Any time you drive on California roads, you must follow strict rules that ensure your safety and that of other road users. A driving crime can attract a felony or misdemeanor charge, depending on the nature of the violation. Driving crimes in California are harshly treated, can cost you your freedom, and affect your driving privileges.
If you or your loved one faces an arrest for driving offenses, you will need the guidance of a knowledgeable attorney. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are dedicated to helping our clients investigate the facts of the case and defend against the charges for a favorable outcome. We serve clients seeking legal advice and representation to fight charges for driving crimes in Los Angeles, CA.
An Overview of Driving Crimes
Anytime you are on the road, you could intentionally or accidentally commit a driving offense. Driving crimes are among the most common offenses committed daily. Driving crimes range from minor violations like speeding to more serious ones like hit and run or vehicular manslaughter.
A conviction for a driving crime will result in fines, jail time, or probation. In addition to the legal penalties, the DMV will attempt to suspend your driver's license after an arrest for a driving offense. Some of the most common driving offenses addressed under the California VC include:
Driving without a License, California VC 12500(a)
A driver’s license is a document that serves as a certification that the license holder is capable of operating a vehicle safely. Every time you drive your car on California roads, you must have a driver's license and proof of vehicle insurance. Driving without a license is a criminal offense charged under California VC 12500(a). Individuals who do not need a license to operate in California include:
- Government officials and individuals driving vehicles that the United States government controls
- An individual driving a farm tractor or animal husbandry implement.
- A person driving off the highway.
- Individuals over eighteen years with a valid driver’s license from another state.
- Non-residents of California who transport hazardous material from Canada.
If you are not exempt from VC 12500(a), the prosecution must prove these elements to establish your guilt under this statute:
- You drove on a
- You did not have a valid license at the time of the arrest.
Unlike in other criminal cases, the prosecution doesn’t have the responsibility to prove that you did not have a driver’s license beyond a reasonable doubt. The court only requires the prosecutor to allege that you were not licensed to operate your vehicle in California. The burden of proof then shifts to you, and you must prove that your license is valid.
Driving without a license is a misdemeanor. A conviction under VC 12500(a) is punishable by a six months jail sentence. Additionally, you must pay a fine of up to $1,000 or both. The court may sentence you to probation if you are a first-time offender. The probation sentence allows you to escape spending time behind bars.
Reckless Driving, Vehicle Code 23103
California Vehicle Code 23103 defines reckless driving as operating a vehicle without disregard for the safety of other people or property. The state can charge you with reckless driving on a public road or private parking space. A reckless driving charge can be brought on its own or accompany other charges. The elements of the crime that define this crime include:
- You drove a vehicle on a highway or street parking facility. For this offense, a highway is any publicly maintained road for vehicular travel. On the other hand, an off-street parking lot is open for public use. You must understand that reckless driving can be charged for individuals operating on privately owned facilities.
- You drive with wanton disregard for the safety of others or property. Acting with wanton disregard means that you were aware of your action and the harm you posed to other people. Additionally, you must have ignored the risk. This statute does not require an intention to cause property damage or injuries to other people.
Violation of CPC 23103 is a misdemeanor. A conviction under this statute attracts a jail sentence of up to ninety days and fines not exceeding $1,000. Sometimes, reckless driving is charged as dry reckless, a plea deal for a DUI charge.
Street Racing, California VC 23109
Under California VC 23109, it is a crime to engage in a speed contest on highways in California willfully. Before the prosecution finds you guilty of violating this statute, they must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You participated in a motor vehicle race. California law defines a motor vehicle as any passenger, bus, motorcycle, or commercial vehicle. The first element the prosecution needs to show is that you engaged in the street race while in a motor vehicle.
- The race took place on the highway. For California Vehicle Code 23109, it must be clear that the race you engaged in took place on the highway. A highway is any roadway that is open to the public and is maintained by the government for state or interstate travel.
- You engaged in the race willfully. You could not be guilty of street racing unless you engaged in the speed contest willfully.
- The race was against another motorist or clock. The last element that defines the crime of street racing is that you were racing against another motorist or you were being timed. However, you must understand that there are two main exceptions to stop-watch racing. You cannot be convicted of engaging in a speed contest if the rod you were driving on was more than 20 miles and you did not break the speed limit.
Street racing is often charged as a misdemeanor in California law. A conviction for the offense attracts a jail sentence of up to twenty-four hours to ninety days. The court could impose other penalties like a $1,000 fine and a driver’s license suspension for six months. Your sentence could increase if you have a prior street race conviction in the past five years or if someone suffered an injury from your acts.
A repeat offender under this statute is punishable by a one to six months jail sentence. On the other hand, causing an injury while speed racing is a misdemeanor. A conviction for felony speed racing attracts a three-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.
Reckless Driving Causing Injury, VC 23104
You commit a crime under California VC 23104 when you drive a vehicle with wanton disregard for safety and cause injuries to another person. The prosecutor in your case must prove these elements when establishing your guilt under VC 23104:
- You drive a vehicle recklessly. Reckless driving involves ignoring the risk you pose to others with your actions.
- When driving, you caused an injury to another person. Under this statute, the injury you cause to another person does not need to be specific. Additionally, the prosecution must not prove that you drove the vehicle intending to harm the alleged victim.
Reckless driving and causing injury is a misdemeanor whose conviction attracts a six months jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. If you cause serious injury or death to the alleged victim, you could face a felony conviction.
Disobeying a Peace Officer, VC 2800
Failure to comply with a lawful order or direction from a police officer is a crime under VC 2800. The prosecutor or district attorney must prove these elements to convict you under this statute successfully:
- You willfully failed to obey a signal, direction, or order from a police officer.
- The officer was in a distinctive uniform.
- The officer was performing their official duties when
You could also face an arrest for violating VC 2800 for failure to comply with an out-of-service order from a highway patrol officer. An out-of-service order is an issue if you are not properly equipped or your vehicle is in poor condition.
Disobeying a police officer attracts misdemeanor charges. The punishment you face after a conviction for disobeying a law enforcement officer includes:
- A maximum of six months in
- A fine that doesn’t exceed $1,000
- Misdemeanor probation
Driving on a Suspended Driver’s License, VC 14601.1(a)
For most driving crimes, you can face a court-imposed or administrative driver’s license suspension as part of your sentence. If your license is revoked, you can drive by seeking a restricted license or wait for your suspension to elapse.
Driving on a suspended license is a crime that attracts charges under VC 14601.1(a). There are two main elements that the prosecutor uses to prove your liability to this statute, including:
- You drove a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked license.
- When you drive, you know that your license has been suspended. The prosecutor establishes this element if you received a notice to inform you of the suspension and the notice wasn’t returned to the DMV for lack of a recipient.
Violating VC 14601.1(a) attracts misdemeanor charges. However, the penalties you face after a conviction vary based on the exact reason for your license suspension.
Evading a Police Officer, VC 2800.1
California VC 2800.1 makes it a crime to evade a law enforcement officer pursuing you in a police vehicle or motorcycle. The elements of the crime that are specific t this offense include:
- A police officer was pursuing you.
- You willfully fled from the officer while driving a motor vehicle.
- The officer in your pursuit was distinctively marked.
You cannot face criminal charges for evading an officer unless the prosecution proves that the alleged officer has something to tell them apart from other public members. Distinctively marked means having any of the following:
- Sounding a siren from their vehicle.
- The officer was in a police uniform. A complete uniform is not necessary to establish this element.
- There was a visible red light from the officer’s vehicle.
The judge determined whether or not an officer was pursuing you when you drove off after assessing the prosecution and defense evidence. Evading a police officer is a misdemeanor. A conviction under California VC is punishable by a jail sentence of six months to one year.
If you disregard human safety while evading the police officer, the prosecution could file charges for reckless evading under California VC 2800.2. The main difference between evading a police officer and felony reckless evading is the requirement to prove that you ignored the risk that your actions posed to the safety of other road users.
Depending on the specific facts of your crime and your criminal history, the prosecutor can file misdemeanor or felony charges under this statute. In cases where the offense is charged as a felony, you could spend sixteen months to three years in prison or pay $10,000. The court can sentence you to probation for both misdemeanor and felony evading charges instead of spending time behind bars.
In addition to the legal penalties, a conviction for felony evading a police officer may result in a thirty days vehicle impoundment and a one-year driver’s license suspension. A VC 2800.2 conviction can attract a commercial license revocation if you operate on a commercial driver's license.
Hit and Run, Vehicle Code 2002
California Vehicle Code 2002 requires any driver involved in an accident that causes property damage or injury to stop and remain at the scene until the police arrive. Leaving an accident scene without taking responsibility for your actions will attract hit-and-run criminal charges. A hit and run is a serious offense with severe penalties accompanying a conviction. The elements that help define hit and run include:
- While driving, you were involved in an accident. Evidence of your driving must be clear to prove your guilt under VC 2002.
- The accident caused damage to another person’s property.
- You knew that you were involved in an accident and caused property damage.
- You failed to provide the property owner with your indemnification and insurance information.
Violation of VC 2002 is a misdemeanor, and conviction will see you spend a maximum of one year in county jail. Instead of jail time, the court could sentence you to three-year probation with strict conditions.
Felony Hit and Run, VC 20001
California VC 20001 prohibits leaving an accident scene after causing death or injury to another person. Felony hit and run attract more severe charges than VC 20002, which deals with hit and run and property damage. A prosecutor must prove these elements when establishing your liability for felony hit and run:
- You were involved in a collision while driving a vehicle.
- The accident resulted in third-party injury or death.
- You knew that you had caused an accident and that someone had suffered an injury from it.
- You fled the scene without providing relevant assistance to the victim and taking liability for the accident.
You can face felony or misdemeanor charges under VC 20001. If the alleged victim suffered a minor injury, the prosecution would file a misdemeanor charge whose conviction attracts a jail sentence that does not exceed one year and $10,000 in fines.
In cases involving significant bodily injury or death, you risk facing a felony conviction. In addition to jail time and court fines, you must provide restitution to the accident victims. Failure to do this could result in personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.
Vehicular Manslaughter, Vehicle Code 192
Under California Vehicle Code 192, vehicular manslaughter is a crime that occurs when you drive unlawfully and negligently, causing the death of another person. The elements of the crime of vehicular manslaughter include:
- You committed a misdemeanor offense or a lawful act when driving a vehicle.
- Your actions were dangerous to human life under the circumstances.
- You acted with ordinary or gross negligence.
- Your actions caused another person’s death.
The first distinction you must understand when facing charges for violating PC 192 is negligent and intentional conduct. If you use a vehicle as a weapon to kill someone, you will face murder charges. However, vehicular manslaughter involves acting in a manner that disregards human safety. The prosecution must prove that you knew your actions were dangerous, but you did not understand the level of damage they would cause.
Only individuals whose actions directly result in the alleged victim's death will be charged under this statute. Therefore, you can escape a conviction if you caused the accident, but other factors played a part in the victim’s death.
You could be charged with vehicular manslaughter whether you acted with ordinary or gross negligence. For this statute, ordinary negligence arises from careless acts or errors of judgment. Gross negligence, on the other hand, is conduct that is more severe than recklessness.
The probable and direct consequence of gross negligence is significant bodily injury. Vehicular manslaughter is a California wobbler. The decision to charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor is based on your negligence.
Vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence is a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a minimum of $1,000 in fines. If you caused another person's death through gross negligence, you would risk a felony conviction that attracts a prison sentence of up to six years and $10,000 in fines.
Legal Defenses Against Charges for Driving Offenses
The stakes are high for defendants facing charges for driving offenses. If you plead not guilty to your crimes, you must build a defense to fight the charges. Common defenses available for driving crimes in California include:
You Did Not Drive
All driving offenses are based on your driving conduct. The prosecution must prove that you operated a motor vehicle in almost all crimes. If there is no sufficient evidence to prove that you were behind the wheel, you can argue that you did not drive.
You can raise necessity as a defense for some driving offenses, like reckless driving and evading a police officer. When using this defense, your attorney will show that you were dealing with an emergency and another person’s life was at risk.
In cases such as hit and run, where the offender leaves before the police or witnesses arrive, you can argue that you were not the person driving the vehicle. A wrong witness identification could cause you to be a victim of false accusations.
You were Unaware of the Existing Condition
If you face charges for driving with a suspended license or without a license, you can argue that you did not know that the DMV had suspended your license. For example, you may not receive a notice to attend the DMV hearing when you move to a new location after committing a traffic violation. Failure to schedule the hearing will result in an automatic license suspension. Therefore, it is common for individuals not to be aware of DMV actions against their driving privileges.
The victim's Injury was not Serious.
When your driving conduct causes an accident and injuries to a third party, you could be charged with DUI with injuries or attempted vehicular manslaughter depending on your BAC at the time of the arrest.
Both of these offenses are felonies that attract severe legal consequences. If you can prove that the injuries on the alleged victims were not serious, you can have your charge reduced to a misdemeanor.
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
In California, where most motorists spend time on the roads, a minor mistake or delay in judgment can result in a driving offense with life-changing consequences. Driving crimes are addressed under the California Vehicle Code, ranging from minor misdemeanors like driving without a valid license to severe felonies like vehicular manslaughter or hit and run.
The potential penalties are severe if you are convicted of a driving crime in California. In addition to spending significant time in jail, you risk losing your driving privileges through a license suspension or revocation.
The driving laws in California are complicated for anyone without a legal background to understand. Therefore, hiring and retaining a skilled criminal lawyer is vital in defending a driving crime.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have knowledge and experience in defending against all driving crimes. Our top-notch attorneys will protect your rights and help you build a solid defense against your charges. Contact us today at 424-333-0943 to discuss your case.