Vehicle Code section 14601.1. Driving with a Suspended License
Driving with a suspended license cases flood the courts daily. Having a misdemeanor that comes with major fines and possible jail time hanging over your head is a good way for DAs and judges to motivate folks to finally go to the DMV.
WHAT THE DA NEEDS TO SHOW TO PROVE YOU'RE GUILTY
You drove a motor vehicle.
Your driving privilege had been previously suspended or revoked.
You had knowledge that your driving privilege had been suspended or revoked.
This is a misdemeanor. It carries a maximum penalty of 180 days. Generally speaking, if this is your first offense, you're facing a fine only. However, it's a hefty fine -- generally over $2,000.
Where things get bad is if you have priors within the past five years. For one prior, the court is required to give you a 5-day jail sentence; for two or more priors, the judge must sentence you to at least 30 days. You should be able to serve that time doing Sheriff's work rather than actual jail, but that's a big punishment for a seemingly minor crime.
MOST EFFECTIVE DEFENSE
Typically, it's not hard to prove you were driving. However, there are cases where the officer did not actually observe you driving, in which case your lawyer may be able to successfully argue that the DA cannot prove you drove.
Regarding the DA's ability to show that the DMV suspended or revoked your driving privilege, if a case proceeded to trial (rare in these kinds of cases, but it happens), he or she will provide a certified DMV printout of your driving record, which surely will show when the privilege was suspended or revoked. Your defense attorney can dispute that printout on hearsay grounds, but a judge will likely allow it into evidence. The DA may have to subpoena a DMV employee, which is unlikely but could happen, in which case that record is almost guaranteed to come into evidence. The point is it's best not to bank on keeping the DMV record excluded from evidence.
Your best and often only real defense is to dispute whether you had knowledge of the suspension. If you admitted to the officer during the traffic stop that you knew your license was suspended, well then you've shot yourself in the foot. But, in many cases, the notice of the suspension was not necessarily served properly on a suspect, which leaves room for your lawyer to argue that the DA can't prove you had knowledge.
These cases are filed left and right to scare people into taking the necessary steps to get their license reissued. Unless you have a legitimate issue to raise, like lack of proof you had knowledge, often times the best strategy is to go get your license. That is, pay whatever fines you have and finally take care of it. If you pull that off before your court date, most DAs and judges are open to reducing your case to an alternative infraction saving you a misdemeanor on your record, points on your driving record, and thousands of dollars.
Vehicle Code section 14601.1(a). No person shall drive a motor vehicle when his or her driving privilege is suspended or revoked for any reason other than those listed in Section 14601, 14601.2, or 14601.5, if the person so driving has knowledge of the suspension or revocation. Knowledge shall be conclusively presumed if mailed notice has been given by the department to the person pursuant to Section 13106. The presumption established by this subdivision is a presumption affecting the burden of proof.