Virginia takes the position that driving is a privilege and not a right. As a result, it requires everyone to have a valid driver's license to operate a motor vehicle when on a highway. Many people end up in Court with this misdemeanor charge because they must get to work or have other obligations where getting a ride from a friend or family member is not realistic. Accordingly, all it takes is to get stopped for speeding, disobeying a traffic light or highway sign, or having a simple tail light out. When the officer asks for the license and registration, the person's license status comes up pretty quick. However, there are things that can be done to avoid a conviction for this offense and contacting a traffic lawyer can really help your case.
What Will Happen If You Drive Without a License
What will happen if you drive without a license will depend on whether you have ever been convicted of the offense before and your license status by the time Court arrives. Virginia Code §46.2-300 requires that you have a valid driver's license. If you do not, a first offense driving without a license is a Class 2 Misdemeanor. This means you face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. However, in most instances, the Court will simply hand down a punishment of a fine for the first offense. A second offense or more is a Class 1 Misdemeanor which is a potential jail sentence of up to 12 months and a fine of $2500. This result is rarely imposed but jail time is certainly a real issue for a second offense or more. In addition, the Virginia Code authorizes a Judge to suspend the license for up to 90 days for driving without a license. Finally, it is a 3-point offense for DMV purposes.
Defenses To Driving Without a License
While it is illegal to drive without a license in Virginia, the law requires that the driving occur on a highway of the State. Not every road is considered a highway. Virginia Code §46.2-100 defines a highway as a road open to the public for vehicular travel. This means that a parking lot is not a highway. In addition, certain throughways in apartment complexes and townhouse communities are not necessarily considered highways under the statute so the "highway" provision may be a real defense in your case. Of course, if you are stopped while driving on an interstate, this would be considered a highway for purposes of this statute.
Another exception is if you are in the military and have a driver's license from your home state but are stationed here. You are excluded from the requirement of being licensed in Virginia. Also, if you are licensed in a different country and remain a citizen of that country then you would be excluded from the license requirement in Virginia as well. While you must be licensed in your home state or country, the law does not impose the requirement that you switch over to a Virginia license within 60 days of moving here as it does for everyone else.
Get your Driver's License Before Court
In many cases, if you are able to get a valid driver's license prior to your Court, bring your license with you to Court. If it is a first offense driving without a license, the Court will generally dismiss the charge as complied with law. If it a second offense, it can get a little more tricky because the Court will think you did not get the point the first time you went to Court and may issue a greater punishment. When we represent clients charged with this offense, we will either work out a deal with prosecutor to dismiss the charge as complied with law or work towards a reduction to driving without a license in possession under Virginia Code §46.2-104 (this is a no-point violation with a $10 fine - it is like not having a driver's license on you at the time of the stop).
Contact Us For a Free Consultation
If you have been charged with driving without a license in Fairfax County feel free to reach out to us. We offer a free consultation to discuss your case. In many cases, we will work towards getting you validly licensed prior to Court so that the charge can be dismissed. If you are unable to get licensed, we'll work out an agreement with the Prosecutor or Judge for a simple fine. If jail time is an issue, we will work closely with you to obtain mitigating evidence for presentation to the Court to minimize your risk of going to jail. In some cases, we can appear for Court on your behalf so you do not need to appear for your case. Every case is different and every case is important.