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Can You Go to Jail for Driving With a Suspended License in California?

Can You Go to Jail for Driving With a Suspended License in California?

You can go to jail for driving with a suspended license in California, but only in certain circumstances. Under the state’s laws, driving with a suspended or revoked license is a misdemeanor. Even if it is your first offense, you may still be sentenced to five days to six months in jail. You may also be fined between $300 and $1,000. 

Driving when you know your license has been revoked or suspended is not worth it. Although not having a vehicle in this state is inconvenient, especially in Los Angeles, it is important to remember that driving when you do not have a valid license is a crime. Before you drive on a suspended license, you should be aware of the possible consequences of your decision.

These are some of the reasons your license can automatically be suspended or revoked in California:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Racing
  • Reckless driving
  • Vehicular manslaughter
  • Failure to answer a summons
  • Leaving the scene of an injury accident

Until 2018 the DMV also suspended licenses if you failed to pay your fines. However, since then the DMV has removed driving suspensions for failure to pay fines

When your license is suspended or revoked by a judge or directly by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the DMV will send you a notification in the mail. Some people do not receive this notice because they failed to update their address. When this happens, you can end up with a suspended license without being aware of it. 

The Difference Between Suspended and Revoked

A license suspension means that your license is only being taken away temporarily, usually for a set length of time like six months or a year. A revocation is a more permanent punishment. As such, it is a harsher consequence that is reserved for more severe offenses or habitual traffic offenders

You can lose driving privileges through a suspension or revocation in Los Angeles in a variety of ways. Driving while drunk or refusing to let a police officer test you for alcohol are both likely to get your license suspended, even for first-time offenses. The DMV will also suspend your license if you are discovered not to have any car insurance after getting into an accident. 

You can also have your driving privileges taken away for failing to appear in court, for failure to pay child support, or for having a long-term condition that makes you less capable of driving responsibly. 

Potential Punishments

If you are caught driving on a suspended or revoked license and you were aware of your lack of a valid license, you’ll face some specific criminal penalties. These will be based on the original reason your license was suspended or revoked. 

Everyone in these circumstances will face the risk of some jail time and a fine. If your license was taken away because you had earned enough points for other minor traffic offenses, you should only face 30 days of jail time.

Getting Your License Back 

To avoid further trouble with the law, your safest possible choice is to find a way to survive without a vehicle until you can get your license back. Even if your license is revoked, there may be a chance in the future for you to earn back your right to drive. 

If your license was suspended, you only need to apply at the DMV for it to be reinstated once your period of suspension has passed. After a revocation, you will need to fully comply with the length and extent of your probation. Then, you will be able to apply for an entirely new driver’s license. You will need to go through the driving test process before you can drive again. 

Restricted Licenses

Under some circumstances, you may be able to appeal for a restricted license that will allow you to drive in spite of your suspended or revoked license. If not being able to drive is a serious hardship for you or your family, you should speak to a lawyer to see if you might qualify. Otherwise, you will need to do your best to find a way to get by so you can avoid further legal consequences. 


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