In California, DUI defendants have to prove their innocence in two legal proceedings, the DMV administrative hearing and the criminal case in court. The DMV administrative hearing may not appear to have an effect on your sentencing, but it should not be taken lightly. One would need an experienced attorney to improve their chances of winning in a DMV hearing. If you get arrested for DUI in Los Angeles, contact Leah Legal law firm. We can represent and defend you in a DMV administrative hearing process as well as the DUI criminal court proceedings.
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What is a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) Administrative Hearing?
A California DMV hearing refers to an administrative proceeding held at the local office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (but not in court). The main purpose of this proceeding is to determine whether your license should be revoked or suspended (or not) following your DUI arrest. This is an administrative process that deals solely with your privileges to drive. Thus, the DMV can’t impose fines or have you imprisoned, but it can revoke or suspend your driver’s license.
In case you get arrested for DUI, the officer who arrested you will seize your license and issue you with notice of suspension, which is normally pink in color. The notice will act as a temporary driver’s license. This license is valid for thirty days.
Also, the notice of suspension notifies you that you’re eligible for a DMV hearing in which you will defend yourself to stop the revocation or suspension of your driver’s license. However, you have to request this hearing within ten days from the day you were arrested.
If you don’t request a hearing within ten days, you cannot do it again, and your driver’s license would be suspended automatically once the thirty days are over. You will only qualify to reinstate the license after fulfilling the following:
- Enrolling in a DUI school
- Submitting an insurance form (form SR-22)
- Paying a reinstatement fee of $125
- In other cases, installing an IID (ignition interlock device) in your vehicle
If you demand a DMV administrative hearing, it will delay the suspension of your license until after the hearing outcome. If the DMV rules in your favor, your license may not be suspended.
The Relationship Between a DMV Administrative Hearing and a DUI Criminal Court Case
As we mentioned before, unlike a DUI court hearing, a DMV proceeding doesn’t dwell on whether you committed a DUI offense or not. The focus is solely on the facts surrounding your arrest and whether or not your license should be suspended.
Even so, the two hearings are still closely related. For instance, the testimony acquired during the DMV proceeding may move the prosecution to dismiss your case or lower the charges in the court case.
Also, if the court rules that you are not guilty of VC 23152(b) charges (DUI with a BAC of .08% or higher), the verdict may compel the California Department of Motor Vehicles to reissue your license. However, if the court dismisses your case, if you plead guilty or if you don’t contest the reduced charges, then your license suspension by the DMV will not be affected in any way.
The main difference between a DMV administrative hearing and a DUI court case is that a DUI trial is more comprehensive. This is because the attorneys have the freedom to apply a variety of defenses in fighting your charges.
Another difference is that a DMV administrative hearing is conducted by a hearing officer who is a DMV employee while a DUI hearing is conducted by a jury of 12 members who must agree unanimously on your guilt before they can convict you for DUI.
Thus, it is important to hire a DUI defense lawyer who is well-conversant with DMV hearings as well as DUI court trials. Since the hearings are conducted differently, it’s important that you have an attorney who knows how both processes work.
Your Rights at the DMV Administrative Hearing
DMV DUI hearings are not as tense as court proceedings. For instance, instead of a court judge, the hearing is presided over by a hearing officer from the DMV, who bears no official legal training. Additionally, the proof needed to show guilt, i.e., the burden of proof is easily contented in a DMV hearing as compared to a criminal court proceeding. Another aspect that makes these hearings less tense is that instead of happening in court, these hearings are carried out in an office. In other cases, they even happen through the phone.
However, despite all these informalities, you still have certain significant rights during the hearing. For example, you are entitled to attorney representation during the hearing, although this will be at your expense. This implies that, as opposed to a court hearing, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not choose a lawyer to represent you even if you are incapable of affording your own.
During the hearing, you have the right to:
- Testify on your behalf
- Review and contest proof
- Cross-examine the witnesses
- Subpoena and bring witnesses (even the arresting police officer)
Scheduling a DMV Administrative Hearing
For you to schedule this hearing, you have to reach out to your local DMV driver safety branch office. This is where the hearing will take place. Note that this is not the same office as the DMV office where you register your car or obtain your license. Remember you have to call or visit the office within ten days of the arrest requesting them to schedule the hearing. Failure to which, you will lose the right to the hearing.
In case you chose to be represented by a private defense attorney in your criminal court case, the attorney will most likely demand and arrange for the DMV hearing on your behalf, as long as you retain their services within ten days. The attorney can also attend the hearing for you. In this case, you don’t need to go to the hearing if you aren’t testifying. However, in many cases, this hearing will be held through the phone instead of physically.
How You Can Win at Your DMV Administrative Hearing
The extent of a DMV proceeding is a bit wide. There are various issues which the officer presiding over the case will consider. They include:
- The arresting police officer had probable cause or reason to believe that you were drunk driving.
- The officer had legal cause to arrest you.
- You were operating the vehicle with a .08% or more BAC.
In case you refused to take a chemical test, the last one of the points mentioned above becomes debatable at the hearing. Here, the crucial concerns will be:
- If the arresting officer notified you that your driving privileges will be revoked for a year or nullified for three or two years in case you refused to take a chemical test.
- If you willfully refused to take a chemical test after being asked for a sample.
Once the hearing officer has considered these issues, he or she will either suspend your license depending on the DUI you have been charged with or decide in your favor and not suspend the license. If the officer decides in your favor, it means you are not guilty of the allegations against you.
The officer may allow you to keep your license if you argue at least one of the concerns raised above successfully, or if you successfully prevent incriminating proof from finding its way to the hearing.
Your attorney could present the following DUI defenses for you at the hearing.
The officer arrested you at an unlawful license checkpoint
In case the officer arrested you at a checkpoint that doesn’t comply with the California legal requirements as stipulated under DUI laws of California, then he/she would be unlawful to do so. This implies that even if you were operating a vehicle while intoxicated, the illegal arrest would cancel that fact. This defense may enable you to win your DMV hearing.
You weren’t driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle
If the arresting officer didn’t personally see you driving, and the DMV doesn’t subpoena any eyewitnesses who saw you, or there’s no other proof that could substantiate that it is you that was driving, the DMV hearing officer may not suspend your license.
You could argue that after drinking, you got back to the car, but you knew you couldn’t drive. Thus, you sat in the car and decided to doze it off. An officer approached the car to find out if there was any problem. He/ she smelled an alcoholic odor on you and put you under arrest for DUI. The arrest would be illegal because you didn’t drive under the influence.
Lack of probable cause for the arrest
If the arresting officer didn’t have any reasonable cause to arrest you for DUI, the DMV hearing officer should not suspend your license. Your attorney could present multiple reasons why there was no reasonable cause for you to be detained. For instance, maybe you were following all traffic rules and were stopped only because of your race, or you were in a road accident but didn’t drink until you were home and the officer came to question you.
The equipment used for chemical testing was faulty, or it wasn’t calibrated
The Code of Regulations of California regulates the operation and maintenance of chemical testing equipment. The law dictates that the equipment has to be checked for accuracy after every 150 blows or 10 days. If the officer used an instrument that did not comply with these regulations to collect your samples, your BAC level might turn out to be incorrect. Thus, the hearing officer may reverse your license suspension. On the same note, if the equipment was malfunctioning, it could lead to false, exaggerated test results.
The officer didn’t do a proper observation before the arrest
The Code of Regulation of California also governs how chemical tests should be administered, results collected, analyzed, and stored. In case the officer did not follow the correct procedure, the test results will be subjected to scrutiny.
Additionally, the Code of Regulation provides that an arresting officer should observe the arrestee for 15 minutes at the minimum immediately before the breath test. The observation ensures that the arrestee doesn’t do anything that might interfere with the test results like drinking, eating, smoking, or vomiting.
If this observation is not conducted, the results may be jeopardized. This could mean that your BAC wasn’t at .08% or higher when you got arrested, which may result in you winning your DMV hearing.
There are physiological reasons for your inaccurate high BAC
There are several explanations why you may have a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more, which are not related to the quantity of alcohol you consumed. For instance, low carbs and high protein diets may trigger false BAC results. Additionally, medical conditions like heartburn and acid reflux can produce false BAC results.
In case you experienced these conditions when you were submitting to a breath test, you might not have been operating the car with a .08% or more BAC as results indicate. Thus, there is a chance of you winning your hearing on this basis.
You didn’t refuse to take the chemical test
It could be that you didn’t refuse to take the test. Maybe you did take the test, but the samples in your breath were not enough to detect. Alternatively, perhaps you weren’t offered an alternative of a blood test. Or, you simply wanted to know more about the process; thus, you were asking questions, and the arresting officer mistook the inquiries for hostility and concluded that you were declining to take the test.
If you didn’t refuse to submit to the test, there are high chances of winning the hearing. This is because if there is no proof of refusal and there are no BAC test results, the hearing officer can’t suspend your license on this basis.
The officer didn’t inform you about the repercussions of declining to take a chemical test
In case you opt to decline to take a chemical test, the arresting officer has to caution you of an automatic one-year license suspension. The caution is in written form. Thus, the officer should read it to you word by word. If this did not happen, your chances of winning the hearing improve.
Since officers arrest many drunk driving suspects, they tend to brush through the statement. In case the officer forgot to caution you, deliberately chose not to caution you, or recited the warning in his or her own words rather than reading it, your license may not be suspended.
There were mistakes with the paperwork the officer filed
When you get arrested, the officer must complete certain compulsory paperwork and reports. If he/she indicates incorrect dates and times on the paperwork, fails to sign, does not report the results of the BAC test or inputs incorrect BAC results, and cannot remember the correct facts to correct the mistakes, the errors may result in the hearing officer deciding in your favor.
What Follows After You Win Your DMV Hearing?
In case you win the hearing, the hearing officer won’t suspend your license, meaning your privilege to drive will be intact. It also implies that the prosecutor might get you a better deal during the negotiations for a plea bargain in your DUI court case. In case the DUI court proceeding reveals significant mistakes in the case, it can persuade the prosecution to dismiss the charges.
However, since the DMV hearing and DUI court proceedings are held separately, winning your DMV proceeding doesn’t automatically impact the criminal court hearing. For some reason, the prosecution may still maintain that they have adequate proof to go to trial. If the jury convicts you for DUI in court, your license could still be suspended by the judge.
What if You Lose?
If you do not win your DMV administrative hearing, your attorney may still have obtained proof in the course of the proceeding, which could convince the prosecution to reduce your charges in the court case. A win at a court trial or a particular plea bargain might prompt the DMV to reverse your license suspension decision even if it was already affected.
However, regarding your driving freedom, your driver’s license suspension will take effect in case you lose the hearing. The suspension period and circumstances will be based on whether it’s your first or subsequent charge.
You Can Appeal Your DMV Hearing Verdict
If you lost but are not contented with the results, you can appeal the verdict. You can request the DMV to do a departmental assessment or appeal directly to the Superior Court of California.
Both of these procedures have specific deadlines and work under strict rules. Thus, you should have an experienced attorney by your side if you are planning on appealing the outcome of your DMV hearing.
The deadline to appeal and further instructions are found on the form informing you about the decision of the department concerning the hearing.
Contact a DMV Hearing Attorney Near Me
If you are in Los Angeles and are facing a DUI charge, contact Leah Legal at 818-484-1100. Our Los Angeles criminal attorney has many years of experience, thus are well-conversant with California DUI laws. We will defend your rights, represent you at the DMV administrative hearing, and also prepare a strong defense to fight for you during a DUI criminal court case. Call now!