Today, we take on a common question from drivers caught with a suspended drivers license.
The Problem from User Sasha:
“Dear TrafficCourtPros.com, Help!
2 years ago i got my drivers license suspended due to a Driving Under the Influence Arrest (DUI). I haven’t had the money to install the alcohol detection ignition interlock device as the DMV required.
Today i was running late to work and i decided to take my car and i got into a car accident.
I just want to know what is going to happened. The car is insure and register. The police responded. I wasn’t at fault, i take full responsibility for not having a license. Help! Thanx – Sasha”
There are potential criminal and civil consequences to this problem. Here is some info to help you understand the problem, and strategies for limiting the consequences.
A Suspended Drivers License Does Not Make a Driver Liable for an Auto Accident.
There is some good news to start out with.
A person is not automatically “liable” for car accident damages if they have a suspended drivers license. The lack of a drivers license does not make a driver “negligent”, and is not considered the legal cause of an auto accident.
|To be liable for auto accident damages, the law usually requires a showing that the accused driver “negligently caused” damages by breaching a legal duty, such as the duty to maintain control of a vehicle at all times.|
Whether or not a driver was licensed is not relevant to the question of whether they maintained control of the vehicle. For the same reason, it does not matter whether or not the car was registered.
If you were not at fault, and not “negligent”, you should not be liable for property damage, personal injuries, or the other driver’s future lost wages. The question of who is liable for damages in civil or small claims court is based upon who actually, “proximately”, caused the damages with their actions.
Unlicensed drivers, and even uninsured drivers, may sue to recover damages in an auto accident. If a negligent driver (called “tortfeasor” in the law) does not pay for the damages they cause, an uninsured or unlicensed driver can still sue in court to recover the damages. The available damages may be limited for uninsured drivers.
Related Article: Auto Accident without Auto Insurance?
What if you had auto insurance coverage at the time of the accident, but your drivers license was suspended?
This is a trick question. I say “trick” because drivers how have a suspended drivers license typically do not have valid auto insurance coverage, even though they think they do have it.
Auto insurance companies may deny coverage for drivers who did not have a valid drivers license at the time of the event. No drivers license? “No coverage” is a common rule in an auto insurance contract.
Check with your insurance company agent to see if your policy provides coverage for you while your drivers license is suspended. You may also find these coverage details on the “Declarations Page” of your insurance policy contract.
Expect a Misdemeanor Driving on a Suspended Drivers License Charge Under California Vehicle Code 14601.2.
Driving with a drivers license that was suspended due to an alcohol offense is a misdemeanor crime under California Vehicle Code section 14601.2. That specific violation is particularly nasty because of mandatory minimum jail time.
With a conviction, its penalties include mandatory jail time of at least 5 days, and as much as 6 months. Further, a Vehicle Code section 14601.2 conviction carries 2 Negligent Driver Points on a DMV driver history report.
Those new drivers license points may lead to an additional drivers license suspension or revocation after a DUI conviction.
It is very common for the law enforcement officers investigating a collision to issue citations arising from the incident days later via mail with a summons for a court date.
Even if you did not get a citation at the accident scene, you may get a citation in the mail and you should watch for it. Do not ignore it when it comes. Read it and its instructions carefully.
A citation for driving on a suspended drivers license does not mean a person is liable in civil or small claims court for damages caused in the accident. But a citation does mean that the person cited must deal with a court case on the alleged violations listed in the citation.
The court case for a misdemeanor vehicle code 14601.2 citation is usually in the criminal division of a local county superior court. If you want to check on the possibility of a misdemeanor case against you, you should contact the criminal division court clerk for the county superior court where the accident happened. The court clerk can confirm if there is a citation with a case or not.
In some of California’s superior courts, you can look up misdemeanor criminal cases online and get the details quickly. In other courts, there is no online access. Check for info online, but confirm by a visit or telephone call to the real human court clerk.
In California’s Superior Courts, the criminal division where jail and fines are imposed is completely separate from the civil court division where a driver can sue for damages. The citation for driving on a suspended drivers license is a criminal division case.
A civil or small claims case for damages is completely separate from a criminal case, and must be dealt with individually.
If You Were On Probation, Expect Revocation of Probation and Probation Violation Charges.
There are other consequences for getting caught driving on a suspended drivers license while on DUI probation. In this case, it appears your DUI case was 2 years ago. Most first offense DUI convictions result in 3 years or 5 years of court ordered probation. Because of this characteristic of DUI cases, I assume you (Sasha) were on probation at the time of the accident.
DUI probation in California almost always includes the following probation terms:
1. “Do not drive at all unless properly licensed and insured”; and
2. “Obey all laws and orders of the courts.”
Getting caught driving on a suspended drivers license is usually a violation of these 2 probation terms. Picking up a new misdemeanor driving on a suspended drivers license is definitely a violation if you are guilty.
Typically, when this happens, the original court will use its power to revoke the defendant’s probation for the original DUI case, and add probation violation charges to that old case.
This action will happen in the county superior court where the DUI conviction originally occurred, not where the accident occurred if it is a different local. The court handling the probation violation may be a different county court than the court handling the new citation for driving on a suspended drivers license (Vehicle Code 14601.2).
This action on the original DUI case can lead to jail time separate from the consequences of the driving on a suspended drivers license charge (vehicle code section 14601.2). Thus, there are 2 potential sources of jail time from this problem: 1) the revocation of probation; and 2) the new vehicle code 14601.2 charges.
In essence, and to repeat, a driver who gets into an accident with a suspended drivers license while on DUI probation may have 2 separate criminal cases to deal with in different courts: 1) the original DUI where probation might be revoked; and 2) the new driving on a suspended drivers license citation.
If the accident and the DUI conviction were in the same county, all the court cases should be in that county.
When a court revokes probation on a common first offense misdemeanor DUI case, a mandatory court appearance is often the result. The mandatory court appearance is scheduled by warrant and arrest sometimes, and by citation or summons in the mail at other times.
To check on the status of your misdemeanor probation case, contact the criminal division court clerk at the court where the case is pending. If the court clerk tells you there is a court date scheduled or a warrant issued, make immediate arrangements to go to court. Or better yet, hire an Attorney to do the work for you. That is what they do.
Once a defendant appears in court for a probation revocation, the court has the power to reinstate probation, or re-sentence the defendant to a jail term.
It is possible to be sentenced to a jail term as a result of violating DUI probation by driving on a suspended drivers license. However, many people on first offense DUI probation get a second chance after a violation if they take care of everything right.
Tips to Limit the Damage of An Accident with a Suspended Drivers License?
Step 1: Dont Make the Common Mistakes
There is no way to avoid all of the trouble. The trick here is to limit the damage by dealing with the consequences correctly and responsibly. You can save yourself a crap load of trouble by doing things right.
A lot of people screw this problem up themselves and make it much more expensive, stressful, and painful by missing court dates and ignoring important paperwork. Do not be one of those people!
Step 2: Shop for an Attorney to Represent You.
My first suggestion is get a review and quote form a criminal defense attorney. Defendants facing Vehicle Code section 14601.2 charges are probably going to have a complicated process, multiple court dates, and jail time to navigate. In this situation, a Defendant needs professional guidance.
Request a Free Attorney Case Review from TrafficCourtPros.com
How can an attorney help? Most importantly a licensed and experienced attorney can give a defendant advice about what is going to happen exactly in their case, and tell them what to do.
A criminal defense attorney can also appear in court for a defendant charged with a Vehicle Code section 14601.2 case. That feature alone is super valuable for a defendant who does not want to go to court. Defense Attorneys can also negotiate with prosecutors to schedule unavoidable jail time for weekends, possibly reduce charges, help get probation reinstated where possible, etc.
If you are completely innocent, maybe they can win a jury trial for you?
Indigent defendants who cannot affod to hire a private attorney may be assigned a public defender for a misdemeanor case. Public Defenders are not available for civil cases in California.
Step 3: Notify DMV of the Accident on Time to Limit Additional Drivers License Suspension.
The law requires all drivers, whether licensed or not, to notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles of an auto accident if it involved damages of more than approx. $750. (Check the Department of Motor Vehicles web site for reporting form (SR-1) and current rules & exceptions on reporting.)
The purpose of reporting the accident to DMV is so that they can verify whether or not the drivers involved had valid auto liability insurance coverage for he accident. If they were not, they DMV is going to suspended the drivers license of that driver – even if they have to tack it onto an additional pre existing suspension.
The DMV cares about whether or not the drivers were insured, not who was at fault.
Expect and plan for an additional period of drivers license suspension to be tacked onto the end of your current drivers license suspension.
Step 4: Dont Get all of the Possible Court Cases Confused.
There are several court actions possible from this incident. To avoid problems, and missed court dates, a person in this situation must keep track of them all. There may be:
1. A possible citation for driving on a suspended drivers license in the county where the accident happened;
2. A possible civil case for damages in the county where the accident happened; and
3. A possible probation violation proceeding in the court where the original DUI conviction happened.
Of course it may be that these things do not happen in your case. I only present this information to answer your question on what can happen.
|Other ideas? Forget About the Car in Impound for Now. |
I often tell people in this position: “Dont worry about getting your car out of impound. That would be a waste of energy and money.” That is my opinion. Take it for whatever you think it is worth.
Of course, people hate hearing my opinion on impound, but if you look at the logic objectively, it makes sense. A driver in this situation cannot use the vehicle anyway. There is no Ignition interlock device in it anyway, and you are not going to have a valid drivers license for a long time.
A vehicle code section 14601.2 charge usually results in a 30 day vehicle impound that cannot be changed. And on top of all of that, you are going to need that money you would give to the tow yard to hire an attorney, pay the fines.
Staying out of jail is the # priority for people with this problem. Getting the car back is further down the list.
OK – we wish you luck. Questions? Leave a Reply.
*This article is not intended to be leave advice on your specific case. Only an Attorney that you hire and who knows your facts can give you legal advice.