Driving Without a Valid Drivers License in California
Vehicle Code 12500 VC makes it illegal, and a misdemeanor, to drive without a valid license on any highway in California. But a valid license to drive in California need not necessarily be issued by the California DMV.
If a person has a valid drivers license issued by another state or by a foreign country, this permits him to drive in California for the type of driving specified in the license. However, once the person becomes a "resident" of California, Vehicle Code 12500 VC requires him/her to obtain a DMV-issued California drivers license in order to drive here lawfully.
Penalties for Driving Without a License in California
Driving without a valid license is a misdemeanor in California, and the punishment for violating Vehicle Code 12500 VC by probation, time in county jail, and fines of up to $1000 plus surcharges. For a first offense, many prosecutors will reduce the charge to an infraction (which is not a criminal conviction) or dismiss the charge altogether if the person obtains a valid drivers license before the court hearing. Our criminal and DUI defense lawyers have been very successful in getting charge reductions and dismissals in Vehicle Code 12500 cases.
Aliens and California Drivers Licenses
California law prohibits the DMV from issuing a California drivers license to an illegal immigrant. See Vehicle Code 12801.7. A California drivers license issued to a legal immigrant expires when his or her legal immigration status expires. See Vehicle Code 12801.8. For an interesting discussion of the problems illegal immigrant's face in driving without a license, read this article from Metroactive.