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Habitual Traffic Offender in California - Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | May 19, 2023

Like most states, California penalizes moving violations with traffic fines and points on your driving record. These penalties become more severe with subsequent offenses up to having your driver's license suspended or revoked.

Habitual Traffic Offender in California - Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC
A habitual traffic offender is defined as driving on a suspended license and having too many points.

If you continue driving on a suspended or revoked license and accumulate driving offenses, you can be designated as a habitual traffic offender (HTO) under California Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC. If convicted under this law, you can receive stiff fines and even time in jail.

In other words, this statute defines a habitual traffic offender as anyone that drives on a suspended or revoked license and accumulates excess points on their DMV record. Points accumulate for traffic violations and vehicular crimes such as Vehicle Code 23152 VC DUI and Vehicle Code 23103 VC reckless driving.

Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC says, “(a) It is unlawful for a person whose driving privilege has been suspended or revoked to accumulate a driving record history which results from driving during the period of suspension or revocation. A person who violates this subdivision is designated a habitual traffic offender.”

A driving record history means (1) two or more convictions within a 12-month period of an offense given a violation point count of two (2) three or more convictions within a 12-month period given a violation point count of one pursuant to Section 12810, and (3) three or more accidents within a 12-month period that are subject to the reporting requirements.”

The statute also says any combination of convictions or accidents. Let's review this state law in more detail below.

VC 14601.3 Explained

The term "habitual traffic offender" doesn't just refer to having an abundance of traffic violations.

Habitual Traffic Offender
A VC 14601.3 conviction carries fines and jail time.

VC 14601.3 specifically defines a habitual traffic offender as someone who creates a driving record (i.e., points on their record) while driving on a suspended or revoked license.

A person receives the HTO designation for accumulating any of the following within 12 months of having their license suspended or revoked:

  • Two or more violations worth 2 points each;
  • Three or more violations worth 1 point each; or
  • Three or more accidents that meet the criteria for required reporting to the DMV under Vehicle Code 16000 VC.

Bear in mind that the simple act of driving on a suspended license is a violation worth two points under Vehicle Code 144601 VC, so you can see how easily the threshold for HTO status can be achieved. To procure a conviction under VC 14601.3, prosecutors must establish the following elements:

  • You drove a motor vehicle while your driver's license was suspended or revoked;
  • Within a year of your license suspension or revocation, you accumulated points on your driving record based on the criteria mentioned above; and
  • You were aware of your license suspension/revocation at the time.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Despite having his license suspended over a recent DUI, Billy continues to drive to work on the pretense that he can't lose his job. In the process, he gets pulled over for speeding at over 100 mph.

Since Billy can gain two points each for driving on the suspended license and for driving at an excessive speed, he qualifies for habitual traffic offender status under VC 14601.3. Using the "necessary driving" defense is unlikely to succeed because Billy could have found other ways to get to work, such as getting a ride or public transportation.

EXAMPLE 2: Donna had her license suspended, but her DMV notice was lost in the mail, and she never got it. Over the next month, she is pulled over three times for speeding (worth one point each) and is charged under VC 14601.3 as a habitual traffic offender. Donna may be able to get the charge dismissed because she was unaware of her license suspension.

What Are the Related Crimes?

Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC habitual traffic offenders law, such as the following:

  • Vehicle Code 14601 VC – driving with a suspended license;
  • Vehicle Code 14601.2 VC – driving with a suspended license for DUI;
  • Vehicle Code 12500 VC – driving without a license;
  • Vehicle Code 12951 VC – failure to present a driver's license.

What Are the Penalties for VC 14601.3?

Achieving HTO status can result in both fines and jail time. However, the exact punishment depends on the number of convictions.

  • If this is your first offense: You will be sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $1000 fine.
  • For second and subsequent offenses within seven years of the first conviction: You will receive 180 days in jail and a $2000 fine.

What Are the Defense for VC 14601.3?

Charges under Vehicle Code 14601.3 are not indisputable. As discussed below, a skilled California criminal defense attorney can utilize several strategies to fight these charges effectively. Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge or that you did not receive a license suspension notice.

The most common defense in these cases is that you were unaware that your license was suspended or revoked at the time you were driving. The DMV notifies you by mail if your license has been suspended or revoked, and it assumes you have this knowledge once the notice is mailed.

Defenses for Habitual Traffic Offender in California
Contact our law firm for a case review.

Since a conviction is contingent on your having knowledge of the suspension, if you can show that you never received the notice or that the notice was in transit in the mail at the time, you can use this as a valid defense.

Perhaps we can argue that driving was necessary. Sometimes referred to as "guilty with an explanation," this defense argues that you effectively had a valid reason for violating the law (e.g., an emergency). If you can show that the circumstances required you to drive and there were no alternatives available, you may be able to get the charges dismissed.

Perhaps we can argue that you are the victim of a false arrest. Driving incidents and accidents can be complicated, and sometimes, getting charged with a driving offense is as simple as the police mistaking you for the driver of the vehicle and arresting you wrongfully.

Suppose you can show that the police arrested the wrong person or prove that your arrest was otherwise unwarranted or that the police violated proper legal procedure in any way. In that case, this may be grounds for dismissal of the charges.

If you were accused of violating California Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC, you could contact our law firm for case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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