Offense of Driving Without a License in Georgia
Georgia law requires everyone operating a vehicle to have a valid driver’s license and display it when requested by police. If you’re stopped while driving without a license, you may face serious penalties and longer-term consequences. An experienced Georgia traffic offense lawyer can help you understand the implications of a plea and explore available options for defending against the charge.
Driver’s License Requirement in Georgia Law
Section 40-5-20 of the Georgia Code requires any person operating a motor vehicle to have a valid driver’s license for the type of class of vehicle being driven. While that provision does not state a requirement for a Georgia license, the section does establish a requirement that anyone who is a resident of Georgia for more than 30 days must obtain a Georgia driver’s license. In addition, Section 40-5-29 requires a driver to always have their driver’s license in their immediate possession when operating a motor vehicle.
Georgia Code Section 40-5-21 states numerous complex exemptions to the license requirement. The exceptions include a nonresident on military active duty (or their immediate family members) who has a license issued by their home state, a U.S. government employee on official business, a person operating a farm tractor for farm business, a person with a valid license from another state, and other specific limited circumstances.
Laws that Apply to Driving Without a License
If you’re stopped while driving and cannot produce a license, three different Georgia Code provisions may apply. Section 40-5-121 addresses Driving with a Suspended, Disqualified, or Revoked License. Section 40-5-29, No License on Person, addresses situations in which a driver has a valid license but does not have it in their immediate possession when stopped. Section 40-5-20, Driving Without a Valid License, applies to those drivers who have not obtained a valid driver’s license.
The lesser of these offenses is No License on Person. Even if you have a valid driver’s license, being unable to produce it (or a copy of it) may result in a misdemeanor charge. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, if you can later produce a valid license in effect at the time you were stopped, the fine can be reduced to $10.
Driving on a suspended, disqualified, or revoked license and driving without a license are far more serious offenses. A conviction can result in a fine, jail time, probation, and a license suspension added to the existing suspension. Repeat offenses carry increased penalties.
Penalties for Driving with a Suspended, Disqualified or Revoked License
A first offense for violation of Section 40-5-121 is a misdemeanor with penalties of two days to 12 months in jail (with a two-day minimum), a fine of $500 to $1,000 (with a mandatory minimum of $500), and a six-month license suspension. The penalties apply to a conviction or plea of nolo contendere, except that a nolo contendere plea may avoid the license suspension under certain circumstances.
For a second or third offense within five years, the charge is a high and aggravated misdemeanor. Jail time increases to a 10-day minimum and up to 12 months. The fine increases to a minimum of $1,000 and up to $2,500. The license suspension is for six months.
A fourth or subsequent conviction within five years is a felony that carries a minimum one-year jail term and maximum of five years. The fine is a minimum of $2,500 and up to $5,000. License suspension of at least six months and up to a lifetime suspension is imposed.
The statute contains the following provision regarding nolo contendere pleas:
For purposes of pleading nolo contendere, only one nolo contendere plea will be accepted to a charge of driving without being licensed or with a suspended or disqualified license within a five-year period as measured from date of arrest to date of arrest. All other nolo contendere pleas in this period will be considered convictions. For the purpose of imposing a sentence under this subsection, a plea of nolo contendere shall constitute a conviction. There shall be no limited driving permit available for a suspension or disqualification under this Code section.
A conviction also goes on the driver’s permanent criminal record. Fingerprints are sent to the Georgia Crime Information Center for future tracking purposes.
Penalties for Driving Without a License
The law provides that anyone convicted of violating Section 40-5-20 shall be subjected to the punishments as prescribed for violations of driving with a suspended driver’s license under Section 40-5-121, as discussed above.
Why Do You Need a Lawyer?
As the preceding information demonstrates, even the first charge for Driving Without a License can have extremely serious penalties and consequences if you do not have and cannot produce a valid driver’s license. The first charge and repeat charges within five years all carry mandatory minimum penalties.
If you face a charge of Driving Without a License, a consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney is strongly recommended. A lawyer can analyze the circumstances, advise you of your options for proceeding, and explain the full consequences of any type of plea. Without advice from a knowledgeable attorney, you may make a decision about what to do without being fully informed of the consequences. Given the severity of the penalties for a charge of Driving Without a License and the potential consequences longer term, that is a mistake you do not want to make.
Schedule a Consultation with an Experienced Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer
Our criminal and DUI defense lawyers at The McCoy Law Firm, LLC, have decades of experience representing defendants facing all types of misdemeanor and felony criminal charges throughout northwest Georgia, including Driving Without a License and other traffic offenses. If you are under investigation or are facing any criminal charge, please call (770) 382-0984 or contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia, so we can begin working on your case right away.