Driving Offenses in Orange County, CA

Driving offenses is an extremely broad category under criminal defense law. While the automatic response to considering this category would be to think of speeding tickets and DUI, driving offenses are much more than that. Simply stated, driving offenses refer to any criminal act that involved an automobile in its execution. Given this broad definition, driving offenses can include traffic tickets and DUI but it can also include much more.

Some of the most common driving offenses in Santa Ana may include:


Section 215 of the Penal Code defines carjacking as taking someone’s car by force or fear.  For example, if a person threatens to shoot you if you don’t give them your car, it’s a carjacking.  Even if you don’t own the car, it’s still a carjacking. 

Oftentimes, mistaken identity can be a defense to carjacking.  An experienced criminal defense attorney can also try and show that no force or fear was used, therefore a carjacking did not take place.

A carjacking is a felony offense and carries up to 9 years in prison, as well as $10,000 in fines.  One can receive additional time if there was injury to the alleged victim, if a gun was used, if the carjacking was carried out by a gang, or if a kidnapping took place during the course of the carjacking. 

Driving on a Suspended License (Vehicle Code Section 14601)

California Vehicle Code Section 14601 defines driving on a suspended license as driving a motor vehicle after your license has been suspended or revoked and knowing so.  A license can be suspended due to several reasons including a DUI or too many tickets over a period of time.  In order to prove the charge, the Prosecutor must show that you had knowledge of your license being suspended by receiving some type of notice and acknowledging that notice.

A 14601 is a misdemeanor offense which carries a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail along with $1,000 in fines.  However, with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you may be able to reduce this charge to a less serious offense.

Evading a Police Officer

Section 2800.1 of the Vehicle Code defines evading a police officer as willfully driving a vehicle in attempt to flee from police.  A misdemeanor evading offense carries up to one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.  Additionally, the vehicle may also be impounded.  An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you fight this charge by attacking the intent element and showing that you did not mean to run from the police.

Grand Theft Auto

Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) defines grand theft auto as intentionally taking someone else’s vehicle to permanently deprive them of it or for a substantial period of time or in order to sell the parts. 

An experienced criminal defense attorney can fight this charge by offering the following potential defenses:  the car belonged to you or at least you believed it did so, the owner gave you consent to take the vehicle or that you did not have the intent to take it. 

This offense is usually charged as a felony with up to 3 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.  For more expensive cars, additional time is added on to the sentence.

In contrast, taking another’s vehicle for a short period of time and then returning it qualifies as “joyriding.”  This offense comes under Vehicle Code Section 10851 and is a misdemeanor.  It carries up to one year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.

Hit and Run

Vehicle Code Section 20002(a) outlines a hit and run with property damage.  A hit and run offense takes place when you willfully leave the scene of an accident knowing that you were involved in an accident.  The law says that if you cause any kind of property damage, then you must stop immediately and as close to the scene of the accident as possible.  You should immediately try and locate the owner of the vehicle or property that you damaged and exchange important information such as name, address, license, and registration.  If you cannot locate the owner, then leave a note including your name and address and call the police to notify them of the accident. 

Even if you hit someone’s mailbox or fence and there was damage, you must notify the owner and make a report with the police.  Minor or insignificant damage will not excuse you from your duty to exchange information and report the incident.

The most common defense to a hit and run is lack of knowledge.  An experienced criminal defense attorney can show that you were unaware of being involved in an accident. An attorney may also try and work out what’s called a civil compromise.  It’s an agreement between the injured party and the defendant where the defendant agrees to pay the injured party for damages and the injured party releases the defendant of any criminal wrongdoing.  The case is then dismissed by the judge.

A misdemeanor hit and run can carry up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. However, if there is significant property damage or bodily injury, a hit and run may be charged as a felony and can then carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison.

Vehicular Manslaughter 

California Penal Code Section 192(c) defines vehicular manslaughter as unlawfully and/or negligently driving a motor vehicle that results in the death of another.

For example, when someone violates a traffic law, such as running a red light, and kills someone, he or she can be charged with vehicular manslaughter.  

The Prosecutor must show that there was ordinary negligence--  where a person failed to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person would in a similar situation. Being a driver on the road, you owe duty of care to other drivers as well as pedestrians.  This duty requires you to obey the traffic laws, operate a motor vehicle safely, and have a valid driver’s license.  A breach of this duty is considered negligence and you can then be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

If the negligence rises to gross negligence, then one can be charged with felony vehicular manslaughter. Gross negligence involves more than just ordinary carelessness. It is when a person acts in such a reckless manner that it creates a high risk of death or serious harm to another person.

Whether the conduct rises to gross negligence will be contingent on the facts of your case.  If you were driving 80 mph in a 25 mph school zone, then your conduct will most likely be considered gross negligence.  However, driving 35 mph in a 25 mph zone may only be considered ordinary negligence.

Some of the most common defenses to vehicular manslaughter are that you were not negligent, your actions did not cause of death, or that you were not driving the vehicle.

A misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter conviction carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. A felony vehicular manslaughter conviction is punishable up to 6 years in state prison and $10,000 in fines. Additionally, the DMV can suspend your driver’s license if you are convicted of this offense.

DMV hearings are one of the factors exclusive to driving offenses. This category of criminal defense law is unique because it involves two separate governing entities. The first entity is the criminal justice system, whose laws are enforced by courtrooms, state attorneys and police officers. The other entity involved in the punishment of driving offenses is the Department of Motor Vehicles, who is responsible for sanctions on one's driving privileges. Regardless of the nature or extent of the driving offense, anyone charged with a criminal act that involves the possibility of license suspension will be required to appear at a DMV hearing to dispute the license suspension. This occasion is in addition to and completely separate from one's appearance before a criminal court to be prosecuted.

Dedicated to Defending Your Rights

When you are facing charges involving driving offenses, you need a legal advocate who can counsel you through the process with skill and determination. As your Santa Ana driving offense attorneys, the team at Darwish Law is prepared to represent you in both criminal court and administrative court to ensure that your rights are protected and respected at all times.

For a free case consultation, contact our Orange County Criminal Lawyer at 714-887-4810.