Is driving with a suspended license really that big of a deal? (Yes.)
Driving without a license is a crime in California (CVC 12500.) Driving without a license simply means that you do not have or have never had a license. This is something that the courts take seriously and in some counties, the District Attorney may get involved. While driving without a license is a crime, driving with a suspended license is treated even more seriously. Driving on a suspended license means you had a license but it was suspended while you drove. In fact, some instances merit a mandatory jail sentence (CVC 14601.) Personally, I think the punishment is far too severe for the crime but the District Attorney tends to disagree.
Driving with a suspended license can range in punishment depending on the reason for the suspension. Some of the causes for a suspension are non-payment of a parking ticket, failure to pay child support, negligent operator, failure to appear for a court date, or due to a driving under the influence conviction (DUI). The most common suspension that Beahm Law handles is driving on a suspended license due to a prior DUI conviction. This happens to be a very harsh law considering it is a traffic ticket. Do not be fooled, this traffic ticket can be charged as a misdemeanor and, in many jurisdictions of California, is filed as a misdemeanor the majority of the time.
If you are charged with driving with a suspended license, there are certain factors that could also add to the consequences of getting a suspended license ticket. One of the major contributors to harsh punishment is the number of suspended license citations in your history.
It is important to remember that this crime is priorable, meaning, every time you get cited for driving with a suspended license, the punishment can get worse. California Vehicle Code section 14601 states that the punishment shall be:
Upon a first conviction, by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days or more than six months and by a fine of not less than three hundred dollars ($300) or more than one thousand dollars ($1,000).” There is a spike in punishment between a first offense and a second offense with (2) “If the offense occurred within five years of a prior offense that resulted in a conviction of a violation of this section or Section 14601.1, 14601.2, or 14601.5, by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than 10 days or more than one year and by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) or more than two thousand dollars ($2,000).
… (c) If the offense occurred within five years of a prior offense that resulted in a conviction of a violation of this section or Section 14601.1, 14601.2, or 14601.5, and is granted probation, the court shall impose as a condition of probation that the person be confined in a county jail for at least 10 days.
This is the exact text of the vehicle code section mandating a minimum jail sentence in certain cases. This
is why it is critical to hire an attorney to handle a suspended license citation. On top of this, there could be an ignition interlock device requirement. In cases where you were driving on a suspended license due to a DUI (CVC 14601.2), the court could also require the person convicted, in addition to any other requirements, to install a certified ignition interlock device on any vehicle that the person owns or operates for a period not to exceed three years (per CVC 23575).
So in case I haven't been clear enough: It is a bad idea to drive while your license is suspended. You're far better off walking, taking a cab, riding a bike, getting a ride from a friend, riding a Razor Scooter, whatever. However, I've seen firsthand how many people take the risk, and how often people get caught (despite my warnings on how to avoid breaking California traffic laws). If you roll the dice and get caught, the punishment can range from a fine to jail time. If you are arrested for driving with a suspended license, it is important to get adequate legal representation to help you avoid a serious punishment. A skilled attorney can help minimize the consequences of getting arrested for ignoring this law. It's what we do.