Aside from DUI, other common driving-related crimes often charged in California courts include:
- Reckless Driving
California Vehicle Code Section 23103 concerns driving a vehicle with willful and extreme disregard for the safety of others. Typically, this involves excessive speeding, running red lights, and weaving wildly between lanes.
A conviction can get you up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, and 2 points on your driving record, which will increase car insurance costs and could cause a license suspension. If an injury or death resulted, however, punishments increase greatly.
Lack of willful negligence and having a valid reason to break traffic laws (during an emergency) are possible defenses. But note that many DUIs receive lighter sentences if reduced to the charge of "wet reckless" (VC 23103.5) in a plea deal.
- Hit and Run
A "hit and run" accident is one in which a driver knowingly leaves the scene of an accident he/she was involved in without stopping to assist any injured parties and/or give the other driver his/her contact information.
VC 20001 covers hit and runs where an injury occurred, while VC 20002 is concerned with property damage only hit-and-runs. The former are punishable by up to 4 years in state prison and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. The latter can be punished by 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Valid defenses include: you did not realize, nor "should" you have realized, that an accident had occurred, lack of injury or property damage to anyone but yourself and your own vehicle; and you could not stop because of an emergency situation or because it was not safe to stop at the time.
- Driving Without a License
Under Vehicle Code 12500a, driving on California motorways without a valid and current driver's license issued by your state of residence. The crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. It is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
This crime is distinct from driving without a license in your immediate possession (VC 12951), which is a mere infraction and quickly dismissed once you prove you did have a valid license.
In many cases, if you can show you just moved to California and had not established residency yet, or if you quickly obtain a California driver's license, a good defense lawyer can get a VC 12500a charge reduced to an infraction or dismissed.
- Driving on a Suspended License
VC 14601 covers the crime of knowingly driving on a license suspended/revoked for negligent driving, disability, DUI, and other reasons. It is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by fines and jail time that vary based on the cause of the license's suspension, the defendant's driving record, and whether or not it is a repeat offense.
Commonly used defense strategies include:
- Lack of knowledge of the license being suspended.
- The suspension was a mistake or otherwise invalid.
- The driver possessed and was properly using a restricted license.
- Evading an Officer
VC 2800.1 criminalizes the willful attempt to flee from a pursuing police officer while you are driving a motor vehicle. The officer's vehicle must have displayed a lit red lamp, sounded a siren, and been "distinctively" marked; and the officer must have been wearing a "distinctive" uniform.
VC 2800.1 is a misdemeanor, punishable by a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. VC 2800.2 addresses felony-level evading of an officer, and VC 2800.3 covers evasion of an officer causing injury/death.
Lack of intent to evade the pursuing officer and the lack of the officer's uniform or vehicle being properly marked are common defenses.