According to California Vehicle Code section 14601.1(a), knowingly operating a car while your license is suspended or revoked is an offense. A conviction can lead to severe penalties like incarceration and fines, and engaging a defense attorney can assist you in fighting your charges and protect your freedom and constitutional rights. Chula Vista Criminal Attorney has a proven track record of defending our clients. We recognize what is at stake and can fight relentlessly to obtain the most favorable case outcome.

Defining Vehicle Code Section 14601.1(a)

VC 14601.1(a) defines driving with a suspended driver’s license as operating a vehicle while the driving privilege is revoked or suspended while knowing of the revocation or suspension.

It is not uncommon for driving under the influence (DUI) defendants to be prosecuted for driving on a suspended driver’s license because:

  • The license suspension/revocation process is complicated.
  • The defendant could face challenges going to school or work.
  • It is expensive obtaining a restricted license.

Before convicting a defendant of PC 14601.1(a), the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime:

  • The defendant operated a car while the driving privileges were revoked or suspended, and
  • When they acted so, they were aware their license was revoked or suspended.

Proving “Knowledge”

If all the statements below are accurate, the prosecutor will presume that the defendant knew that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had suspended or revoked the driver’s license when violating PC 14601.1(a):

  • The DMV mailed the defendant a notice of the license revocation or suspension.
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles sent the notice of revocation or suspension to the accused’s recent mail address that they provided to law enforcement agencies, including the DMV and the court.
  • Their notice of revocation or suspension was not returned to the Department of Motor Vehicles as unclaimed or undeliverable.

Moreover, it is assumed that you knew that the driver’s license was revoked or suspended if:

  • A judge informed you of the license revocation or suspension during your sentencing for the crime that resulted in the revocation or suspension.
  • Police officers served you with a notice of suspension or revocation when they arrested you for a crime warranting the revocation or suspension, like drunk driving. The law enforcers might have also seized the driver’s license.

Revoked Driver’s License

Generally, revocation means your driving privileges have been terminated for a while. The revocation duration depends on why the DMV revoked the driver’s license. The DMV should inform you of the revocation length when it withdraws the driving privilege.

You can apply for your new driver’s license after the revocation period, and you must undergo another vision test, a driving test, and a written driving test. Other steps you can take to obtain a new license include the following:

  • Presenting proof of liability insurance like Form SR-22.
  • Enrolling in alcohol or drug courses or rehabilitation.
  • Paying court, administrative, or reissue fees.

Depending on case facts, you can challenge the license revocation by requesting a DMV administrative hearing. DMV is the agency tasked with issuing driver’s licenses in California.

Suspended License

When the DMV suspends your driver’s license, it temporarily puts the driving privilege on hold, and you cannot lawfully operate a car during your suspension period.

The suspension can be either:

  • An indefinite suspension (where the license suspension is for an open-ended duration), or
  • A definite suspension (where the license suspension is for a specific duration).

Regarding a definite suspension, the motorist can file for a reinstatement of their driving license once the suspension duration is over. They will typically obtain a license after applying for reinstatement and paying all relevant reinstatement fees.

Concerning an indefinite suspension, you should perform some acts to reinstate the driver’s license. For instance, you should:

  • Pay for your unpaid traffic ticket, and
  • Pay for unpaid child support periods.

Some factors that can result in the withdrawal of driving privilege include the following:

  • Being physically impaired.
  • Careless or reckless driving.
  • Driving under the influence criminal charges.
  • Refusing to submit to a chemical test.
  • Operating a car without an auto-insurance.
  • Having a ticket that has not been paid for.
  • Being known as an offender and declared a careless motorist.
  • Accumulating many points on the driver’s license.
  • Failing to pay child support.
  • Failing to report an accident.
  • Failing to show up in court for a traffic ticket.

Sometimes, the state can withdraw your driving privilege if you have a specific mental disease like Alzheimer’s disease. In this case, you should adhere to the reassessment process to prove you can drive your car safely.

Penalties and Consequences

A violation of Vehicle Code 14601.1(a) is a misdemeanor. The penalties you face hinge on why the driver’s license was suspended.

Reckless, Incompetent, or Negligent Driving

The prosecutor will charge you with Vehicle Code 14601 if you drove your car with a suspended driver’s license and the DMV suspended the license for incompetent, reckless, or negligent driving.

The crime attracts the following penalties:

  • Three years of informal probation.
  • $1,000 in fine.
  • Five (5) days to six (6) months in county jail.

Drunk Driving

Vehicle Code 14601.2 makes it a crime to drive on a revoked or suspended license, and you received your license suspension due to a drunk driving conviction.

In this case, the judge will impose the following penalties:

  • A three-year summary probation.
  • A county jail sentence ranging from ten days to six (6) months.
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device. 
  • Up to one thousand dollars in fine.

Habitual Traffic Offender

The prosecutor will charge you with Vehicle Code 14601.3 if you operated your car on a suspended driver’s license and the DMV withdrew your driving privilege because you are a habitual traffic offender. The crime carries the following potential penalties:

  • A three-year informal probation.
  • A thirty-day county jail sentence.
  • Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Driving With an Illegal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) or Refusing to Take to Chemical Testing (Vehicle Code 14601.5)

The court would convict you of Vehicle Code 14601.5 if you operated your car on a suspended driver’s license and the DMV revoked your license for driving with an unlawful BAC or failing to submit to chemical testing.

The crime is punishable by:

  • A maximum three-year informal probation.
  • One-thousand-dollar fine.
  • Serving a six-month county jail sentence.

Other Driver’s License Revocation or Suspension Reasons

The prosecution team will charge you with violating Vehicle Code 14601.1 if:

  • You operated your crime with a revoked or suspended license, and
  • Your license was suspended for any other reason not discussed above.

The crime attracts the following consequences:

  • Three years of informal probation.
  • A maximum of six months in jail.
  • Up to one thousand dollars in fine.

Does Driving on a Suspended Driver’s License Have Negative Immigration Penalties?

The crime in question is not a crime involving moral turpitude. The crime will not negatively affect your immigration status. That means immigrants will not be marked as inadmissible in the United States or deported if found guilty.

Impact on Your Firearm Rights

Driving on your suspended license cannot lead to losing your entitlement to:

  1. Purchase a firearm.
  2. Possess a gun.
  3. Own a firearm.

Legal Defenses

Some of the defenses criminal defense attorneys can use to fight the charges include the following:

The Defendant Did Not Know of Their Driver’s License Suspension

The prosecutor must prove knowledge of the license revocation or suspension. If the defendant can prove they were unaware of the revocation or suspension when they drove their car, they have not violated the crime.

Your License Was not Suspended

You can only be convicted if your driver’s license was suspended during the violation. Consequently, it is a legal defense to verify that your driver’s license was valid when caught driving.


Per the necessity defense, you can avoid a conviction by proving you had a valid reason to violate the law.

Sometimes this legal defense is called “guilty with an explanation.” In this case, you should verify that you committed the offense because you did not have another choice. You can claim that you drove due to an emergency.

You Had a Restricted License

You can also claim that you were driving with a restricted license. A restricted license permits motorists to travel to and from home, school, and work. In this case, you will not have violated the law.

Related Offenses

Depending on the circumstances of the case, your defense attorney can convince the prosecutor to reduce the VC 14601.1(a) charges to any of the following related crimes:

Driving Without a Driver’s License

Under VC 12500(a), driving a car without a legal license is an offense.

Please note that the license could be from any state, provided:

  • Your country or state of residence issued the license, and
  • Your license is lawful for the form of car you are operating.

The crime can be prosecuted as either an infraction or a misdemeanor. A first-time offense is an infraction punishable by a $250 fine. On the other hand, a subsequent crime is a misdemeanor that carries the following penalties:

  • Six months in county jail.
  • A fine of one thousand dollars.

Refusing to Present Your Driver's License

VC 12951(a) makes driving your car without a driver’s license an offense. You can also be charged with VC 12951(b) if you refuse to present your license if a law enforcement officer requests it.

The crime is either a misdemeanor or an infraction. A violation of VC 12951(a) is an infraction punishable by a fine of $250. On the contrary, VC 12951(b) is a misdemeanor that attracts six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. Sometimes the judge can award summary or misdemeanor probation instead of incarceration.

Illegal Use of Your Driver’s License

California VC 14610 makes it illegal to use your driver’s license for an illegal purpose. If found guilty of the crime, you will face a misdemeanor that carries a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

You illegally use a driver’s license when you:

  • Own or display a canceled, suspended, fraudulently obtained, or revoked license.
  • Knowingly permit somebody else to use your license or lend it to another individual.
  • Alter your driver’s license.
  • Possess a duplicated or photographed license.
  • Failing to surrender your suspended license to the DMV.

Having Your Driving Privilege Reinstated

If the DMV suspends your license, you should reinstate it. A suspended license will not become a valid driver’s license once your suspension period elapses. That means you will be charged with driving on a suspended license if you operate your car before taking the necessary steps, even if the license suspension period has expired. 

A person can file their restricted license application thirty days into their suspension.

If the driver’s license was suspended due to drunk driving, the defendant could obtain a restricted driving license immediately after installing an IID.

Here is a comprehensive guide on how to obtain a restricted license:

  1. Wait for your driver’s license suspension period to expire

Your suspension duration depends on why the DMV suspended your driver’s license. Typical suspension periods include the following:

  • First drunk driving crime — Six months.
  • Second-time DUI crime — One year.
  • Third-time DUI crime — Two years.
  • California felony DUI — Five years.
  • Failing to pay your child support — Once you enter into a payment plan or pay the arrears.
  • Failing to pay your taxes — Once you pay taxes, arrange an installment plan or establish a current financial hardship.
  • Vehicular manslaughter — Three years.
  • Too many driving record points — Six months.
  1. Complete Your Reinstatement

During your license suspension duration, you can meet reinstatement requirements. The conditions depend on your crime. Common reinstatement conditions include the following:

  • Completing an alcohol or drugs course.
  • Complete DUI school.
  • Enroll in a defensive driving class.
  • Pay fines.
  • Engage in community service.
  • Serve the required jail sentence.
  • Bring a Driver Medical Evaluation that proves you can operate a vehicle safely.
  • Complete traffic school.
  1. Applying for a License Reinstatement

The application process involves the following:

  • Presenting proof that you have completed reinstatement stipulations.
  • Submitting proof of insurance and financial obligation (bringing a Form SR-22 from an insurer).
  • Paying the relevant reissue fee:
  1. $100 for admin per se reissue if the defendant is below 21.
  2. $125 for admin per se reissue fee if the defendant is at least 21.
  3. $55 for driving under the influence reissue fee.
  4. $20 for drunk driving 2nd offender remove court restriction fees.
  5. $15 for drunk driving 2nd offender add court restriction fees.

While various crimes have diverse fees, they all include a $14 reinstatement fee. If you pay online, you incur a processing fee for debit or credit card transactions.

  1. Submitting Your Reinstatement Paperwork to the DMV Office

 You can pay some fees before using the Department of Motor Vehicles website or sending your money order or check. You can also pay other fees when submitting your application.

How Long Does It Take to Reinstate Your Driver’s License?

After you meet the required reinstatement conditions, the process should be immediate.

Once the suspension period elapses, you should go to the Department of Motor Vehicles field office to get the license reinstated. The DMV should be able to reinstate the driver’s license on the same day.

Pre-Filing Investigations

Typically, a pre-filing investigation involves law enforcers analyzing and reviewing case facts to determine whether the police can recommend that the prosecutor files the charges against the defendant. During the investigation, the police can question you or the witnesses in your case.

After collecting the relevant evidence, the police officers will send the case to the District Attorney’s office. The prosecution has the discretion to either file the charges or not. If the prosecutor thinks that the police do not have strong evidence, they can decide to drop the case or request the law enforcers to collect more proof. Possible outcomes to expect during your pre-filing phase include the following:

  • The D.A. filing criminal charges against the defendant.
  • The D.A. ending the investigation and dropping the charges.
  • The D.A. requested the police to conduct further investigations and then return the matter to the prosecutor for their analysis and decision.

Advantages of Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney for Your Pre-Filing Investigation

It is wise to seek legal assistance if arrested for driving on a suspended driver’s license. Your criminal defense lawyer can assist you in numerous ways, including:

  1. The Attorney Can Persuade the Prosecution Not to Bring Your Criminal Charges

The prosecution team would be committing a violation by bringing an unsubstantiated criminal charge against you. If the D.A. thinks that you will be found guilty of the offense, they can hesitate to bring the charges formally.

During the pre-filing period, your lawyer can talk to the prosecution about your criminal case and persuade them not to bring charges or file charges for criminal activity with less severe penalties.

  1. Your Attorney Will Guide You on Ways How to Avoid Incriminating Yourself

Typically, the proof used to bring a criminal charge includes statements from the suspect. That is why you should avoid incriminating yourself.

Your defense lawyer will tell you to only talk to police officers in their presence; they will guide you on what to tell the prosecution team. You should allow your counsel to handle all your communications.

  1. Your Attorney Will Keep You Informed of All Criminal Case Steps

If arrested, you will want to know the nature of your charges and where your case stands throughout your criminal judicial process. Your lawyer will check on all developments and ensure you know them by maintaining constant communication.

  1. Your Attorney Can Work on Your Criminal Defense

Your pre-filing stage could be extended, and this time could be a chance for your lawyer to prepare your case’s defense strategy. Depending on the circumstances of your case, they will interview you and collect and analyze evidence to prepare the most effective legal defense.

Courtroom Etiquette

First impressions are lasting. Therefore, how you look and behave during the court hearing could significantly affect your criminal case. Here are various written and unwritten rules.

Planning to Go to the Court

The court is the court staff’s workplace, and they want their workday to be efficient and smooth. By arriving early and complying with court rules, you enable the court to maintain efficiency. It can also increase the chances of obtaining favorable case results.

Plan to reach the courthouse early by accounting for all possible commuting delays and finding parking spaces. Please note that some days are busier than others.

Ensure you know where you should be by finding the courtroom early.

Before the court date, ensure you have the required paperwork. Your lawyer should guide you on what to carry to court. Familiarize yourself with the paperwork and organize it before arriving at the courtroom.

What to Wear

Here are suggestions to follow:

  • Ensure your clothing fits well.
  • Wear a tie and suit or casual pants and a collared shirt.
  • Refrain from looking like you are going to a dinner party by wearing less jewelry.
  • Do not put on a hat when in the courtroom.
  • Trim your beard and hair.
  • Avoid wearing costumes.
  • Cover up all your tattoos.

Your appearance shows that you recognize the seriousness of the court hearing and are reasonable, cooperative, and willing to adhere to the court's rulings and rules.

Addressing the Judge

Generally, judges are addressed as “your honor.” You will hear court personnel and lawyers address the judge this way, but they can also refer to the judge as “judge” or “Judge Owen,’’" or whatever their surname might be.

You can also refer to the judge as “sir” or “madam,” which is acceptable, although the judge can ask to be addressed as “your honor.”

Find Skilled Legal Representation Near Me

Drunk driving arrests, among other traffic violations, are an inconvenience that can significantly affect your life, including losing your driving privileges. If your driver’s license is revoked or suspended, everyday tasks can be more challenging or even impossible, increasing the possibility of facing a driving with a suspended license charge. When charged with a Vehicle Code 14601.1(a) violation, you need an experienced, knowledgeable, and aggressive lawyer like Chula Vista Criminal Attorney. A conviction will stay on your criminal record forever, and our attorneys can work aggressively to convince the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss the charges. Please contact us at 619-877-6894 to schedule your initial appointment to obtain a case review.