Definition of ‘No Valid Driver License’
The definition of ‘No Valid Drivers License’ is contained in Section 322.03(1), Washington DC Statutes. Under the law, it is a criminal act for a person to drive any ‘motor vehicle’ on a State ‘highway’ unless that person has a valid driver’s license issued by an appropriate governmental authority.
To ‘drive’ means that a person operates or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle in any place open to the general public for vehicular traffic. “Motor vehicle” is defined as any vehicle which is self-propelled, including a moped, but not any vehicle moved solely by human power, motorized wheelchair, or motorized bicycle.
“Street” or “highway” means the entire width between the boundary lines of every way or place, or any part thereof, which is open to the public.
What Constitutes a Driver’s License?
Under Section 322.01(17), Washington DC Statutes, a valid driver’s license means a certificate that, subject to all other requirements of law, authorizes a person to drive a motor vehicle and denotes an operator’s license as defined in 49 U.S.C. 30301.
49 U.S.C. 30301 defines a ‘operator’s license’ to mean a license issued by a State authorizing an individual to operate a motor vehicle on public streets, roads, or highways. Thus, under the literal wording of the statute, only State-issued licenses or certificates are encompassed by the definition of ‘driver’s license.’
Driver License Exemptions
Under Section 322.04, Washington DC Statutes, there are several classifications of persons who are exempt from having to obtain a statutorily defined driver’s license. They include the following:
- Operators of tractors, road machines, and farm-related machinery;
- Non-residents at least 16 years of age who have in their immediate possession a valid non-commercial driver’s license from their home state or country who operate a vehicle requiring a Class E driver’s license;
- Non-residents at least 18 years of age who have in their immediate possession a valid non-commercial license issued from their home state or country who operate a non-commercial vehicle;
- Golf cart operators as defined and permitted by statute.
Foreigners and Illegal Immigrants
In countless criminal cases every year, Washington DC prosecutors attempt to charge foreign nationals (illegal immigrants,in particular) with ‘No Valid Driver License’ on grounds that the defendant possessed only a foreign-issued license, and not a State-issued license or International Driving Permit. This erroneous practice is based on a former statutory provision that has since been repealed.
Prior to 2013, Chapter 322 required that foreign nationals exhibit an International Driving Permit in addition to the license issued by their home country. This posed a major impediment to tourism and other commerce, and was widely criticized by foreign governments.
In HB 7059 (2013), the Washington DC legislature repealed this portion of the law, thereby removing the requirement of an International Driving Permit. A non-resident foreign national can now lawfully drive in Washington DC so long so long as he or she is in immediate possession of a valid license issued by his or her home country.
Even where prosecutors are aware of the law, police officers, in order to validate their decision to issue a citation or make an arrest, will often allege that the accused did not have the license in his or her possession at the time of the traffic stop. For this reason, foreign nationals should always carry a license on their person, and insist that the officer notate on the citation or arrest paperwork that a foreign license was presented.
Penalties for No Valid Driver’s License
In Washington DC, ‘No Valid Driver’s License’ is classified as a second degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Although the majority of cases will not result in a jail sentence, the principal consequence of a No Valid License conviction is that it will create a permanent criminal record.
No Valid License vs. Suspended License
No Valid Driver’s License differs from a charge of Driving with a Suspended or Revoked License in terms of the elements of the offense and the consequences of the offense.
First, a No Valid Driver’s License charge does not require proof of a knowledge element. The State needs only to show that the defendant was driving and that there was no valid license issued. Prosecutors will usually attempt to prove license status at trial through the introduction of a Department of Motor Vehicles certified driving record, although this does not definitively establish the absence of a license.
The charge is further distinguished from Suspended / Revoked License in that a conviction does not count towards classifying the accused as a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO). Where a person drives on a suspended or revoked license and accumulates three or more such convictions within a five-year period, he or she will lose their driving privileges for five years. This harsh consequence does not apply No Valid Driver’s License.
A conviction for No Valid Driver’s License will nonetheless create criminal record. Even for a seemingly innocuous traffic offense, this can have a negative impact on employment applications, college applications, insurance premiums, and other aspects of daily life.
Defenses to the Charge
There are many defenses available to contest a charge of No Valid Driver’s License in Washington DC. Common examples include:
- Unlawful traffic stop;
- Unlawful detention subsequent to the stop;
- Defendant has a valid license;
- Non-resident defendant had a valid foreign driver’s license in his or her possession at the time of the traffic stop;
- Defendant not on a ‘street,’ ‘highway,’ or other place open to the general public;
- Lack of evidence that the defendant did not have a license issued by another governmental authority.
Contact an Attorney
If you have been charged with No Valid Driver’s License Palm Beach or surrounding counties in Southeast Washington DC, contact attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein for a free consultation. Attorney Attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein will help you obtain or restore your driving privileges and work to avoid a conviction.