California Vehicle Code 14601(a) - Driving on a Suspended License

You risk future driving privileges by operating a motor vehicle while your driver’s license is suspended. A conviction for this offense could result in your license being suspended even longer, it could be revoked, and you would face fines and/or possible jail time. There are also long-term consequences associated with a poor driving record.

It’s highly recommended you find a criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in fighting these charges. An effective legal defense could potentially get maximum charges reduced depending on the circumstances of your case. For a thorough explanation of this statute, let’s take a look at how California defines driving on a suspended license.

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Definition of Driving on a Suspended License

California defines this statute under Vehicle Code 14601(a). This law states it is a crime to operate a motor vehicle while your driver’s license is suspended. A suspended or revoked license means your driving privileges are stripped for an indeterminate period. You commit this crime when you:

  • Operate a motor vehicle while your driver’s license is suspended or revoked; and
    • Either by court order or DMV notice,
    • Due to one’s incompetence, recklessness, or negligence,
    • Or for refusing chemical tests during a DUI/DUID investigation.
  • You knew your license was suspended or revoked at the time you were pulled over.
    • Knowing you are legally barred from driving means you received a statement of notice from the DMV regarding your license suspension or revocation.
      • The DMV is tasked with mailing this notice to your last/current known address.
      • If the notice is not returned, the assumption is that the document was successfully received by the defendant.

The consequences of receiving this Vehicle Code violation are also determined by the reason the driver’s license was suspended, to begin with. Being stripped of your legal ability to drive could have an unfortunate cascade effect outside of court. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for a poor driving record to impact job opportunities and future auto-insurance policies.

Associated Offenses

There are related laws that if frequently violated could result in legally suspended or revoked driving privileges. Getting charged with driving on a suspended license is commonly associated with these offenses.

California Vehicle Code 22350, basic speeding law;

Driving your vehicle over the posted speed limit and driving a vehicle at a speed greater than what is considered reasonable is a traffic crime.

California Vehicle Code 23103, reckless driving;

This crime is committed when someone intentionally drives a vehicle in an unsafe manner with a total disregard for the safety of other motorists, pedestrians, or property.

California Vehicle Code 23109(c), the exhibition of speed;

It is a crime to commit, aid, or abet in the acceleration of a vehicle at a dangerous speed just to show-off. This is also referred to as the exhibition of speed or speed ex.

California Vehicle Code 23152(a), driving under the influence of alcohol;

You commit this crime by driving your motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

California Vehicle Code 23152(f), driving under the influence of drugs;

You commit this crime by operating your motor vehicle while under the influence of illicit substances.

The Prosecution

There are several facts of the case the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to get a conviction for VC 14601(a). The following outlines these factors also referred to as the elements of the crime:

  • You were driving/operating an automobile, and
    • This implies that you started the motor vehicle, placed it into gear, and drove it.
    • The distance traveled is irrelevant.
  • You driver’s license was suspended or revoked, and
    • This includes whether it was a court-ordered suspension,
    • Suspended due to refusing to submit to chemical-tests in regards to a DUI/D charge, or
    • Revoked due to reckless driving, negligence, incompetence or an unsafe driving record.
  • At the time you were driving, you knew that your driver’s license was suspended or revoked.
    • You were aware that your driving privileges were suspended or revoked because you received the notice from the California DMV.

The facts of the case may seem crystal clear to the prosecution, giving them a swift platform to confidently pursue a conviction. It is for this reason that the accused should seek legal representation as soon as possible. The allegations will not seem so devastating when you have the help of an expert criminal defense attorney.

Who Can Be Charged

Let’s take a look at the different situations that can be lead to being charged with driving on a suspended license under VC 14601(a).

Example 1:

Perry wanted to pick up groceries and didn’t want to walk in the rain to get them. Knowing his driver’s license was suspended due to an unreasonable amount of speeding tickets, he still chose to drive the three blocks it took to get to the corner market. On his way home he rolls through a stop sign and gets pulled over.

Perry could face charges for VC 14601(a), driving on a suspended license and VC 22450, failing to stop at a stop sign. Inconvenient weather and a short distance are not good enough reasons to violate his legal driver’s license suspension. Possible penalties would include traffic tickets, points on your driving record, fines and/or potential jail time.

Example 2:

Yolanda had a suspended driver’s license for multiple DUI’s. She was pulled over for speeding and was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol. The results of the DUI investigation revealed she had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than 0.08 percent.

Not only will Yolanda face steeper DUI penalties, but her suspended license could very well be revoked for much longer than she would expect. Depending on the severity of her driving record, she could face additional charges under VC 14601.3 for being a habitual traffic offender (HTO).

If this is Yolanda’s first HTO offense, she would face as long as one month in county jail and up to one thousand dollars in fines. However, because she was pulled over for speeding and driving with a BAC above 0.08%, VC 23152(b), she could also accrue speeding tickets, a revoked license for longer than six months, more jail time, and mandatory attendance to a California DUI traffic school for up to nine months.

Example 3:

Vasily received a suspended driver’s license for refusing a chemical test regarding a DUID charge. He knew he had no driving privileges, but thought he could still drive his motorcycle without it. Vasily was pulled over for an unsafe lane change and received a ticket.

He would face charges under VC 14601(a) because a motorcycle is still considered a restricted motorized vehicle and therefore included in his license suspension. Vasiliy would also receive points on his driving record and a ticket for VC 22107, unsafe lane change.

Example 4:

Stan’s license was suspended for a misdemeanor record of multiple speed ex violations. He went to a party with his friend, Ron. After too many drinks, Ron was visibly intoxicated and unable to drive them back home. Stan, thinking he was doing the right thing, decided to drive them back home. Stan caught the suspicion of police officers when he took a right turn that was unreasonably too wide.

After a breathalyzer test, Stan did not test positive for alcohol consumption. He admitted he grew nervous when he spotted the police car in the neighborhood. That aside, he is still guilty of driving on a suspended license. Although he assumed being a designated driver for his friend was out of necessity, it could be argued that they could have called a cab or asked another friend to give them a ride home. This would not be an acceptable defense to avoid charges under VC 14601(a), especially considering the simple alternatives to their predicament.

The Legal Defense

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will have the expertise to recognize which legal defense route would produce the most desirable outcome. They would also be aware of the most common legal defenses that have been used to fight charges for VC 14601(a).

Was It An Extenuating Circumstance?

Driving can be considered a necessity depending on the reason. There are intense situations that may require someone to operate a motor vehicle even when aware of their suspended license. This defense would require an adequately valid explanation for the defendant to violate VC 14601(a).

Example:

Mickey needed to get his wife to the hospital because she was in labor. Although they had called an ambulance the ETA was unknown. Seeing how much pain his wife was in and worried about her life and the life of their unborn child, he sped to the hospital. A police officer attempted to pull Mickey over as he pulled up in front of the hospital’s emergency doors. Without a seconds delay, he exited his vehicle, grabbed a wheelchair just inside the ER entrance, and helped his wife into it.

Mickey is facing a speeding ticket and driving on a suspended license offense. However, he could argue against the VC 14601(a) facts because he only chose to commit the crime when he reasonably believed the lives of his wife and unborn child were in danger of severe injury or death. This would be considered a valid emergency. This type of defense is sometimes referred to as guilty with a logical excuse. Mickey only drove on a restricted license out of medical necessity and was found to be justified in his actions.

Lack of Knowledge

To be guilty of driving on a suspended license under VC 14601(a), the defendant must have reasonably known their driving privileges were legally suspended or revoked. The DMV is tasked with sending a statement to the defendant, providing them with written notice of their license suspension. Unsurprisingly, there are instances where the driver was not aware their license was suspended because they did not receive the notice.

Example:

Niki was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The officer discovered her license was suspended and told her she would be facing charges for violating VC 14601(a). However, Niki was completely surprised and relayed that she did not know her privileges had been revoked. She had recently moved and did not know that her old address had received the notice from the DMV.

Niki would not be guilty of driving on a suspended license because she would have to know about the said suspension. Her lack of knowledge means this case does not meet all of the facts required for a VC 14601(a) conviction. 

Was the license suspended?

Your driver’s license has to be legally suspended for you to face charges for VC 14601(a). You cannot face this offense if you had a legal driver’s license at the time you were pulled over and/or if the DMV has not processed nor sent out the notice.

Example:

Jose had a bad habit of speeding and driving without proper identification, such as his driver’s license, vehicle registration, or his proof of auto insurance card. He would forget to put them in his glove compartment and would always forget his wallet. Due to his incompetence, the tickets had continued to pile up. Once he accumulated too many, it directly impacted the points on his driving record and the DMV took notice. They processed a notice of suspension for him but failed to send it out. Jose was pulled over for speeding and the officer charged him with driving on a suspended license.

However, the DMV had not sent the notice out so it was technically still being processed on their end. Not only is Jose unaware of the decision, but he would not be guilty of VC 14601(a) if the notice was still in the possession of the DMV.

Example 2:

Continuing with the example above, let’s say Jose’s license was reinstated once his penalties were met. Soon after, he was pulled over because the officer claimed the vehicle fit the description of a car that was reported stolen. After reviewing the license and car registration, the officer accused Jose of driving on a suspended license.

Fortunately, with the help of his legal counsel, Jose was able to fight charges by providing proof that he had met all court-ordered punishments. He was able to provide proof his driver’s license was no longer suspended at the time that he was pulled over.

Penalties for VC 14601(a)

If convicted of driving on a suspended license under VC 14601(a), you face misdemeanor penalties. The punishments are determined by the reason your driving privileges were suspended in the first place.

When the suspended license was due to driving under the influence of alcohol, unlawful BAC, or drugs OR for refusing a chemical test, you face these punishments under VC 14601.2;

Misdemeanor;

Informal (misdemeanor) probation for up to three years,

Up to six months in county jail,

Fines of up to one thousand dollars, and/or

Possible installation of an IID (ignition interlock device).

Under VC 14601.3, if the license suspension was due to being an HTO (habitual traffic offender), you face:

Misdemeanor (first offense);

As long as one month in county jail, and

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Misdemeanor (second or subsequent offenses);

A potential county jail sentence of up to six months, and

Up to two thousand dollars in fines.

When the suspended driver’s license was due to other reasons of incompetence, negligence, or reckless behavior, you face:

Misdemeanor;

Up to three years of summary (informal) probation,

As long as six months in county jail, and/or

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Enhanced Penalties

It must be said that legal punishments will not include the additional consequences you face from auto-insurance companies and the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). You could face increased financial rates from automobile insurance providers.

Also, California’s DMV implements a point system based on your driving record. The number of points that accumulate indicates how often you received traffic tickets or were involved in car accidents. If you surpass a certain amount of points the DMV can suspend or revoke your driving privileges indefinitely.

Penalties for Similar Offenses

A driver’s license getting suspended or revoked is usually due to a record of associated Vehicle Code violations. If any of these crimes were committed while you were driving on a suspended or revoked license, you will face both sets of penalties.

California Vehicle Code 22350, basic speeding law;

Speeding tickets ranging from seventy-five to over two-hundred dollars,

Points added to driving record,

Possible driver’s license suspension, or

If your speeding resulted in an automobile accident, you could face negligence charges.

California Vehicle Code 23103, reckless driving;

Misdemeanor;

Up to ninety days in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Misdemeanor - (causing minor injury);

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony - (causing serious injury);

Up to three years in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to ten thousand dollars.

California Vehicle Code 23109(c), the exhibition of speed;

Infraction;

Fines of up to two-hundred-fifty dollars.

Misdemeanor;

Informal (misdemeanor) probation;

A county jail sentence of up to 3 months, and/or

Up to five hundred dollars in fines.

California Vehicle Code 23152(a), driving under the influence of alcohol;

Misdemeanor;

Up to six months in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars,

Possible mandatory IID (ignition interlock device) installed for up to 6 months, and

Enrollment in DUI school for a period of three or nine months.

California Vehicle Code 23152(f), driving under the influence of drugs;

Misdemeanor;

3 to 5 years of informal (summary) DUI probation,

Fines at or greater than three hundred ninety dollars,

Enrollment in DUI school for up to three months,

Your driver’s license is suspended for up to six months.

Who Can Help

If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Orange County, or Los Angeles we can help. At the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum, we understand how overwhelming it can feel to fight criminal charges without adequate legal counsel. As a former prosecutor turned highly praised criminal defense lawyer, Attorney Yum has extensive knowledge of the most effective ways to fight for your rights.

If you are facing charges for any of the aforementioned offenses, don’t hesitate to contact us and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. You can give us a call at 619-233-4433 or use our online contact form.

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