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Criminal defense hero

Traffic Defense

 
 

An experienced traffic defense attorney can help preserve and enforce your rights by fully investigating the facts surrounding the alleged crime and the police procedure utilized in your traffic stop and arrest.

Traffic defense cases we handle include:  hit and run, street racing, exhibition of speed, reckless driving, suspended license, revoked license, and failure to appear.

We can file various motions to discover and exclude evidence, and present the prosecutor with contradictory evidence and witness statements to help negotiate the most favorable settlement possible. If necessary, we are prepared to take your case to trial and raise doubts about the integrity and accuracy of the evidence presented against you. We will employ an array of procedural and affirmative defense strategies to maximize your chances for an acquittal.

 

For immediate help, call 323.529.3660.

Speeding & Racing

 
 

Vehicular Exhibition of Speed
(California Vehicle Code section 23109(c))

A common example of a vehicular exhibition of speed (sometimes referred to as “speed-ex” by police and prosecutors) is rapid acceleration accompanied by skid marks and screeching tires – aka “peeling out” or a “burn out”.

Elements of the crime

In order for the prosecution to obtain a successful conviction for a vehicular exhibition of speed, all of the following elements must be proven:

  • The defendant was driving a motor vehicle on a highway or other public road.
  • The defendant was speeding and/or accelerating in an unsafe and dangerous manner.
  • The defendant had the goal of impressing someone else or simply showing off.
  • This statute includes any passenger car, truck, commercial vehicle, or motorcycle operated on public streets, but not on private property.

It is worth noting that speeding is not a required element of this offense; fast acceleration is sufficient. Further, the prosecutor need not prove that the defendant was attempting to show off to any particular person, but was just doing so in general.

Criminal penalties for vehicular exhibition of speed

According to 23109(c) VC, speed-ex can be charged as either an infraction or misdemeanor. Whereas an infraction is punishable only by a fine of up to $250, a misdemeanor conviction is punishable by any or all of the following:

  • Up to 90 days in county jail.
  • A fine not to exceed $500.
  • Probation.
  • Vehicle impoundment for up to 30 days.


Plea bargaining to vehicular exhibition of speed
23109(c) VC is a commonly used charge in DUI/DWI plea bargains. Penalties for speed-ex are not as severe, and a conviction under this statute does not result in mandatory suspension of a driver’s license.

Prosecutors are more likely to offer a speed-ex plea bargain in DWI/DUI cases if there is a problem with the case and/or its evidence. Further, the prosecutor will examine the totality of the circumstances, the defendant’s prior criminal history if any, the arresting officer’s credibility, and the blood chemical tests prior to offering this option to a defendant.

Legal defenses

Only an attorney can provide appropriate legal advice to someone charged with a crime. There are a few potential defenses to a 23109(c) charge. These include:

  • Lack of willful intent, such as in cases where the driver had a medical condition that caused him/her to accelerate, or if the driver was in an emergency situation or feared for their safety.
  • Insufficient evidence.
  • Police misconduct.
     

Street Racing
California Vehicle Code 23109(a) 

For purposes of this statute, a speed contest is any race that occurs between at least two vehicles, or against a clock or timing device. Under California law, a speed contest need not be an organized or planned race; it may occur spontaneously without any prior indication.

Elements of the crime

To obtain a successful conviction for an unlawful speed contest under 23109(a) VC, the prosecution must prove the following elements:

  1. The defendant operated a motor vehicle on a public street, road, highway, or freeway.
  2. The defendant willfully drove the motor vehicle at a high rate of speed while racing against another vehicle or a timing device.

Related offenses

In many cases, individuals charged with a violation of 23109(a) VC are also charged with offenses such as:

  • Reckless driving, 23103 VC
  • Vehicular exhibition of speed, 23109(c) VC
  • Misdemeanor evading an officer, 2800.1 VC
  • Felony reckless evading, 2800.2 VC
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, 23152(a) VC
  • Driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, 23152(b) VC

Criminal penalties for a speed contest violation

Participating in a speed contest in California is a misdemeanor. For a first conviction, the defendant may be sentenced to any or all of:

  • Up to 90 days in county jail.
  • A fine between $355 and $1,000.
  • Up to 40 hours of community service.
  • Vehicle impoundment for up to 30 days.
  • Suspension of driver’s license for 90 days to six months OR a restricted driver’s license limiting driving to only between one’s residence and place of work.

A second speed contest offense increases the potential jail sentence to six months, and the offender may also be sentenced to probation and suffer mandatory driver’s license suspension for six months.

23109(a) becomes a wobbler – meaning that the offense can be charged as a felony at the prosecutor’s discretion – if someone is seriously injured as a result of the speed contest and/or if the defendant has one or more prior convictions for the same offense within the past five years.

A felony speed contest conviction under 23109(a) VC is punishable by any or all of:

  • 16 months to three years of incarceration.
  • A fine of up to $10,000.
  • Probation.
  • Driver’s license suspension.
  • Vehicle impoundment.

Legal defenses

As with any criminal charge, it is important to seek advice from a qualified attorney. There are a few potential legal defenses to a charge of participating in a speed contest; only an attorney can advise which is most appropriate in light of the unique facts and circumstances of the alleged crime. These defenses include, but are not limited to:

  • The defendant’s participation in the alleged speed contest was not willful; she/he lacked the necessary intent.
  • There was no race between vehicles or timing device involved; the defendant was merely operating the vehicle at a high rate of speed. This defense will often be utilized in conjunction with a negotiated plea to a lesser offense, such as speeding.
  • Challenging the prosecution’s evidence to cast doubt upon its accuracy and sufficiency.
 
 
 

Driver's License Problems

 
 

Driving without a Driver's License
California Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC.

This section of the vehicle code applies mainly to persons found operating a motor vehicle, but who have never been granted a valid California driver’s license, or who are driving with an expired driver’s license. An individual who is stopped while driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license will typically be charged with a violation of 14601 VC, which is a more serious offense.

If an individual does actually have a valid driver’s license but simply forgot to carry it on their person while driving, they can be ticketed for violating 12951 VC, failing to produce a driver’s license. But this is a “fix it” ticket, which means that as long as the person appears in court and shows their valid license, the citation will likely be dismissed.

Elements of the crime of driving without a license

A driving without a license conviction under 12500(a) VC means the defendant has been found guilty of driving on a street, highway, freeway, or other public roadway, even though they do not possess a valid driver’s license at the time.

Unlike most offenses, under 12500(a), the prosecution does not carry the burden of proof. Instead, the prosecution must merely allege that the defendant was unlicensed at the time they were driving. The burden then shifts to the defendant to prove they did, in fact, actually have a valid driver’s license. The reasoning for this exception to normal legal procedure is that it is much more efficient for the defendant to prove they had a license, rather than requiring the prosecution to prove a negative.

Licenses issued by other states

Under this law, valid does not exclusively mean a California driver’s license. A driver’s license which is valid in the state in which the defendant lives and covers the specific type of vehicle the individual is driving, is a valid driver’s license for the purposes of this law. However, according to California law, anyone who establishes residency in the state and who wishes to drive must apply for and receive a California driver’s license within 10 days of becoming a resident. Failure to do so is, in effect, driving without a license, and is a violation of 12500(a) VC.

Criminal penalties

A violation of 12500(a) VC can be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor, with the only difference being the amount of the fine. The decision of whether to charge a violator with an infraction or a misdemeanor is based upon the totality of the circumstances and the defendant’s prior criminal history, if any. First offenses are generally charged as infractions.

A conviction for a driving without a license infraction is punishable by a fine of up to $250, but out-of-pocket costs can total $1,000 or more after penalties and assessments, so hiring a defense attorney can be advisable in some situations.

A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by any or all of:

  • Up to six months in jail.
  • A fine of up to $1,000.
  • Probation.
  • Vehicle impoundment for 30 days; but this penalty is typically reserved for those with previous convictions under this or other sections of the vehicle code.

In some cases, a misdemeanor charge can be reduced to an infraction or even dismissed if the defendant obtains a valid license. A common defense strategy is to postpone the court appearance until the defendant obtains a license to take to court.

Revoked or Suspended Driver’s License
California Vehicle Code 14601(a).

There are several subsections under 14601 VC (14601.1, 14601.2, 14601.3, and 14601.5), each of which is a separate offense involving driving on a suspended or revoked license. These related offenses each carry their own penalties, which are based upon the reason why the defendant’s license was suspended or revoked in the first place.

A driver’s license can be revoked or suspended for several reasons:

  • A conviction for reckless or negligent driving.
  • A DUI conviction.
  • Failure to obtain automobile insurance.
  • Failure to pay child support.
  • Failure to appear in court as required.
  • Being determined as incompetent to drive because of a mental or physical limitation or disability.

Most license suspensions in California range from 30 days to one year. But if an individual has been determined to be mentally or physically unfit to drive, the suspension could be indefinite.

Elements of the crime of driving while suspended or revoked

To obtain a conviction for a charge under 14601(a), the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving on a public roadway and also knew that their driver’s license had been suspended or revoked.

Criminal penalties

Driving on a revoked or suspended license is considered to be a “priorable” offense in that criminal penalties increase automatically for each subsequent conviction, regardless of whether the later offense was the same as a previous one.

Violation of 14601 VC and all of its subsections are misdemeanors. For a first conviction of driving on a license which was suspended or revoked license due to reckless or negligent driving, the defendant can be sentenced to any or all of:

  • Five days to six months in county jail.
  • A fine between $300 and $1,000.
  • Up to three years of probation.

For these defendants, a second offense within five years of a prior 14601 VC conviction increases the potential penalties to:

  • 10 days to one year in county jail.
  • Fines between $500 and $2,000.

If the license was suspended or revoked for multiple prior DUI convictions, or vehicular manslaughter while DUI, or habitual traffic offenders (HTOs), a first conviction for violating 14601 VC carries either or both of the following penalties:

  • 180 days in county jail.
  • A fine not to exceed $2,000.

For the same defendants, a second 14601 VC violation within five years can result in any or all of the following penalties:

  • 30 days to one year in county jail.
  • Fines between $500 and $2,000.
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device.

If the license was revoked or suspended for refusing to submit to a chemical blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test or for a DUI conviction, potential penalties for a first offense include any or all of the following:

  • Up to six months in county jail.
  • Fines between $300 and $1,000.
  • Probation for up to three years.
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device.

Second and subsequent offenses by these defendants within five years can result in any of all of:

  • 10 days to one year in county jail.
  • Fines between $500 and $2,000.
  • Probation for up to three years.
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device.

Legal defenses

The ability to drive is a virtual necessity in the Los Angeles area, so it’s not difficult to understand why some people cannot resist the temptation to get behind the wheel even when they know their driver’s license is suspended or revoked. But the consequences of doing so can be severe. Anyone charged with an offense under 14601(a) should seek the services of a qualified attorney. Only an attorney can provide sound legal advice and determine the appropriate defense strategy, which may include, but is not limited to the following.

Lack of knowledge

In order to secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove the defendant operated a motor vehicle even though they knew their driver’s license was suspended or revoked. In many cases, the defendant may have failed or forgotten to update their contact information with the DMV and would have had no way of knowing their license was not valid.

Invalid suspension

In some situations, a defendant may have had their license suspended as a result of a court or DMV error. If the defense can show the defendant’s license was in fact valid, no violation occurred.

Not actually operating the vehicle in question

In order to convict, the prosecutor must prove the defendant actually drove a given vehicle. If a police officer encountered a stopped or disabled vehicle with a person inside who did not have a valid driver’s license, it does not necessarily mean that person operated the vehicle. For example, the actual driver might have gone to get help, and the officer made a mistaken assumption that the passenger unlawfully drove the vehicle to the location where it was found.

Driving with a restricted license

Some individuals who have had their license suspended can qualify for a restricted license which allows them to drive to and from work or school, for example. As long as the defendant was operating within the limits of the restricted license, they are not guilty of violating 14601(a).