Driving Without a License in New Jersey

Every TV show where someone is pulled over by the police has the same opening exchange, “License and registration please?” It may not always go that way in real life but your driver’s license and vehicle registration are the typical requests. 

So what happens if you get stopped in New Jersey and can’t produce a license? What are the potential penalties and convictions you could be exposed to? What do you say if you are appearing before a NJ traffic judge? 

What happens if you get caught driving without a license in New Jersey?

Most people are under the impression that not being able to produce a license isn’t a big deal. You simply offer an explanation and go on your way. If you are met by a particularly plucky officer, you may have to produce a license later at your local precinct. That is not the case in New Jersey. 

Under New Jersey Statute Title 39, Section 3-10 governing vehicles and traffic regulation, driving is seen as a privilege and not a right. It’s an important distinction. As it is not considered a right, the penalties for failure to produce a license err on the harsher side. Fines, prison, and disqualification are a possibility. 

What is the penalty for driving without a license in NJ?

If you get caught driving without a license, you are charged with an unlicensed driver violation under the NJ Motor Vehicles Commission. There is a range of potential penalties that depend on the severity of the offense, your reason for driving, and the cause for being without a license. 

Failing to have your license on your person or having an expired license

At the lower end of the penalty scale are genuine oversights. These are the cases where you lost your wallet, left the license at home, or didn’t renew in time. You are typically charged as having no proof of owning a license until you can produce it. Rarely does this turn into a meaningful conviction once you take the necessary steps to prove yourself. 

If your case is not dismissed, you could be subjected to a $250-$500 fine and suspended from applying for up to 6 months. These sanctions are reserved for individuals who never had a license to begin with. In more serious circumstances, a prison sentence of up to 60 days can be levied.  

Not producing a license as a Commercial Driver

Truckers, delivery drivers, and other professional haulage drivers are required to hold a commercial driving license. In addition to a Class D license, commercial drivers must submit a medical report, be physically fit, and have 20/40 vision in both eyes. 

If you are a CDL/CPL driver, you’re held to higher standards and face harsher sanctions for violating license laws. 60 to 120 days of driving suspension is a typical sanction but it gets worse quickly. If you commit two or more violations, your license could be revoked and have a permanent driving ban issued. If this is what you do for work, it means you will lose your job for good. 

What if your license was suspended, revoked or restricted? 

Driving on a restricted, suspended or revoked license is understandably punished in harsher terms. Not only do you fall under traffic violations, but you could also be considered for disorderly person offenses. This will almost always come with an extension of your suspension up to a maximum of 30 months (2.5 years). 

When it comes to a fine, the entry point is $500 and can reach $3,000 depending on the reason you were banned. If the reason was related to an accident, putting others in danger or you have repeatedly violated your restrictions, you could face up to 180 days in jail.

Why am I also facing a surcharge?

New Jersey operates a penalty points system similar to the ones used in Europe. You amass points based on driving infractions from parking tickets to speeding. If you receive over 12 points in a 3 year period, you will have your license suspended. A surcharge of $150 is placed on drivers who receive 6 points with an additional $25 for every point past 6 you receive. 

Be aware that not paying your surcharges can result in a suspension of your license and you may not learn about it until it is too late. 

What defence do I have if I was driving without a license in NJ?

US law is quite simple in that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If you choose to contest a penalty in traffic court, there is a burden of proof on the state prosecution. However, the issue is that the bar for proof is typically quite low and not all that difficult to achieve. This means you need to be prepared with a strong defence. 

Overturning the case is rare but a successful plea deal usually involves one of the following:

  • Having a license from a different state. 
  • Vehicle not in operation. If you were sitting in the driver’s seat but the car wasn’t switched on, you can build a reasonable case for yourself. 
  • You had good reason to drive. A compelling reason such as an emergency or essential travel is looked upon favorably for most offenders. However, tread carefully because if you are found to be embellishing your story, it can mean harsher punishments.

Final Thoughts

The justice system is not designed to make an example of people who simply forgot their license. It happens and provided the exchange with the officer is cordial, you shouldn’t run into too many issues. However, when a driver has not got a license, the punishments scale up quickly. Often it is because there is less room for mitigation. The driver usually knows they shouldn’t be driving and has done it anyway. 

If you have been caught driving without a license but have a valid reason, consider contesting the charge for a plea deal. Reasonable police and traffic judges will accept emergencies or oversights as genuine causes. But when it comes to repeated subsequent violations, you should consider finding an experienced traffic attorney because you are highly likely to face harsher punishments.

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