You may be wondering whether you can use your driver’s license from another state in California. Or perhaps you were driving and got pulled over. The officer then proceeded to give you a ticket for using an out of state license in California. You may not understand what is going on, yet your license is valid in your residing state. It is a common occurrence for drivers to be pulled over for various issues like speeding or broken light. However, for many, it comes as a surprise to be cited for driving in California without a California driver's license. If this happens, you need to call a lawyer to defend you against these allegations. At San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm, we will help you fight these charges and guide you on the legal requirements for a license in California.

The Law on Driving Using an Out-of-State License in the State of California

Based on VEH 12502(a)(1), a person is permitted to drive within the state of California with the state’s driving license provided that:

  • You possess a valid license from the state where you reside in
  • Depending on the vehicle type you drive, your license must be valid for it

However, even with this law, there are various exceptions or restrictions.

Age Restrictions

When an individual is 18 years or over, they have no restrictions on using their out-of-state license to drive in California. They are permitted to drive provided:

  • They do not reside in California, or it is not their permanent residence
  • They hold a valid license from their home states

However, if the driver is between the ages of 16 and 17, they are permitted to drive for not more than ten days immediately after entering California. This time limit, however, will not apply when:

  • They have a certificate for a nonresident minor obtained from the DMV department of California
  • He or she has a valid license from their resident state
  • In addition to holding a nonresident certificate, the minor has demonstrated evidence of responsibility financially.

If you Move to California, Can You Continue using your Out-of-state License?

Sometimes a person may be wishing to change their state of residence and belong to California. If this is the case, one must apply for a new driver’s license from the DMV department in California. This is supposed to be done:

  • In ten days after one becomes a permanent resident or
  • With immediate effect, if their job entails driving, for instance, a truck driver or in deliveries.

If you have become a resident and you continue to drive without a valid California license, you will be guilty of violating VEH 12500 for driving with no license. To obtain a California driver's license, one must be considered a resident.

The law under VEH 12505(a)(1) explains that a person is a state resident where he or she is domiciled. A person is only domiciled where they have a permanent home, fixed, true, and primary residence. This is the place where a person intends to come back to anytime they are absent.

Various scenarios help in establishing a persons’ residency. These are:

  • Where a person is registered as a voter or to vote from
  • Where one pays university or college resident tuition
  • Where a person files for tax exemptions as a homeowner

Changing your Out-of-State Driver’s License to a California one

If you are planning on moving to California, you will soon be required to have a valid driver’s license for the state of California. Visitors and also new arrivals to California are permitted to keep driving using their valid driver’s license from their resident states. However, when one is moving to the state as a resident, there is a strict deadline for when one can obtain a valid driving license from the DMV. For a new resident, you must obtain your license in ten days upon establishing your residency.

When you have decided to transfer your license, there are a few things that you must take with you to the DMV offices. These are:

  • You will be required to make a payment of $36. This means you need to come with the cash amount or a debit card to make the payment
  • You must have either your social security number, card or your military ID if applicable
  • You must bring proof of your date of birth as well as evidence that you are legally present in the U.S. This is possible by producing your birth certificate or a U.S passport
  • Proof that you are a resident of California. This can be done through providing evidence of your utility or mortgage bills, or your lease agreement from your landlord
  • Your current driver’s license from the state you reside in.

What One Needs to Do

  1. Identify your nearest DMV office and make an appointment for earlier than 4.30 pm. The DMV offices are bustling, and one cannot walk in and expect to be served fast. Making an appointment prior to the day you will be available helps you avoid going past the deadline time as outlined by the law. A prior appointment makes it easier for you because you will avoid the lines and walk to the appointment window where you will be served fast.
  2. Fill the Identification Card application form or the driver license form, also known as the DL 44. For individuals that are not applying for commercial licenses, this form is available online. To save time, you can download the form before your appointment date and fill it in.
  3. Get ready to take the written exam. One can do this by checking online for practice exams or questions that you are likely to encounter.
  4. You will hand over the identification documents as required by the DMV
  5. You must complete the written and vision tests. It is important to note that these exams are not given later than 4.30 pm.
  6. Ensure your ID photo and thumbprint are taken
  7. Make the $36 payment through the acceptable mode of payment to the DMV
  8. Obtain your temporary driver’s license which is only valid for three months
  9. Finally, wait to receive your CA driver’s license through the mail in a few weeks.

However, for individuals whose license is from a different country or abroad, the process is different. Even with a valid driver’s license from your country, you will be required to have a road test to determine your driving skills.

It is equally important to know that one may not be required to obtain a California driver’s license if:

  • They are going to drive off-highway vehicles which are legally registered as such like snowmobiles
  • You will be operating farm machines such as tractors and other farming vehicles
  • You are a member of the Armed Forces or are a civilian on federal business and are driving a vehicle belonging to the U.S government.

When a person has become a resident of California and keeps driving with their old license from their previous state, when found, they will be charged for driving without a license. This is a violation of VEH 12500. This is regardless of whether a person has a valid driving license from their previous state of residence.

Below, we are going to discuss what this statute entails for ease of understanding, the penalties if one is convicted for driving without a license as well as the possible defenses.

VEH 12500 – Driving without a License

Driving with an out-of-state license when you are a resident of California is unlawful and a punishable offense. The laws governing this offense are stated in VEH 12500. The penalties for driving with an out of state license when you are a resident of California are similar to those of a person driving without a license.

California requires its residents that drive on highways or public facilities to hold a California license. According to VEH 12500, an individual is prohibited from driving on a highway without holding a valid license. For the license to be valid, it is issued according to the regulations outlined in this code. However, some people are exempt from the conditions in this code, as discussed below.

Who is Exempt from Holding a California Driver’s License?

As mentioned earlier, there are various categories of people that don’t need to have a California driver’s license for them to drive within the state. These include:

  • Government employees or officials on federal business and operating government registered vehicles as long as they are not commercial. These individuals must not be driving commercial vehicles but regular vehicles on federal assignment.
  • An individual driving farm machinery or cars as long as it is not on the highway
  • Individuals that drive off-highway cars across but not along public roads
  • Individuals visiting California that are 18 years and over holding a valid driving license from their state of residency
  • Nonresidents transporting dangerous materials but hold valid driver’s licenses from their states or Canada. These individuals must be 21 or older.
  • Individuals that are nonresidents and hold a diplomatic license for the vehicle they are driving.

Driving in California with a Driver’s License from another Country

An individual from a different country is permitted to drive in the state of California. However, there are various conditions on this. These are:

  • The individual must be 18 years or older
  • The person must hold a valid and current driver’s license from his home country
  • The license they hold must be valid with regards to the vehicle a person drives such as truck, car or motorcycle

Some countries do not issue a driver’s license to their citizens. If this is the case, the individual can still drive in California as long as:

  • They meet the minimum age requirement for nonresident drivers of 18 years
  • The person must be driving a vehicle they own, which must be foreign. However, they can only drive for a period not exceeding 30 days, after which they will be required to apply for a California license.

Proving a Person was Driving without a License

In showing a person has violated VEH 12500, the prosecution must prove two facts of the offense. These facts or elements are:

  • The defendant was driving on a highway or public street
  • At the moment they were driving, they did not have a driver’s license that is validly issued. Additionally, they drove at a time when they were required to have a California driver’s license.

As earlier discussed, one does not have to have a California license to drive. However, the validity of the license they are using is essential. A driver’s license is considered valid when it is:

  • Current and validly issued by the individuals country or state of residency
  • Valid for the kind of vehicle the person is driving. For instance, you cannot use a car driver’s license to ride a motorcycle
  • Validly issued to a resident of California

To prove a person was driving with no license is a little complex in California. The prosecution is required to prove each fact of the offense beyond any doubt.

However, according to VEH 12500, the prosecutor is not burdened with showing that the accused was driving and had no license. The prosecutor, in this case, only needs to allege the defendant at the moment they were driving; they had no license. This shifts the burden to the accused to show that they have had a current and valid driver’s license even at the time of the arrest.

The logic for this burden of proof is the assumption that it is much easier for an accused person to show they have a valid license than it is for the prosecutor to prove there was none. Although the reasoning behind this is outdated, California law still leaves the burden of proof to the defendant. Your lawyer, therefore, must prove the prosecutor wrong by displaying evidence that shows you had your license at the time you were driving.

Instances When One Can be Arrested for Violating VEH 12500

Most people are charged with violating VEH 12500 when:

  • They never obtained a license. Even when visiting California and you are pulled over, you must show a valid license from your state or country of residence. If you have never taken a license and your state gives driver’s licenses, you will be prosecuted for violations of this statute.
  • An accused person failed to renew their license on time after its expiry date. Even when you are a visitor in California, your out of state license must be valid and not expired. If you failed to renew it in your state, you would be charged for violating VEH 12500 that is for driving without a license.
  • The accused became a resident of California and continued to use a driver’s license from another state instead of applying for a California one instead.

What Happens When You are Pulled Over and Do Not Have Your License with You?

Based on VEH 12500, a person that drives without a valid and current license can be prosecuted for traffic laws violations. If you have a license that is both valid and current, and it is not in your possession at the time of arrest, you will be cited according to VEH 12951. This statute talks about the penalties for failing to show your license when called upon by a law enforcement officer.

This offense is mostly an infraction charge punished by paying a fine not exceeding $250. However, if the defendant can present to the court a valid license at the time of arrest, the charges will be dismissed. For instance, if a lady changed her purse in the morning before going to work, she may have failed to transfer her license into the new bag. If pulled over and asked to produce a license, she is unable to, although she has one, and it is valid. When charged with an infraction, she will only need to present her valid license to prove that she had one at the time she was arrested. This act will subsequently get the charges against her dropped.

When one Intentionally Refuses to Display their License to a Law Enforcement Officer

When a person is pulled over and requested to display their driver’s license by a law enforcement officer and refuses, it is a misdemeanor offense. This is outlined in VEH 12951 and is a punishable offense.

The penalties for this offense include paying a cash fine of $1,000 or less and serving a county jail sentence not exceeding six months.

This is a common offense with individuals that are hiding their identity from law enforcement officers after they have been pulled over. California doesn’t have a law requiring one to identify themselves when stopped. However, when one is driving and requested to do so, they must comply; otherwise, they will be charged with an offense.

Penalties for VEH 12500 Violations

Earlier, we discussed how various circumstances while driving with an out of state license can lead to violations of VEH 12500 – driving without a license. When a person is accused of this offense, they can be either charged with a misdemeanor offense or an infraction.

If convicted of a non-criminal infraction on VEH 12500, you will be fined a maximum of $250. A misdemeanor charge, on the other hand, has severe penalties. The possible penalties a defendant can face include:

  • Being sentenced to an informal or summary probation for not more than three years
  • County jail sentence of not more than six months
  • A cash fine not exceeding $1,000
  • A possibility of having your car impounded for 30 days if you had prior convictions for VEH 12500 violations or other related driving offenses

What Determines if Violations for VEH 12500 are a Misdemeanor or an Infraction?

The primary factor considered by prosecutors regarding a VEH 12500 violation is the driving history of the defendant. If one is a first time offender, they will be charged with an infraction. Other subsequent offenses will, in most cases, be prosecuted as misdemeanor offenses at the discretion of the prosecutor.

With an experienced lawyer, he or she can compel the prosecution to consider reducing the charges to those of an infraction.

Fighting VEH 12500 Offenses

When accused of driving with no license in California, your lawyer can fight these charges in three main ways. These are:

  • Proving the defendant held a valid and current license as he or she was arrested for the crime. When a license was obtained in California, it is easy to prove. However, when a license was issued in another country or state, your lawyer will need to prove:
  • That you are a resident of a different state and as such you are not expected to obtain a California driver's license
  • That you hold a valid driver’s license from your country or state of residence.

Your lawyer is able to prove this by presenting DMV records from the state you reside in or that you are a registered voter in another state.

  • Your lawyer may try to get your case postponed to give you enough time to obtain a driver’s license. If you are not a second-time offender, a prosecutor will give in to postponement of the case to allow you to get a license in California.
  • If you are being prosecuted for a misdemeanor offense, your lawyer can try to get the charges reduced to those of infraction. However, if you have a pending arrest warrant for another offense, reducing your charges may be impossible.

Getting a License as an Undocumented Immigrant

If you are an undocumented immigrant and want to drive in California, you must also acquire a license. This is important if one wants to avoid being charged for driving without a license. California allows undocumented immigrants to get a special license known as the AB60 license. You do not need to have a social security number to get this license.

An AB60 license is similar to the regular driver’s license issued in California but with a small distinction. Marked at the right-hand corner are the words “Federal Limits Apply.” What this means is that there are things that you cannot do, even with the license. One cannot register as a voter, seek employment, or get public benefits because they hold this license. This is only to permit one to drive safely according to the law.

Finding a San Jose DUI Lawyer Near Me

Although most of the offenses for driving with an out of state license can be prosecuted as infractions, a misdemeanor charge can attract severe penalties. Some offenses can be out of small misunderstandings, and if not well defended, can result in stiff penalties. Finding a Lawyer to fight these offenses on your behalf is essential for your win. At San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm, we can fight these allegations and guide you in getting a CA driver’s license. Call us today at 408-777-6630, and our lawyers will readily be available to assist you with your defense.