If you are arrested in California for intentionally operating a vehicle with a suspended license, don't assume that you will be issued a ticket for a minor traffic violation. Driving with a suspended license could get you arrested and face severe consequences. If convicted, you could have a misdemeanor charge on your record permanently.

However, these allegations and sanctions can be dropped or lowered with the help of an experienced defense attorney. Our attorneys at the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm are available to analyze the specifics of your case and help you build a strong defense for a favorable outcome. We serve the residents of Riverside, CA.

Legal Definition of Driving With a Suspended License

California Vehicle Code 14601 is the law that makes it unlawful to operate any vehicle with a revoked or suspended driving license. VC 14601 describes this offense as operating a vehicle when your driving privileges have been revoked or suspended with the understanding of the revocation or suspension.

Driving with a suspended license has two key components:

  • The accused operated an automobile when his or her driver's license was revoked or suspended
  • And at the moment, the accused was cognizant of his or her revoked or suspended driver's license

Proving "Knowledge"

The court will assume that you were aware of the revocation or suspension if the following statements are true:

  • The California Department of Motor Vehicles sent you a notice of your license revocation or suspension
  • The revocation or suspension letter was mailed to your current postal address, which you provided to a federal entity, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, a law enforcement authority, or a court
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles has not received the letter of revocation or suspension as unclaimed or undeliverable
  • A law enforcement officer did serve you with a notification of the revocation or suspension after you were apprehended for a crime that was sufficient to warrant revocation or suspension, like a DUI. The police might have also taken your driver's license during the arrest
  • A judge notified you of the driving license revocation or suspension at the moment of your sentencing for an infringement that ultimately led to the revocation or suspension of your license

If either of these statements is correct, the court will assume that you were aware of your driving license's revocation or suspension. However, it doesn't show beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were aware of the revocation or suspension, and your criminal defense lawyer could be capable of refuting that assumption and proving to the court that you were unaware of the revocation or suspension.

The Difference Between a California License Suspension and Revocation

It's crucial to understand the distinction between a suspended driver's license and a revoked license. Sometimes there could be methods to address the issue when you understand which problem you're facing.

If your license is suspended, it indicates that you will be unable to drive any automobile for some time. You can have your license reinstated when you pay specific charges and see through your suspension term. If you are found driving with a suspended license, you risk facing even more severe penalties, such as increased penalties or revocation of your driver's license.

The state can have your license revoked for major violations like felonies or maybe failing to attend court. When the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) revokes your driver's license, you lose all of your driving privileges. And if you were to attempt to get your driving license reinstated, you'd have to put in an application, sit the test, and cover the costs once again, even after waiting out the required period. This period could last up to five years.

The following are some instances of driving conduct that may result in the revocation of a California driver's license:

  • Speeding on congested roadways during rush hours
  • Trying to elude the law enforcement authorities
  • Driving while inebriated, coupled with negligent driving, then results in an accident
  • Blatant contempt for traffic regulations, signals, warnings, weather or driving conditions, referred to as mechanical flaws, or other road users
  • Racing
  • Driving erratically in a car that you aren't trained or licensed to drive

Reasons for a California License Suspension

The following are the most common causes of your California driver's license suspension:

  • Having no insurance

Your driving license could be suspended for up to 4 years if you aren't insured and are involved in a car accident. It could be reinstated after a year provided you show evidence of your car insurance to the Department of Motor Vehicles and keep it up to date for the coming three years.

  • Failing to file a car accident report
  • A conviction for driving under the influence (DUI)

California has among the most severe DUI statutes in the country. A first DUI charge will result in your license being suspended for 6 months. In certain instances, you may be able to apply for a restricted driving license. A subsequent or third offense might result in your license being suspended for up to four years.

  • Underage drinking

Your driving license will be suspended for a year or just until you reach 18, whichever comes later.

  • Refusing or failing to take an alcohol or drug test

Because of the implied consent provisions in California, if you fail to take a breath, blood, or urine examination to avert a DUI charge, your driving license will be revoked or suspended, even though you're not guilty.

  • Too many points on your driving history

When you have an excessive number of points on your record, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will place you on a year of driving probation, along with a six-month driver's license suspension, or have your driving license entirely revoked.

  • Vandalism

Your driving privileges can be suspended for a year for vandalism. Your ability to seek a driving license will be extended by a year when you are considered too young to operate a vehicle.

  • Failing to appear before a judge for a traffic citation

If you don't attend court or fail to pay your fines promptly, the judge will notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and your driver's license could be suspended.

  • Failing to make child support payments, according to Family Code 17520
  • Having a mental disorder that significantly impacts your ability to operate an automobile safely

Having Your California Driver’s License Reinstated

If your driving license has been suspended, you aren't permitted to operate a vehicle until you have taken the appropriate measures to get your driving license reinstated. Even though the suspension period has elapsed, you can still be prosecuted for driving with a suspended license if you operate an automobile before taking the appropriate steps.

The procedures you complete to reinstate your driver's license are determined by the specific reasons for its suspension. Below are some common causes, as well as some examples of actions you might take.

  • Complete a Compulsory Suspension Period if you have been accused of driving while inebriated

If you are convicted of DUI for the first time, the judge will suspend your license for 6 months and order you to undergo a drunk driving treatment program so you can get your license back. The judge might also require you to undergo a DUI program for nine months if your blood alcohol level (BAC) was 0.15 percent or above and you previously had a history of offenses on other grounds or you declined to consent to a urine, blood, or breath test. You will face a suspension for ten months if your BAC was at 0.20 percent or above and the judge will refer you to an intensive DUI alcohol treatment program.

  • You must pay a reissue charge

Your driving privileges will be reinstated when the suspension period is over and you have paid a $125.00 reinstatement fee to the Department of Motor Vehicles and submitted an SR22 certificate which shows financial responsibility. If you were under 21 years of age at the moment of the infraction and your license was suspended, you will pay a reinstatement fee of $100.00 as per the Zero Tolerance statutes.

  • Driving Under the Influence Rehabilitation Program

Once you've finished the DUI Rehab Program, you'll need to present proof of participation as well as a certificate of completion.

  • If you've ever suffered a medical or mental illness or disorder that affected your ability to drive

Present a valid Driver Medical Evaluation (DME) or any other medical documentation confirming that the illness does not affect your driving ability anymore.

  • If you had been involved in a car accident and didn't have auto insurance:

Complete the obligatory one-year suspension and also pay the $125 reissue fee. Submit proof to show financial responsibility.

  • If you didn't settle a traffic ticket or didn't attend court for it

You can either pay your fines or go to court. The judge will provide you with a Failure to pay or appear (FTA or FTP) abstract stating that you have satisfied this obligation. You should also make a payment of $55 to the Department of Motor Vehicles as a reinstatement fee. This fee could be up to $275 in some circumstances.

What are the Penalties for California VC 14601?

An infringement of this statute is considered a misdemeanor. It's worth noting that the severity of an accused's sentence will vary depending on why their driving license was previously revoked or suspended.

Additionally, a previous conviction for a driving crime, like driving under the influence (DUI) or failing to submit to a chemical test for a previous DUI issue, will not warrant any pity from law enforcement in California.

You should be concerned about the possibility of incarceration, probation, stiff penalties, and a subsequent suspension of your driver's license. If you're accused of driving while your license is suspended, don't fret or say anything that could be used against you in court.

In addition, sanctions for this violation will be dictated by the following provisions:

  • VC 14601
  • VC 14601.2
  • VC 14601.3
  • VC 14601.5
  • VC 14601.1

Vehicle Code 14601 - Reckless, Incompetent, or Negligent driving

This code penalizes drivers who:

  • Drive with suspended licenses
  • Acquire a suspended license for negligent, incompetent, or reckless driving

A motorist will face the following penalties in these circumstances:

  • He or she will face informal probation for a maximum of three years
  • Incarceration in jail for a period of 5 to 6 months
  • Fines of up to $1,000

Vehicle Code 14601.2 – Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs

This act penalizes drivers who:

  • Drive with revoked or suspended licenses
  • Had their licenses suspended as a result of a DUI charge

A motorist will face the following penalties in these circumstances:

  • A three-year informal probation
  • Incarceration for up to 6 months
  • Maximum fines of $1,000
  • Have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle

Vehicle Code 14601.3 - Habitual Traffic Offenders

This provision penalizes drivers who:

  • Drive with a suspended license
  • Obtained a suspended license after he or she was repeatedly charged with traffic offenses

A motorist will face the following penalties in these circumstances:

  • Placed on informal probation for a maximum period of three years
  • Incarceration for a maximum period of 30 days
  • Maximum fines of $1000

Vehicle Code 14601 - Refusing to Submit to a Chemical Test or Driving with an Illegal BAC

This law penalizes drivers who:

  • Drive with suspended licenses
  • Have their driver's licenses suspended for failing to undergo a chemical DUI test or those who drive with an illegal BAC

A motorist will face the following penalties in these circumstances:

  • Placed on informal probation for a maximum period of 3 years
  • A six-month jail sentence
  • Maximum fines of $1,000

Vehicle Code 14601.1 - Suspension or Revocation of a License for Additional Reasons

This is a broad provision that penalizes drivers who:

  • Drive with suspended or revoked licenses
  • Had their licenses revoked or suspended for reasons not stated earlier

A motorist will face the following penalties in these circumstances:

  • Placed on informal probation for a maximum period of 3 years
  • A six-month jail sentence
  • Fines of up to $1,000

Legal Defenses for Vehicle Code 14601 Charges

Your defense lawyer can use a wide range of defense techniques to try and fight the VC 14601 allegations. Common strategies include a lack of awareness of the revocation or suspension, an illegitimate suspension or revocation, or the defendant's right to operate their vehicle with a limited license.

Lack of Knowledge

The prosecutors need to be capable of proving that you were aware of the revocation or suspension to prosecute you for operating a vehicle while your license was revoked or suspended. You might have the charges dismissed if the letter of revocation or suspension was delivered to your previous or incorrect address, was misplaced, or if you had never been informed of the license suspension or revocation by the Department of Motor Vehicles or by a law enforcement official.

You Were Using a California "Restricted" Driving License

Alternatively, you can be allowed restricted driving privileges if you can demonstrate that you possess an "essential reason to drive" after your license has been suspended. With a restricted driving license, you can commute to your workplace, school, to a court-ordered California DUI school, or wherever the court permits.

If you possess a restricted driving license, you might be able to have your VC 14601 charges dropped if you can show that you drove within the limits of the restricted license.

The Suspension or Revocation of Your California Driver's License was Erroneous

If the license revocation or suspension was incorrect, your VC 14601 allegations may be dropped. For instance, your attorney can use this defense if the proof used against you is inconsistent.


You can use a necessity argument to try to avoid being found guilty by demonstrating that:

  • You had a compelling motive to drive with a revoked or suspended license

This defense strategy is sometimes referred to as "guilty with an explanation." Within the setting of this statutory provision, a defendant could argue that he or she perpetrated the crime because they didn't have any other option.

Dismissals and Plea Bargains

To help save money and time, the prosecution could be prepared to lower your VC 14601 charge to a minor charge or an infringement such as a moving infraction. This approach may be advantageous for you if you have no criminal background.

Can this Offense Affect Your Immigration Status?

Driving with a suspended or revoked license has no bearing on an individual's immigration standing.

Occasionally, non-citizens could be expelled or labeled as impermissible once they have been found guilty of an offense in California. When a non-citizen is found guilty of an offense, especially if it involves moral depravity, he or she will be expelled from the country.

However, being found guilty under this legislation does not lead to deportation.

Is it Possible to Get a Conviction Expunged?

If a defendant is guilty under this law, they may be eligible for expungement. The court will allow an expungement when the following conditions are met:

  • The accused managed to complete his or her probation term if it was imposed
  • The accused served his or her jail sentence to completion

It's worth noting that if a defendant violates his or her probation, the court may still grant an expungement.

What Effect Does a Conviction have on a Person's Right to Own a Gun?

A guilty verdict under these provisions has no bearing on a defendant's right to own a gun. Some offenses in California lead to the loss of someone's rights to:

  • Possess a firearm
  • Buy a firearm
  • Own a firearm

Driving with a suspended or revoked license has no significant impact on gun ownership rights.

California DMV Hearings

With the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer, you might be able to prevent your license from being revoked or suspended by seeking an audience with the Department of Motor Vehicles. You will have ten days since the moment you received a notice from the DMV notifying you of the revocation or suspension.

Everybody in the state of California is eligible for a hearing with the DMV before their driving privileges are revoked or suspended. Avoidance of revocation or suspension is the easiest strategy for defending yourself against accusations of driving with a revoked or suspended license.

Related Offenses

Under the California traffic regulations, there are 3 offenses associated with driving with a revoked or suspended license. They include:

  • Operating a vehicle without a driver's license, Vehicle Code 12500
  • Vehicle Code 12951 for refusing to provide a driver's permit
  • Vehicle Code 14610-Illegal usage of a driving license

Vehicle Code 12500 - Driving without a License

Driving without a proper driving license is illegal in California, according to VC 12500. It is important to keep in mind that the driving license doesn't need to be issued in the state. It can come from any state provided it meets the following criteria:

  • It was given to the motorist by the country or state where he or she lives
  • It is presently functional for the car type being driven by the motorist

Vehicle Code 12951 - Failure to Show a Driver's License

California's VC 12951 makes it illegal for a driver to:

  • Operate a vehicle without having a valid driver's license
  • Fail to show their driving permit to a law enforcement official

It's worth noting that someone could be charged with both:

  • Vehicle Code 12500, in addition to
  • Vehicle Code 12951

Vehicle Code 14610 - Illegal Use of a Driver's License

This law criminalizes the use of a driving permit illegally. Illegal usage occurs when someone:

  • Owns a license that has been suspended or revoked
  • Gives their driving license to someone else
  • Fails to return a suspended driver's license
  • Permits someone to use a driver's license in an unauthorized manner, and
  • Modifies or copies a license

Find a Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Based on the specifics of the accusations, a good defense strategy could be used to help lower or have the allegations against you dismissed. Our attorneys at the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm are ready to help defend your freedom and rights. Call us at 951-946-6366.