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Driving Without a License in California

California law requires all persons who operate a motor vehicle to carry a valid driver's license. Violation of this law could result in the filing of a misdemeanor or an infraction. As a misdemeanor you could do jail time and a misdemeanor conviction becomes part of your criminal record. In fact, a conviction for driving without a license is likely to appear on a background check.

Consult with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys who can assist you in getting the offense reduced to an infraction or completely dismissed. Don't face a driver's license charge alone. Contact us and let our many years of criminal law experience work for you.

Contact our office now to discuss your legal options!

California Vehicle Code Section 12500

According to California Vehicle Code section 12500, you cannot drive in the state 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 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 criminal defense 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. 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; however, if you do not have a valid driver's license, or if your license is expired or invalid, you could face the penalties outlined below.


In California, the crime of driving without a license is a "wobblette," which means that 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 Penalty

  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • Up to a $1,000 fine, plus fees
  • 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. The criminal lawyers at Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners have had great success in convincing the prosecution to postpone 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?

In Los Angeles, your car is subject to being towed and impounded for 30 days or even forfeited 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 (California Vehicle Code sections 14602.6 and 14607.6) 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 well over $1,000. In some cases, your car could be forfeited and sold off at auction.

Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License

Driving without a license under California Vehicle Code section 12500 is not the same offense as driving on a suspended license. Driving on a suspended license (Vehicle Code section14601) is a misdemeanor and a more serious offense that comes with harsher penalties.

Illegal Immigrants Driving Without a License

As any California resident will tell you, it is difficult to work if you can't drive. Only people with U.S. citizenship or lawful residency may obtain a California driver's license. Undocumented immigrants are prohibited from legally obtaining a driver's license. This results in a lot 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.

Do I Need A California Attorney for A Driving Violation?

Since driving without a valid license can result in misdemeanor charges, hiring the right lawyer makes a lot of sense. This is especially true where the penalties for repeat offenders can mean serious jail time. If you have been cited for driving without a valid driver's license in Los Angeles county, contact us to learn about your legal options. We have the knowledge and experience to successfully handle your driving without a license violation and avoid a conviction.

Arrested in Los Angeles? Turn to Our Firm for 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. This could harm you in the future by appearing in background checks conducted by future employers, landlords, creditors, and personal acquaintances. After carefully analyzing your circumstances, an experienced defense attorney can help you resolve your case in a manner that is in your best interests.

You have options. The legal team at Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners has represented many individuals facing charges for driving without a license. We will aggressively protect your rights and freedom by providing you with the best legal defense available. We will provide you with accurate information, clearly communicate your options and answer all of your questions.

Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation with our firm. Our firm will review your case at no cost to you. Call now!

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