It might seem like a relatively minor thing to take the wheel of a car just once even though your driver's license has been suspended or revoked, but it's a much more serious offense than most people realize. How long you must go without driving depends on whether your license has been suspended or revoked.
Suspension is usually temporary, until you remedy the situation that caused the problem. Revocation means your state took your license away for good and you'll have to reapply to get it back, if in fact you can get it back at all.
Many Issues Can Result in Suspensions
Not all revocations or suspensions happen because of driving violations. For example, your state might suspend your driver's license because you failed to pay court-ordered child support. Maybe you were supposed to appear in court to face charges for some minor non-driving incident, but you didn't show up. Your license can also be suspended or revoked in most states for not insuring your vehicle - especially if you have an accident, for accumulating too many points against your license for moving violations, or for driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Penalties Can Depend on Several Factors
In some states, such as California, jail time is mandatory if you're caught driving after your license is suspended or revoked for driving under the influence. Penalties might also depend on whether you've ever driven with a suspended or revoked license before. For example, in Florida, your first offense can result in two months in jail; a third offense might require you to serve up to five years. In Oregon, if you lost your license due to a minor motor vehicle issue, the charge of driving without it may be only a violation, not a crime.
How You Plead Can Make a Difference
Representing yourself in court against a charge of driving with a revoked or suspended license may not be a good idea, because mistakes can result in many unforeseen complications. In some states, such as California, automatic extra penalties apply if you plead guilty or no contest. Without speaking with a lawyer, you might not even realize that it's possible for you to defend against the charge. The conviction will appear on your driving record and your auto insurance premiums will probably increase.
You May Have Defenses
There may be ways for you to avoid a conviction, or at the very least avoid the worst penalties, if you hire a knowledgeable lawyer. In some states, you can plead that you weren't aware of the revocation or suspension of your license, although limits to this defense might apply. It may not be a crime to drive without a license if you do so because of a legitimate emergency.
A Criminal Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding license suspension or revocation is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.