Defenses to Driving on a Suspended License Charge

Defenses to Driving on a Suspended License Charge

Driving Without the Right

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can suspend or revoke your license for many reasons, some of which are unrelated to driving. Many people need a car to get around California where public transportation is lacking, and this creates a problem. If you need a car to work and take care of your family, but your license is suspended, what are your options? If you’re thinking your best option is to keep driving as necessary and take the risk, you should think again.

California has stringent laws on driving on a suspended license. A criminal charge in and of itself, driving while your license is suspended can result in a longer license suspension, fines, or even jail time. Let’s look at the specifics of this law and possible defenses against the charge.   

Under California Vehicle Code 14601(a), it is a crime to drive on a suspended or revoked license if you have knowledge of said suspension or revocation. It’s simple enough to claim you didn’t realize your license was suspended when caught driving, but that won’t be enough to clear your name. The court conclusively presumes your knowledge of the suspension if the DMV mailed you a notice of the suspension or revocation and the effective date, and the notice was not returned to the DMV as being unclaimed or undeliverable. The DMV is only required to send the notice first-class and doesn’t need to have proof of receipt for the notice to be served legally.

So, even if you never read the notice or it never made it to your current address, you could still be found guilty of driving on a suspended license. This is just one reason why you should always update your address with the DMV as soon as you move.

Given these specifications, defenses to such a charge are limited but include:

  • You didn’t know your license was suspended or revoked
  • The suspension or revocation was invalid
  • You had the right to drive despite your suspension (i.e. you had a restricted license)

Lack of knowledge of the suspension is a common defense to driving on a suspended license charge. Sometimes notices aren’t sent, or protocol isn’t followed, so the notice isn’t properly delivered. You are not guilty of driving on a suspended license if you had no idea your license was suspended.

Likewise, you are not guilty if the suspension was invalid or if your license was suspended, but you had a restricted right to drive. Keep in mind that if you were driving outside your restriction or the terms of your restricted license, you could not use this as a defense.

When charged as a misdemeanor crime, a first conviction of driving on a suspended license is punishable by no less than five days but up to six months in a county jail and a fine of between $300 and $1,000. A second conviction within a five-year look back period is punishable by no less than ten days but up to a year in a county jail and a fine of between $500 and $2,000. Your prior criminal history and the reason why your license was suspended in the first place will influence your sentence. Those who drive an employer-owned vehicle during the course of employment can drive only on private property. You may also face involvement with the DMV if the charge adds points to your driving record or if you were considered a negligent operator.

If your license is suspended and you were caught driving, consider working with an experienced California driving crime defense attorney to fight your charges. Your possible defenses are limited, but they could be successfully leveraged to get your case dismissed. Speak with an attorney about your charges, the specifics of your license suspension, and your options for handling your case. An attorney can try to fight your charges or get you a favorable plea bargain.

Are you facing charges for driving on a suspended license? If so, contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for expert counsel. Experienced in driving crime defense, our Visalia area legal team can advise you of your options and help you take steps to reinstate your license and fight your charges. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Christopher Martens will aggressively defend your rights at trial and help you get the outcome you want. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com for a free consultation.

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