VC 125000(a), 14601, 12951 - Driving Without a License in California

Criminal Defense Picture

Driving Without a License in California

In California, it is illegal to drive without a license. California's Vehicle Code 125000(a) VC dictates that it is a crime to drive in the state without a valid driver's license and can be charged as a misdemeanor or an infraction. If charged with a misdemeanor in this way, you could face up to six months in jail or up to $250 in fines. The driver's license you have does not have to be from California; it just needs to be from the state/country you live in and designated for the type of vehicle you're driving.

If you want more information about the details of being charged with driving without a license, you can read to learn more; H Law Group is here to answer any questions you may have!

1. Vehicle Code 125000(a)

1.1. When Does Someone Violate Vehicle Code 125000(a) VC?

A person can violate VC 125000 when they are driving without ever obtaining a driver's license, failing to renew their driver's license, or is a new resident of California and has failed to get a California DL within ten days.

1.2. Driving Without a License vs. Driving with a Suspended License

A person isn't typically charged with driving without a license if their driver's license has been suspended or revoked in the state of California. There's a more serious offense waiting for those who drive with a suspended license (VC 14601).

1.3. Penalties for Driving Without a License:

Driving without a valid driver's license is considered a "wobbler," which means it can be deemed either of two types of charges: a misdemeanor or a non-criminal infraction. The penalty of an infraction is a fine of up to $250.
If it's someone's first offense, then it's usually considered an infraction; a record of offenses is likely to result in a misdemeanor. A penalty for a misdemeanor will result in up to a $1000 fine or up to six months of jail time.

2. What Are Some Possible Legal Defenses to Fight the Charge of Driving Without a License in California?

Here are several possible examples of defenses to the charge of driving without a license.

  • Claiming that the driver was in fact in possession of a valid driver's license but simply visiting from another state/country in which they reside.
  • The person in question was not actually driving.
  • The defendant was legally exempt from having to carry a driver's license.
  • The defendant had a driver's license, just not in their possession of the instance in question.

3. Those Who Are Required to Have a California Driver's License

Residents of California who drive on public highways/parking facilities need to have a driver's license. Those who do not need a driver's license to drive in California include the following: a person driving a vehicle of husbandry (i.e., a tractor), people who are 18 or older and have a driver's license from another state or country, government officials or employees who are driving a vehicle that is controlled by the US government while on federal business, someone driving what's considered an "off-highway" vehicle ACROSS a public road, or nonresidents that have a diplomatic driver's license for the particular type of vehicle that they're driving. A valid driver's license from another country can be used to drive in California. Also a 16 or 17-year-old person who is from out-of-state can drive in California if they have a valid driver's license.

4. The Burden of Proof in Cases Where Someone is Charged with Driving Without a License

The burden of proof is on the defense to prove that the defendant is not guilty of the crime. The prosecution must simply allege that the defendant did not have a license while driving. The burden of proof is on the defense because the sentiment is that it is easier for them to prove that they had a license while driving than for the prosecution to prove that they did not have one.

5. Common Situations Where Someone Can be Charged for Driving Without a License

Most charges of this nature occur when: the defendant did not renew their license on time, the defendant became a resident of California but did not get their state-issued driver's license in time, and the defendant never obtained a driver's license in the first place.

5.1. What if a Person Simply Does Not Have Their Valid Driver's License on Them at the Time of Driving?

In California, this is a different offense defined under Vehicle Code 12951 for failing to display a driver's license. This is most often charged as an infraction and is punishable by a $250 fine. A charge like this can be dismissed if the driver in question presents a license that was valid at the time of arrest.

5.2. What Happens if Someone Refuses to Show Their Driver's License to a Police Officer?

If a person refuses to reveal their license to a police officer, then that is an offense charged as a misdemeanor under VC 12951 and can be punishable by a fine of up to $1000 or jail time of up to six months.

6. Can Undocumented Immigrants Receive a Valid Driver's License in California?

The simple answer is yes. In California, an undocumented immigrant can get something called an AB 60 license which can be obtained without a social security number. An AB license looks similar to a regular driver's license, except it has the words "FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY" printed in the upper right corner. This license allows a person to drive in the state as long as they pass a driver's test and have insurance. This license, however, does not make someone eligible for employment, allow the person to get public benefits, or let them register to vote.

An AB license also does not give the holder federal protection. That's to say that it should not be presented to federal officials such as the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection, or the Transportation Safety Administration. An undocumented person can get an AB license as long as they can prove that they have California residence.
The California DMV does not distinguish a license by whether it has AB 60 status or not. However, the Department of Homeland Security can still request the license of a specific person.

If you find yourself facing a charge similar to driving without a license, you can contact H Law Group for more information or visit our website (