The first prerequisite to driving in California is having a valid driver's license with you at all times; unless you are exempt from having one, for example, you are a state or federal official who is driving an official vehicle for official business. Most drivers will have their license suspended for several traffic violations. If the DMV suspends your license, you need to arrange other means of transport to avoid getting into trouble with the law. However, if you do find yourself being arrested for driving with a suspended license, you can always hire the Orange County Criminal Lawyer to help you fight the charges against you.


California Vehicle Code 14601 makes it illegal to drive when your license is suspended. A license suspension means that you are barred from driving until you follow the legal procedures to have your driving privileges reinstated.

When you are arrested for driving on a suspended license, the prosecution will prove two elements for a conviction to take place:

You were driving while your license was suspended

At the time of driving, you knew or should have known that your driving privileges were suspended

The prosecution will examine several factors to prove that you knew of the license suspension. These factors include:

  • The DMV mailed you a letter notifying you of the suspension
  • The notice was mailed to the most recent address you updated with the DMV, the Court or any other law enforcement agency
  • The notice was not returned as wither unclaimed or undeliverable
  • A police officer served you with a notice of suspension when arresting you for an offense that leads to driver's license suspension such as a DUI
  • The judge informed you about your license suspension during sentencing

These factors provide a presumption of knowledge for the jury and the prosecution. However, they are not concrete proof of your knowledge about the suspension. Your defense lawyer can, therefore, challenge these points to show that you did not know of the suspension.

Common Reasons for Driver's License Suspension in California

California suspends driver's licenses for a variety of reasons, either as part of administrative penalties by the DMV or as part of a criminal conviction. The laws regarding license suspension keep changing as times change. For example, the DMV no longer suspends licenses over unpaid tickets. A lawyer will help you understand the laws that are still in use and new statutes that have been added.

Here are the common reasons:

License Suspension for Specific Offenses

Your license may be suspended for committing the following offenses:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Reckless driving
  • A mental or physical condition that impairs your ability to drive safely
  • You have attained the negligent or incompetent operator status

License Suspension for General Offenses

VC 14601.1 prohibits you from driving a vehicle with the knowledge that your driver's license has been suspended for any reason. Generally, the Court will presume that you know of the suspension of your driving list if the DMV mailed you a suspension notice, and it was not returned as undeliverable or unclaimed.

License Suspension for A DUI

DUI arrests and convictions are the common causes of driver's license suspensions in California. The first instance of suspension happens after you are arrested. The police officer replaces your license with a temporary slip that is valid for thirty days. If you do not schedule a hearing with the DMV in ten days after you are arrested, then your license is automatically suspended. If you drive after the thirty days, you will be arrested for violating VC 14601.

If the criminal case ends in a conviction, your license will be suspended for a period between six months and five years, depending on the nature of the offense and the circumstances surrounding it. If you drive during this period, you are also guilty of driving on a suspended license.

License Suspension for Habitual Traffic Offenders

VC 14601.3 defines a habitual traffic offender as a person who accumulated points on his or her driving record for driving with a suspended or revoked license. The elements of a habitual traffic offender include:

  • You drove a vehicle
  • While your driving privileges were revoked
  • You knew of the revocation or suspension
  • You have the following within 12 months of the license suspension
  • At least two convictions that earned two points on your DMV record
  • At least three conviction that earned a point on your DMV record
  • At least three or more accident subject to VC 16000 reporting requirements

License Suspension for Chemical Test Refusals

VC 14601.5 makes it illegal to drive when you know that your driving privileges are suspended for DUI offenses and chemical test refusals.

Refusing to take a chemical test after a lawful arrest leads to penalties such as a mandatory license suspension regardless of the outcome of your DUI criminal proceedings. 

Other DUI related offense that could lead to the suspension of your California driver's license includes:

  • Underage DUI coupled with a refusal to take a preliminary alcohol screening
  • Committing a DUI offense while on probation (including driving with a BAC of 0.01%)
  • Violating commercial DUI laws by having a BAC of .04% while operating a commercial vehicle

Other reasons that contribute to the suspension of your license include:

  • Failure to acquire auto insurance
  • Failure to appear for Court scheduled hearings
  • Failure to pay court-ordered child support

Penalties for Driving on a Suspended License

Regardless of the cause, license suspension has the same effect of limiting your ability to move around in your car. When licenses are suspended, most people fall into the temptation of driving with a suspended license and hope they will not get caught.

California punishes driving with a suspended license as a misdemeanor. However, the penalties vary depending on factors like:

  • The reason for the suspension
  • Previous convictions for driving with a suspended license
  • California's and out of state convictions for offenses driving offenses
  • Driving with a suspended license can attract higher and stricter penalties if you have a prior conviction or are a commercial driver.

The penalties include:

A county jail term of between 5 days and six months and a fine of $300-$1000 if your license was suspended for offenses such as reckless driving

If your license was suspended for general offenses under VC, 14601.1, then you will be incarcerated in a county jail for six months and pay a fine of up to $1000.

If your license was suspended for a DUI, you might be jailed for ten days to six months in a county jail in addition to paying a fine, not in excess of $1000. You will also be required to install an ignition interlock device

If you are a habitual traffic offender and you drive with a suspended license, you will be incarcerated in a county jail for thirty days and pay a fine of $1000

For license suspension arising from the refusal to take a chemical test or DUI offenses, you will spend a maximum of six months in county jail and pay up to $1000 in fines

Legal Defenses

Driving with a suspended license may seem like a minor offense on the outset. However, it has the potential of tainting your criminal and driving records. It may result in fines and jail time. Regardless of the consequences, the right criminal defense lawyer can help you fight the charges to get a reduced sentence or dismissal of the charges. Here are some applicable defenses:

Lack of Knowledge

The law requires that the prosecution prove that you were aware of the suspension of your license when driving. While the law includes some parameters for determining knowledge, these parameters do not cover all the scenarios. Here is how your lawyer can dispute the 'knowledge' element:

  • The notice was mailed to an old address, and you did not receive forwarded mail
  • Unlawful arrest or failure to follow the procedure

If your lawyer can successfully cast doubt in the minds of the jury, then the battle is half won since you cannot be convicted for a crime of which you are unaware.

The Suspension Period Was Over

If you were previously convicted for an offense that led to the suspension of your driver's license, you are not allowed to drive until you have reinstated your license. Where the suspension period has expired, and you are arrested, your lawyer can negotiate for a reduction or dismissal of charges by:

  • Proving that the period of suspension had elapsed at the time of the arrest
  • You had fulfilled all the conditions set by the Court and the DMV such as completing a drug treatment program, showing proof of insurance and have fulfilled the conditions of probation.

In most cases, the prosecution may reduce the charges or dismiss them, especially if you are already involved in restoring your driving privileges.

You Had a Restricted License at the Time of the Arrest

The DMV issues restricted licenses to offenders who have a critical need to drive. The license covers travel to and from:

  • School and work
  • A court-ordered California DUI school
  • Any other location approved by the Court

Your lawyer will have to prove that you were driving within the limits of your restricted license.

The License Suspension Was Invalid

Your lawyer can apply various strategies to show that the license was suspended unlawfully in situations such as:

  • The evidence used as the basis for the suspension was acquired illegally
  • No cause for suspension

If the suspension on your license was unlawful, then your charges will be dismissed. Your lawyer will also examine the situation surrounding your arrest to determine whether any of your constitutional rights are violated. For example, if a police officer stops you without probable cause (unless at a checkpoint that meets all the legal standards); they are violating your rights.

Plea Bargain

Plea bargains are a common pre-trial defense strategy that the criminal justice system embraces to reduce or dismiss charges so that they can focus their efforts and resources on more serious offenses. Your lawyer can negotiate for a dismissal or reduction of charges, especially for first-time offenders with a relatively clean criminal record.

Where the previous suspension period has elapsed, your lawyer can get the charges reduced to driving without a license or failure to show a license by helping you restore your driving privileges during the pre-trial phase.

An offense such as driving without a license is convicted as either a misdemeanor or an infraction, meaning that the potential penalties are lower. Your lawyer could also use a plea bargain to have your charges reduced to a lesser charge, and then initiate a sentence reduction negotiation to reduce the sentence.

Protecting Yourself from Charges for VC 14601 Violations

Since charges for driving with a suspended license bear serious consequences, it is ideal that you protect yourself, even before you violate the law. Here are ways you could do this:

Request A DMV Hearing

When you are arrested for a DUI or related offense, the arresting officer notifies you of the pending suspension on your license. He or she replaces your license with a temporary notice of suspension, notifying you that the suspension takes effect after thirty days. The DMV will also notify you of a pending suspension on your license for non-DUI related offenses.

You should schedule a hearing with the DMV within ten days of your DUI-related arrest. The DMV allocates the ten-day window to allow interested parties to challenge the suspension on their driver's licenses. If you miss this window, your license suspension takes effect in thirty days. The hearing allows you to postpone the hearing until the conclusion of the DMV hearing.

Always hire a lawyer who is familiar with the DMV statutes and procedures so to increase the chances of you winning. The DMV allows your lawyer to represent you physically or through the phone at the hearing.

Get a Restricted License

The first step towards getting a restricted license involves requesting a DMV hearing to challenge your license suspension. To apply for a restricted license, you need:

  • A restricted license fee of $125 payable to your local DMV office
  • A certificate of enrollment in a court-approved DUI program (for a DUI-related suspension)
  • An SR-22 certificate
  • A $250 financial responsibility fine

A restricted license allows you to drive to several locations, such as:

  • To, from and during work
  • To a medical facility for serious conditions
  • To and from the school of a minor dependent, only allowed in cases where you can neither access public transport nor school bus transportation

Note that you cannot get a restricted license if the suspension was due to:

  • Failure to pay child support
  • Failure to appear in court\a medical or physical condition that impairs your ability to drive

Getting a restricted license allows you to retain some of your driving privileges until you meet the requirements for restoring your unrestricted license.

Arrange For Other Means of Transport

You might organize other means of transport such as a cab, public transportation, or carpooling. You might also request a friend or relative to drive you to run your errands. If you can afford it, you may hire a driver, especially if you move around a lot in a vehicle, for example, because you are a salesperson.

Install an IID

California now allows drivers whose licenses were suspended for DUI related offenses to install an ignition interlock device instead of having a suspended license. An IID allows you to drive without restrictions on the condition that you give regular breath samples while driving. The samples measure your BAC levels and submit a log to the Court. The log shows your drinking and driving trends. 

Usually, you can apply for an IID after a few months or a year, depending on the offense for which you were convicted. You may also be required to install an IID as part of the conditions of a restricted license.

Reinstate Your License

Reinstating your California driver's license is the best way of avoiding driving with a suspended license by restoring your unrestricted driving privileges. The procedure for reinstating your California driver's license depends on the reason for suspension and may include some of the following requirements:

  • Complete the conditions of your sentencing such as DUI school, probation or incarceration term
  • Provide an SR-22 certificate as proof of insurance
  • Pay the DMV reinstatement fee
  • Clear any related court fees
  • Present the necessary documentation to the DMV for processing

Once your license is issued, you cannot be arrested for driving on a suspended license. In addition, it can contribute to reduced or dismissed charges in case you are already facing charges for driving with a suspended license.

California Commercial Driver's License

Did you know that your personal driving record could affect your commercial driver's license? Offenses related to driving that reflect on your driving personal driving record will most likely lead to the suspension of your commercial driving privileges.

Once your personal license is suspended, you lose your commercial driver's rights as well. This means that you can be arrested for driving with a suspended license if you operate a commercial vehicle while your non-commercial driver's license is suspended.

Some of the circumstances under which a commercial driver's license can be suspended include:

  • Breaking any California DUI law
  • Committing a hit and run offense
  • Causing the death of someone else while driving a commercial vehicle
  • Committing a felony using a commercial motor vehicle
  • Carrying an oversized load
  • Falsifying or failing to keep a logbook
  • Speeding (above 15 miles per hour) while towing a trailer
  • Driving on a road for which you are not allowed due to your grade level
  • Possessing multiple commercial driver's licenses

If you commit offenses such as two consecutive DUIs within ten years, your commercial driver's license will be suspended for life. You will, therefore, be violating VC 14601 laws by driving a commercial vehicle with a suspended license.

Depending on the cause of suspension, you may reinstate your license after one or three years and sometimes after ten years.

Before you restore your CDL, you have to ensure that your non-commercial license is in good standing. If you had downgraded the license to a non-commercial driver's license, you need to reapply for a CDL afresh. The DMV will issue you with forms that you should fill to complete the process. In addition, you should pay the fees required before your license can be processed. This means that you have to complete all Court imposed conditions and requirements for being convicted for a crime.

If you have a relatively clean driving record, you may qualify for a restricted commercial driver's license. The license, which is available to DUI offenders, allows you to drive to various court-approved locations. Some of the considerations that DMV makes before issuing a restricted CDL include:

  • Your driving history in the last ten years
  • You complied with taking a BAC test
  • You were aged 21 or above at the time of the arrest
  • Your license has not been suspended for any other reason

As with a personal license, you will need to show proof of enrollment in a DUI school, proof of financial responsibilities and a $125 reinstatement fee. The restricted CDL is valid for five months, after which the suspension resumes until the suspension period ends.

If you are a commercial driver in California, you are bound by strict driving rules due to the risk commercial motor vehicles pose, when operated negligently. The state has strict requirements that govern the way you drive and interact with other motorists. Violating these laws could result in the suspension of your CDL temporarily or permanently, which could mean loss of income.

Commercial drivers who face suspension of either personal or commercial driver's licenses should contact an attorney promptly to increase their chances of restoring their license.

Find a Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Whenever you have an issue with your license or are arrested for a license violation, contact an attorney for help. You can ask for advice and help with fighting the charges against you as well as restoring your driving privileges. The Orange County Criminal Lawyer has a deep understanding of the laws involving suspended licenses in California. In addition, the years of experience and relationship with the courts and the prosecution creates a vast network of resources and expertise that the lawyers apply in every case we represent. We offer a free consultation to our clients to provide a non-obligatory consultation, which gives them an understanding of their case, and its outlook. Get your free consultation today by calling 714-262-4833.