This week, we have a guest post from Amanda Gammon Morse from the New Orleans-based law firm, Kiefer & Kiefer. It addresses what drivers should do if they’re stopped without a license. The first thing immigrants who are stopped for driving without a license should do is check with an experienced immigration attorney. They should never assume that a criminal attorney will take the immigration ramifications of criminal defense strategies into account. Good ones will, but many well-meaning, very good attorneys don’t realize that routine decisions in their field of law can have disastrous impacts in ours. We’ve had to work to try to stop removal procedures that started after clients agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges—a tactic that is standard procedure for criminal lawyers dealing with clients that are citizens. It’s harder and more expensive to fix a situation than consulting an immigration lawyer first.
Under Louisiana law, everyone who operates a motor vehicle must possess a valid driver's license. If you are involved in an accident and you or the other driver do not have a valid license, you can still make a claim for damages.
Unlicensed drivers in Louisiana are not automatically liable for an accident solely because they do not have a valid license. Liability for the accident is dependent on the negligence of those involved and whether a person failed to act reasonably. As such, if you are driving without a valid license you can still file a claim if you were not at fault for the accident. Similarly, you can file a claim against someone driving without a license if you can show they operated the vehicle in a careless manner to cause the accident.
Although, driving without a license does not affect your ability to make a claim for injuries caused by an accident, you are still subject to penalties. Every driver must have a valid license in his possession, including digital image through the Louisiana Wallet Program. A licensed driver without the license in her immediate possession faces a fine of $10 to $500 and up to six months in jail. A driver without a valid license can result in a misdemeanor conviction and face up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $500.
While driving without a license may not affect your ability to make an insurance claim, driving without insurance can limit your recovery. We discuss this here.
It’s important to remember that immigrants driving without a license can still make a claim for damages. Some immigrants are faced with the difficult choice to drive without a license because they either lack the documents necessary to get driver’s license, or the documents they have move slowly through processing at Louisiana’s notoriously persnickety Office of Motor Vehicles. If they drive, they have to know that they’re liable for any fines and penalties that accompany being stopped without a license, but they can be subject to penalties and still be entitled to damages.
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