Can You Go To Jail For Driving Without a License?

Answer: individuals who drive without a license can be sentenced to jail, though the decision to send a defendant to jail depends heavily upon the circumstances of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history.

In the article that follows, we’ll explain.

Can You Go To Jail For Driving Without a License? (Explained)


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Driving Without a License

Driving without a license can be charged as a civil citation, and it can be charged as a crime.

A civil citation is not punishable by jail time.

Whether the offense is a citation or a crime depends first on where the driving without a license occurred, as each state has it’s own laws about the penalties associated with driving without a license.

Second, the seriousness of the offense often depends upon why the defendant did not have a valid driver’s license in the first place.

In many states, drivers convicted of driving crimes are punished with a suspension or termination of their driving privileges.

If they are caught driving without a license after their privileges to drive were suspended or terminated because of a conviction, many states raise the offense to the level of at least a misdemeanor.

But if they are caught driving without a license simply because they had not obtained one in the first place, or let it lapse without renewing it, the implications may not be as serious for the individual.

Again, the laws of the particular state will control and it is best to check the state specific rules to be sure.

Introduction To Sentencing

In all states, misdemeanor and felony crimes are all punishable by some level of jail time, though the maximum penalty varies from state to state.

While jail is a possibility in almost every misdemeanor and felony case, whether the defendant actually goes to jail is much more nuanced.

Offenders do not go to jail automatically for breaking the law every single time.

Instead, during sentencing process, many factors are considered, such as:

  • how bad the crime was
  • how badly anyone was hurt
  • how much property was damaged
  • whether self-defense was involved
  • whether the offender is prepared to pay for damages
  • whether this is a first offense
  • the most recent previous criminal conviction, and how many previous convictions there are
  • whether the offender is remorseful
  • whether jail will cause the offender to lose his job or place in school
  • whether the offender is prepared to enter substance abuse treatment
  • the mental and physical health of the defendant

The judge will make the decision as to whether jail is appropriate in the circumstances, or whether the offender would be better suited to performing community service or other service under the eye of the jail, such as trash clean up/road crew.

The parties (prosecutor and defense) may even negotiate a sentence that seems appropriate and jointly recommend it to the court for consideration.

Will An Individual Caught Driving Without a License Spend Time In Jail?

It is possible, but it is impossible to say without knowing more about the situation.

A jail sentences depends on the state the defendant was in, the circumstances of the offense, the characteristics of the defendant, and the overall situation.

Need Help?

If you have been charged with crimes, or you are worried that you will be, conferring with an attorney early on is recommended.

Even if you don’t think you’ll need a lawyer or be able to afford a retained lawyer in your case, early consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your state could prevent you from making your case worse and give you guidance about what to do next.

Wrap Up

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Can You Go To Jail For Driving Without a License