Vehicle Code 14601
Driving On A Suspended Or Revoked License
Driving with a Suspended License in California
Driving a motor vehicle is considered a privilege, not a right. If you are driving on a suspended or revoked license in California and are stopped by the police, you may be arrested and your vehicle may be impounded.
The impounding of your vehicle may cause additional problems if convicted under Vehicle Code 14601, because the violator will need to pay expensive tow and impound fees in order to release the vehicle.
How Did My License Get Suspended?
There are several ways the courts can suspend your driver’s license. Your license can even be suspended for violating completely unrelated conditions, as a form of “sanctioning”:
- Refusal to provide a blood or breath sample if you are required to submit to chemical testing after a DUI arrest;
- Negligent driving resulting in bodily injury or death to another person;
- Positive chemical test indicating that you were driving under the influence of drugs (legal or illegal);
- A DUI conviction;
- Reckless driving – for example, driving erratically or street racing;
- Failing to pay a traffic fine, such as a speeding ticket;
- Failure to pay court-ordered child support;
- Failure to appear in court;
- A documented mental or physical impairment;
- Habitual Traffic Offender status – violating traffic laws far too often
- Driving in excess of 100 miles per hour;
- The DMV flags you as a ‘negligent operator’ *see below*
The DMV may restrict, suspend or even revoke the driving privileges of a California driver under the Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS). In California, you are considered a negligent operator if you accumulate:
- 4 points in a 12-month period;
- 6 points in a 24-months period; or
- 8 points in a 36-month period
Various traffic violations (infractions) qualify as “1 point” vehicle code violations. Felony crimes, such as DUI, reckless driving, hit & run and evading a police officer are “2 point” vehicle code violations (including out-of-state felonies)
Prosecuting Vehicle Code 14601
In order to be convicted with the crime of “Driving on a Suspended License”, the prosecution needs to prove ALL OF THE FOLLOWING beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant was operating a vehicle on a public road; AND
- The defendant’s license was suspended or revoked; AND
- The defendant was aware that their license was suspended or revoked
It’s important to note that the drivers license continues to be suspended or revoked until it is officially reinstated. Just because the time limit on a suspension ends does not automatically reinstate driving privileges (People v. Gutierrez (1998))
The crime of Driving On A Suspended Or Revoked License is a misdemeanor.
However, not all offenses are treated the same. The penalties may be harsher depending on the reason for the original suspension:
- California Vehicle Code Section 1401.1: A charge of Vehicle Code Section 14601(a) is the general statute for this offense. On a first time offense it could include some jail time.
- California Vehicle Code Section 14601.2: Driving on a suspended license in California after their license was suspended for a DUI will face harsher penalties which may include:
- 10 days to 6 months in jail
- $300 to $1,000 in fines, plus administrative fees
- 3 to 5 years of probation
- You may be required to put an ‘ignition interlock device’ on your car
- California Vehicle Code Section 14601.3: The most severe punishment is for the Habitual Traffic Offenders. These are people who are caught and convicted on two or more occasions for driving on a suspended or revoked license in a year period.
- First Time: Mandatory sentence of 30 days in jail (consecutive) in addition to a $1,000 fine.
- Second Time: Mandatory 180 days in jail (consecutive) and a $2,000 fine.
Defending Vehicle Code 14601
As with any crime, each case is unique and it’s best to consult your Criminal Defense Lawyer. With that said, here are the most common ‘general defenses’ for CA VC 14601:
- Lack of Knowledge of Suspension
- Invalid Suspension
- Driving on a valid restricted license
- Not actually driving a motor vehicle on a public road
- Improper stop or police procedure
The lack of the knowledge of the suspension is one of the stronger defenses to fighting a 14601 charge. There are many situations in which a lack of knowledge may arise, including the defendant did not receive the notice of action in the mail. In some instances, a good defense attorney can be persuaded that the mailed notice (even if not undeliverable) fails to comply with the law standard of “actual knowledge”.
A VC 14601.1(a) general offense is sometimes treated as a “wobblette”, which means that the courts may reduce the offense from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Most defendants would prefer to have an infraction on their record rather than a misdemeanor conviction for employment purposes and other background checks.
Again, talk to an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney to see what can be done to minimize damage to your criminal record.
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