Driving Without a License

Driving Without a License

Driving without a driver’s license is a criminal offense in California. It is not an infraction, but a misdemeanor. You could possibly do jail time and a conviction becomes part of your criminal record. In fact, a conviction for driving without a license is likely to appear on a background check. If you have been charged with driving without a driver’s license, you should contact Damian Siwek, an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, at DCS Defense to schedule a no-cost confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.

Driving Without a License California Law

According to California Vehicle Code Section §12500, you cannot drive in California without a valid driver’s license. The license must be specific to the type of vehicle you drive. For example, if you drive a motorcycle, you must be licensed to drive a motorcycle. Visitors to the state of California can drive with a valid license from their home state. However, once a driver becomes a resident of California, he or she must obtain a California driver’s license within 10 days of establishing residency. California residency is established in a variety of ways, such as voting in a California state election, paying resident tuition at a college or university and filing for a property tax exemption. If you have been cited for driving without a license, you or your attorney must appear in court on the date that appears on the citation. If you fail to do so, a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest for a failure to appear (FTA).

It is relatively simple for the prosecution to convict a person of driving without a license. They must prove that you were driving. But you must prove that you do have a license. If you actually do have a license, but you were not able to produce it when you were pulled over, you will be charged with an infraction under California Vehicle Code section §12951. Once you prove to the court that you have a valid license, the charge is dismissed and you will have to pay a $25 fee for a fix it citation. If you have no driver’s license, or if your license is expired or invalid, you face the penalties outlined below.

Penalties For Driving Without a License

In California, Driving Without a License is a “wobbler,” meaning prosecutors can charge it as a misdemeanor or infraction. Your driving history is the main issue taken into account in determining whether to charge the violation as a misdemeanor. First time offenders are frequently charged with infractions, which are not considered criminal violations and do not go on your criminal record.

Misdemeanor Driving Without A License

  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • Up to a $1,000 fine, plus fees and penalties which can add thousands of dollars to the total fine
  • Up to 3 years Informal probation
  • Up to 30-day car impoundment.

Infraction Driving Without a License Penalty

  • Up to $250 fine, plus fees.

Even if you have been charged with a misdemeanor, the prosecutor may agree to dismiss the charge or reduce it to an infraction if you are able to obtain your driver’s license within a reasonable period of time.  At DCS Defense we have had great success in convincing the prosecution to postpone the criminal proceedings to give a client time to obtain his or her license. In these circumstances, the misdemeanor charges have been reduced to infractions or dismissed completely.

Why Was My Car Impounded?

Under California Vehicle Code Sections §14602.6 and §14607.6, your car is subject to being towed and impounded for 30 days if you drive a vehicle with a suspended license, a revoked license, or if you do not have a valid driver’s license. These laws are strictly enforced in Los Angeles. If your car is impounded then you are subject to paying towing and impoundment fees for 30 days which could add up to well over $1000. In some cases, your car could be forfeited and sold off at auction.

Driving on a Suspended v. Driving Without a License

Driving without a license under California Vehicle Code §12500 is not the same offense as driving on a suspended license. Driving on a suspended license (California Vehicle Code §14601) is a misdemeanor and a more serious offense in California that comes with harsher penalties.

Illegal Aliens Driving Without a License

As any California resident will tell you, it is difficult to work if you can’t drive. Only people with United States Citizenship or lawful Unites States residency may obtain a California driver’s license. Undocumented immigrants are prohibited from legally obtaining a California driver’s license. This results in a plethora of immigrants driving without valid licenses. If an illegal immigrant is charged with driving without a license, there is no way to legally obtain one. Therefore, the option for having the misdemeanor reduced to an infraction or having a case dismissed can be very tricky. Getting the charge reduced or dismissed is extremely important, as having a criminal record may make it difficult for the individual to obtain a green card or citizenship in the future.


Like any traffic offense in California, the initial traffic stop must be valid. The police officer cannot stop drivers randomly and arbitrarily, but must have a “reasonable suspicion” that a traffic violation has occurred. Therefore, if the traffic stop was not legal, then the case may be dismissed. If possible, however, promptly applying for and obtaining a valid driver’s license remains the best defense. Other potential defenses include the driver being unaware that the license was suspended, driving with a license you believed was valid in another state, or driving without a license due to an extreme emergency.

We Can Help

It may be tempting to simply accept a plea bargain offered by the prosecutor for Driving Without a License. But if you plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, you are going to have a criminal record, which may harm you in the future, by appearing in background checks conducted by future employers, landlords, creditors, and personal acquaintances.

For aggressive and effective representation against driving without a license charge, including a free confidential consultation, contact Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Damian Siwek at DCS Defense.