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Driving without a License &
No Operator License Crimes

VC 12500(a) & VC 12500(A)-M

Information on the crime of driving without a license, also called no operator license, is found at California vehicle code section 12500(a) & VC 12500(A)-M.

To begin with, driving without a license means the defendant is driving without a valid driver's license; it does not mean that the defendant was driving without his or her license in his or her possession. The charge of driving without possession of a driver's license is found at VC 12951(a), an infraction.

VC 12500(a) Law: A person may not drive a motor vehicle upon a highway, unless the person has a valid California driver’s license except those persons who are expressly exempted under the law (VC 12500(a) Abbrev.).

VC 12500(a) Exemptions: Person that are exempt from the requirements of VC 12500(a) include: persons operating off road vehicles, federal law enforcement agents driving in relation to their employment, and incidental highway driving in connection with breeding farm animals (VC 12501 Abbrev.).

Note: Out of state residents may lawfully drive in California if they are over the age of eighteen and possess a valid driver's license from their state of residence. The out of state license must be in the immediate possession of the out of state driver while that driver is driving in California (VC 12502(a)(1)). Also, a person may not drive a motor vehicle that is not of a type for which the person is licensed (VC 12500(d)).

Motorcycles: Motorcycles are considered motor vehicles and a person may not drive a motorcycle in California unless the person has a valid motorcycle license, except those persons who are expressly exempted under the law (VC 12500(b)).

In order for the defendant to be found guilty of the crime of driving a vehicle without a license the district attorney will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  • Drove a motor vehicle on a public highway or street

  • Drove without a California driver's license, and

  • Was not exempted from the license requirement

A highway or street is defined as a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. Highway includes street (VC 360).

VC 12500(a) Punishment

VC 12500(a): driving without a license is classified as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of driving without a license the defendant could face up to 180 days in jail.

Note: VC 12951(b) failure to present license to a peace officer is classified as a misdemeanor. VC 12951(b) carries the same punishments as VC 12500(a) driving without a license.

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision instead of jail. Probation sentences for driving without a license are considered informal, which means the defendant is not monitored by a probation officer. Probation sentences carry terms of probation that must be followed in order to avoid a violation of probation charge. Probation terms can include work release or house arrest terms. Probation sentences are common for VC 12500(a) convictions but they are not guaranteed. Whether or not a probation sentence is available for VC 12500(a) convictions depends largely on the defendant’s criminal history and the circumstances of the case.

Immigration: Driving without a license is not a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). Crimes involving moral turpitude are defined as crimes that are morally wrong or involve deceit. CIMTs carry special punishments for non U.S. citizens.


Note: Immigration law is changing rapidly and if you are charged with any crime, including the crime of driving without a license (VC12500(a)-M), you should contact a criminal defense attorney or an immigration attorney, or both, without delay.

Other Punishments: In addition to possible jail time, if found guilty of driving without a license, the defendant could suffer any or all of the following: Court fines and fees, loss of the ability to obtain a driver's license in the future, loss of immigration status, loss of a professional license, enhanced punishment for subsequent violations, vehicle impound for up to thirty days, and more.

VC 12500(a) Defenses

Common defenses or legal justifications for VC 12500(a) include: necessity, emergency, illegal stop, statute of limitations, mistake of fact, duress, and more.

Plea Bargaining: In many cases of VC 12500(a) the district attorney, or the court, will agree to reduce the criminal charges, or the sentence associated with the criminal charges, if the defendant is willing and able to obtain a valid driver's license.

If you are charged with the misdemeanor offense of driving without a license, or no operator license, VC 12500(a) & VC 12500(A)-M, contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Our misdemeanor traffic attorneys are available seven days a week to review your case and discuss your defense options. Call today!


Quick Legal Reference​

Crime: Driving without a License, no operator license

Code: VC 12500(a) (CalCrim No. 2221)

Wobbler: No. VC 12500(a) is not a wobbler. VC 12500(a) is only charged as a misdemeanor; however, VC12951(a) [operate a motor vehicle without a valid license] is charged as an infraction and serves as a common reduced charge to VC 12500(a) when the defendant obtains a license before conviction. 


Incarceration: ​VC 12500(a) jail sentence up to 180 days.

Probation: Probation may be available in VC 12500(a) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​

Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.

Strike: VC 12500(a) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.

CIMT: VC 12500(a) is not a crime involving moral turpitude.


Bail: $5,000 (San Bernardino County)

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