Driving without a License Is a Misdemeanor (Vehicle Code section 12500)
Driving without a valid driver’s license is considered a criminal offense, not just a mere traffic infringement. Section 12500 of the California Vehicle Code makes driving without a license a criminal misdemeanor. Punishment for violations of Section 12500 may include:
- Fines of up to $1,000, plus any additional court fees
- Possible time in county jail (not frequently imposed however)
- Towing and impoundment of the car that the unlicensed person was operating
Having a Driver's License but Not Having it in Your Possession
(Vehicle Code section 12591)
Note that the Vehicle Code specifies penalties for operating a vehicle without being validly licensed, not
simply for driving without a license in your possession at the time of the violation.
If you did have a valid driver’s license (licenses from other states may be acceptable), but simply did not
have it in your possession, this is a different violation. This type of infraction is listed under Section 12591
and may be dismissed if you are able to prove that you were validly licensed at the time you were pulled
Defendant Must Prove They Are Validly Licensed
Unlike other criminal charges, once the prosecution alleges that the defendant drove without a license, the
burden of proof shifts to the defendant to prove that they were validly licensed. This is usually verified by
accessing records with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or other similar agencies.