Driving without Valid License: CVC 12500

Driving a vehicle without a license is a criminal offense in California.  Vehicle Code section 40000.11(b) states that a violation of this section is a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is an offense that is more serious than an infraction offense and can result in jail time. It is imperative to contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney immediately if you are arrested or cited for any misdemeanor crime.

Driving without Valid License: Infractions v. Misdemeanors

A person who is Driving without a valid Driver’s License in California is guilty of a misdemeanor violation of California Vehicle Code section 12500 unless he falls under an exception.  In contrast, driving without a valid driver’s license in driver’s possession is not a misdemeanor but an infraction offense and a violation of California Vehicle Code section 12951.  An infraction is the lowest level of an offense under California law that is commonly not considered to be a crime. Because driving without a license in possession is not a “moving violation”, a conviction for CVC 12951 carries no points on the driving record and will have almost no consequences on the driver’s record in Los Angeles criminal prosecutions or with the DMV.  Also, a prosecutor can reduce a misdemeanor violation of California Vehicle Code 12500 to an infraction, which allows a driver to avoid a “criminal record” and any significant punishment associated with a misdemeanor prosecution. In our practice, it is often possible to convince a prosecutor to reduce misdemeanor violations of California Vehicle Code section 12500 for infractions. To do that you need a lawyer who can help you get a reduction to an infraction. This will allow you to avoid an entry on your “record of arrests and prosecution”, commonly known as the “RAP” sheet or one’s criminal record.

Immigration Consequences of Misdemeanor Conviction

Having any misdemeanor conviction can have devastating consequences for some persons.

  • For example, holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) with immigration service are not allowed to have any 2 misdemeanor convictions on their record and will lose their TPS legal status if they have even a misdemeanor CVC 12500 on their record.  To help TPS holders keep their immigration status, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney should negotiate a reduction of California Vehicle Code section 12500 to an infraction.  For TPS holders and other immigrants, it is very important to avoid being convicted of any misdemeanor.
  • As another example, Federal law found in 22 CFR 41.122 allows the USCIS to cancel any non-immigrant visa.  This ability to cancel usually is connected to some crime, such as any misdemeanor.
  • Lastly, because some immigration benefits are based on discretion, any conviction, even a conviction for CVC 12500 can cause the immigration officers to deny an application for status.  For example, US Government can refuse to close cases administratively when a person has a conviction, which the US Government routinely does when one does not have any criminal record.

Elements Of The Offense

Case Law establishes that knowledge is not an element of this crime, therefore even a person who does not know that his license is not valid or expired can be arrested and prosecuted for California Vehicle Code 12500 and have a criminal record after a conviction.

California Jury instructions approved for use in the prosecution of an offense of driving without a license (in violation of California Vehicle Code section 12500) are located in CalCrim Jury Instruction part 2221.

CalCrim 2221 has 3 elements that the prosecutor need to prove to a judge or jury:

  1. That the defendant drove a motor vehicle on a highway;

  2. That when the defendant drove, he or she did not have a valid California Driver’s license;

  3. And that, the defendant was not excused from the requirement to have a driver’s license.

The court will also instruct the jury that “whether the defendant was properly licensed is a matter of his or her personal knowledge. In that case, the defendant must produce evidence tending to show that he/she did hold a driver’s license.” Lastly, the court will instruct the jury on what is a motor vehicle and what is a highway. Both definitions are found elsewhere in California Vehicle Code. A definition of a “motor vehicle” is found in California Vehicle Code section 415 and a definition of a “highway” is found in Vehicle Code section 360.

  • A motor vehicle has to be “self-propelled” but it does not include motorized bicycles (excluded elsewhere in the vehicle code) or vehicles made for handicapped persons (such as tricycles and motorized wheelchairs). These vehicles are not considered to be motor vehicles that need a driver’s license to operate.
  • A highway is an area that is publicly maintained and open for travel. In other words, all travel on public property requires a driver’s license as long as the person operates a motor vehicle. In contrast, a person traveling on private property does not have to have a driver’s license.

Exemption from Licensing Requirement

If the person claims an exemption from the requirement to be licensed to operate a motor vehicle, the judge has a “sua sponte” duty to instruct the jury on the exemption. California law authorizes several exemptions for specific “types” of persons who are driving without a valid California driver’s license.

  1. One such exemption is an employee or an officer of the United States who is permitted to operate a vehicle owned by the United States on California’s roadways without a driver’s license as permitted by California Vehicle Code section 12501.
  2. Other exemptions are found in California Vehicle Code sections 12502, 12503, and 12504.

A common occurrence to be cited to court under this code section is for a non-resident of California who came here to visit or neglected to obtain a driver’s license as required by law. Driving without a valid California driver’s license is allowed as long as the driver has an out-of-state driver’s license. Once the person decides to move to California, he will become a California resident and will have to get a California driver’s license within 10 days of establishing residency.  Residency can be proven using one of the numerous methods, for example, an address where one is registered to vote or by showing something that would indicate that presence in California is more than temporary or transient.

If a person establishes residency in California, under California Vehicle Code section 12505(c), he or she is required to apply for a California driver’s license within ten days. This exemption does not apply if the person operates a motor vehicle for employment.

Punishment under the Code CVC 12500

The punishment for a violation of California Vehicle code section 12500, when charged as a misdemeanor, can include summary probation, jail time, a fine, and even arrest of your vehicle. If the vehicle is arrested, it would be impounded to a police yard (OPG) where it will be held for a specified number of days. The law authorized police to impound your vehicle for 30 days when a driver is not licensed. Usually, police will not do that for a CVC 12500 violation, preferring to use this police power in more serious violations, such as driving on a suspended license. After the expiration of the impound period, the police must issue a release that can be taken to the OPG yard for the vehicle release. You will still have to pay to the yard the cost of the tow and storage of the vehicle at the yard’s daily rate.

The maximum jail time for a violation of the California Vehicle Code section 12500 is 6 months in the county jail and a fine of $500.00 plus the penalty assessments. Despite this maximum jail time and high fine, most defendants are not sentenced to jail and are not fined more than $150.00 plus the penalty assessments. In the event the violation is reduced to an infraction, the jail time cannot be imposed. For misdemeanors, most courts will require some form of summary probation, but a “terminal disposition” (without probation) is also quite possible. A summary probation is a probation to the court where the defendant does not have to report to a probation officer. The purpose of the summary probation is to retain jurisdiction over the defendant so as to make sure he pays the necessary fines, completes all other requirements, and maintains an “arrest-free” life during the probationary period. Once the fines are paid, the defendant can ask the court to terminate the probation early and to expunge his case under PC 1203.4. Our office specializes in handling licensing offenses and is very knowledgeable about the expungement process.


EXAMPLE: You are offered a job in California with a requirement that you drive for your employer. You are not allowed to drive for your job without first applying for a California driver’s license.

Attorneys in our office have defended numerous criminal cases for Driving without a Valid License. An expired driver’s license is considered not valid and a person who drives with an expired driver’s license can be prosecuted under California Vehicle Code section 12500.

EXAMPLE: You are pulled over for a minor traffic violation and you produce a California driver’s license to the police officer upon request. Your license expired a few days ago because you neglected to renew it after having it for ten years. You can be prosecuted under California Vehicle Code section 12500.

EXAMPLE: You moved to California two weeks ago but did not go to the DMV because you still have a driver’s license from another state. If you are stopped by a police officer you an be cited for driving without a valid license because you are required to get a California Driver’s license within 10 days of the move.

If you or your loved one is cited for Driving without a Valid License in Los Angeles, call our office now. You will be able to talk to an attorney directly about your case. We provide quality representation at affordable prices. We offer reduced fees, and competitive payment plans, and accept all credit cards.

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