A conviction for driving under the influence in California can have serious consequences. You could face jail time and pay high fines. However, causing a DUI accident increases the penalties that you face, especially if the accident results in serious injury or death to another person.
Before your trial in Superior Court on criminal charges, you have to deal with the DMV fatality hearing. These hearings are held after fatal and severe injury drunk driving accidents. The hearing is a legal proceeding that determines if your driving privileges will be revoked for the negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
Even though the administrative hearing is held at the Department of Motor Vehicles before a DMV hearing officer, you need to take the matter very seriously. You have the right to be represented by legal counsel at the hearing and present evidence in your defense.
Most people are unaware of DMV fatality and serious injury hearings. They are unaware that causing a DUI accident results in being labeled as a negligent operator by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Understanding more about the DMV fatality and serious injury hearing is the first step in protecting your driving privileges.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about DMV fatality hearings by our California DUI defense attorney.
What is a DMV Fatality Hearing in California?
After an accident that results in injury or death to another person, the California Department of Motor Vehicles holds a hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to determine what actions, if any, should be taken against the at-fault person’s driving privileges.
The authority to hold these hearings is found in California Vehicle Code §13800. The code section gives the DMV the authority to investigate serious and fatal injury accidents and to take action to suspend or revoke the driving privileges of negligent drivers.
The DMV has the authority to hold a hearing even if the driver was not entirely responsible for causing the accident. If a driver contributes to the cause of a DUI accident in the slightest way, the DMV can proceed with the hearing.
What Happens During a DMV Fatality Hearing?
The hearings are held at a DMV Driver Safety Office. A DMV officer presides over the hearing. The officer is an employee of the DMV instead of a judge or lawyer.
The DMV officer begins the hearing by presenting the Department’s evidence regarding the accident. In other words, the officer lays out the evidence that supports taking action against the person’s driving privileges. Examples of evidence the hearing officer may present include:
- The accident or crash report completed by the police officers reporting to the accident scene
- Medical records for the parties who were injured or killed
- Testimony from witnesses, including law enforcement officers, other people involved in the accident, or eyewitnesses
- The driving record for the at-fault driver
After the hearing officer presents the Department’s evidence against the driver, the driver has the opportunity to present a defense. The driver may refute the allegations and provide evidence supporting the driver’s claim that they did not cause the accident or the accident did not cause the person’s injury or death.
Examples of evidence the motorist might present include:
- Evidence of a safe driving record
- Witness testimony that supports the motorist’s allegations they did not cause the accident
- The accident report showing that the driver was not charged or “faulted” for causing the accident
- Medical records showing that the person’s injuries or death were not caused by the traffic accident
It is important to remember that the driver has the right to have an attorney present and represent them during the hearing. It is unwise to believe that you do not need a DUI defense attorney at an administrative hearing. Even though the Department is not represented by a lawyer and there is not a judge present, the results of a DMV fatality hearing can be severe.
What Are the Possible Results of a DMV Fatality or Serious Injury Hearing?
The hearing officer considers several factors when deciding the outcome of the DMV fatality hearing. First, the officer considers your driving record and attitude. The hearing officer also considers the likelihood that you may repeat the conduct and the possible effect of a sanction on deterring future negligent behavior.
The hearing officer may take any one of the following actions:
The DMV officer may revoke your driving privileges if he finds that you are guilty of committing reckless, flagrant, and aggravated driving acts with a disregard for the safety of other individuals. Examples of driving behavior that can result in revocation of driving privileges include racing, evading law enforcement, and driving under the influence combined with reckless acts that lead to a DUI accident.
When a driver fails to exercise a reasonable level of care while driving, the DMV may suspend the motorist’s driving privileges. Committing traffic violations that cause or contribute to an accident is an example of failing to exercise reasonable care. Since driving under the influence of alcohol is a traffic violation under California Vehicle Code §23152, causing a DUI accident could result in a suspended driver’s license.
DMV officers use restrictions on driving privileges when skill level or physical abilities cause traffic accidents. Restrictions are generally used only when the likelihood of the same violation happening again is low. The restrictions are a sufficient and appropriate way to prevent the driver from repeating the error.
Probation is used in cases involving a low degree of negligence. It is unlikely that a person who causes a DUI accident that results in death or injury would receive probation or restrictions.
If there is insufficient evidence to prove the motorist contributed to the cause of the accident or the accident caused the person’s injuries or death, the DMV officer takes no action against the motorist’s driving privileges.
What Happens if I Don’t Show Up for a DMV Fatality and Serious Injury Hearing?
You receive a Notice of Suspension after the DMV deems you to be a negligent operator. If you fail to respond to the notice and attend the DMV fatality hearing, the DMV suspends or revokes your driver’s license for at least one year.
The suspension or revocation period could be longer depending on your driving records and the facts of the case. A judge in the criminal case could suspend driving privileges for a longer period.
After the revocation or suspension period ends, you must apply to reinstate your driver’s license. You must pay a fine and show proof of SR-22 insurance before your driving privileges can be restored.
Can I Challenge the Ruling of a DMV Officer After a DMV Fatality Hearing?
You can request a DMV hearing to challenge the results of a DMV fatality hearing. However, a person is not entitled to a hearing if the action taken was mandatory according to the law or the person failed to request a hearing after being given appropriate notice of a hearing.
A DMV hearing officer could set aside revocation or suspension of a driver’s license. In the alternative, the driver could be placed on negligent operator probation. Instead of a suspension of driving privileges being effective immediately, the suspension only becomes effective if the driver causes an accident or commits a traffic violation.
The DMV officer could also order that the suspension stands, but the driver is granted a restricted driver’s license. The officer can also uphold the ruling of the DMV fatality hearing.
How Can I Prepare for a California DMV Fatality Hearing?
There are many ways to prepare for a California DMV fatality and serious injury hearing. First, you can collect evidence to present at your hearing to support retaining your full driving privileges. The evidence should be organized and contain copies of all originals to present to the court.
You can also contact individuals to testify at the hearing regarding your safe driving history. If eyewitnesses claim that you did not cause the accident, they need to be at the hearing to provide evidence.
Contact the DMV to obtain copies of your driving record to present at the hearing. The DMV hearing officer may or may not have a copy of your complete driving history. However, your driving record can help you establish that you are a safe driver who is unlikely to cause another accident despite the accident in question.
Do I Need a California DUI Defense Lawyer for My DMV Hearing?
The best way to prepare for a DMV fatality hearing is to contact a California DUI defense attorney. A DUI attorney has the resources and skills to investigate the DUI accident and gather evidence to defend the allegations against you. Your attorney handles all aspects of the case, including organizing evidence for your DMV hearing.
Your attorney understands how to present evidence during the DMV fatality hearing and question witnesses. Even though DMV hearing officers are not lawyers, they have significant experience gathering and presenting evidence. Going up against a DMV hearing officer alone often results in a suspension or revocation of driving privileges for negligent operation of a motor vehicle.