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What Happens If I’m Caught Driving with an Expired License?

Anytime that you are stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation, you must present your driver’s license. Most Texas driver’s licenses are valid for six years, after which time they must be renewed. Driving with an expired license is itself a violation punishable by a $200 fine for a first offense. Multiple violations can even lead to jail time.

Appeals Court: “License” Means Current License

In a recent case from Tyler, a driver thought he found a loophole in the law. The driver was charged with violating Section 521.021 of the Texas Transportation Code, which is the statute requiring drivers to have a license. Acting on his own initiative–that is, without the assistance of a criminal defense attorney–the driver argued that Section 521.021 violated his constitutional rights.

How so? The driver maintained the statue was “vague,” as it never actually said a driver required a “current” license. Here, the driver had a license. It was simply expired at the time of his arrest.

Here is what Section 521.021 actually says:

A person, other than a person expressly exempted under this chapter, may not operate a motor vehicle on a highway in this state unless the person holds a driver’s license issued under this chapter.

As the driver saw this, he did “hold a driver’s license,” albeit one that had expired. But the statute does not expressly say the license needs to be “current” or even “valid,” only that it was previously issued by the State of Texas.

The Texas 12th District Court of Appeals did not accept the driver’s reasoning. The court noted there are situations where a law may violate a person’s constitutional rights “if its prohibitions are not clearly defined.” This was not, however, such a situation.

While Section 521.021 itself may not refer to the “current” status of a license, the appeals court said this section “must be considered in conjunction with the rest of Chapter 521.” Indeed, the chapter as a whole defines the scope of driver’s licenses. Section 521.271, for example, sets the six-year time renewal limit mentioned earlier.

More to the point, when something is a “license,” that means it is “an authorization to operate a motor vehicle” granted by the state. And since the Texas legislature chose to set an expiration date for licenses, that limitation is “incorporated” into Section 521.021’s requirement that a driver must hold a license. The statute was therefore not vague.

Call Houston Traffic Violations Attorney Tad Nelson Today If You Need Help Fighting a Ticket

There are certainly times when it is proper to challenge the constitutionality of a law. Such challenges rarely succeed, however, when made by self-represented defendants fighting traffic tickets. So if you have received a traffic ticket for any reason and need qualified legal advice on what steps to take next, contact the Galveston and League City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today. Call (281) 280-0100.