driver’s license. The burden of proof in this type of case is slightly different than in a typical criminal case. Since you have the best knowledge and access to information regarding whether you have a validly issued driver’s license, once the prosecutor alleges that you do not have a license, the burden of proof shifts to you to prove that you are validly licensed.

Driving without a valid driver’s license can be charged as a misdemeanor offense, meaning it can result in a criminal record. This criminal conviction will be revealed in background checks conducted by potential employers, landlords or mortgage lenders.

Defense Strategies

I’ve handled many of these cases and frequently am able to get charges reduced to mere infractions or dismissed altogether. If you qualify for a valid driver’s license, I frequently seek to have the matter continued to give you time to apply for and obtain a valid license. Once you’ve obtained your driver’s license, I may be able to persuade the judge or prosecutor to dismiss the charges.

Alternatively, I may seek to have the charge reduced to an infraction, which only results in a maximum fine of a few hundred dollars. By contrast, a misdemeanor conviction for driving without a valid license can result in a maximum six-month term in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000 plus other court-imposed fees, and impounding of your vehicle for a 30-day period.