The burden of proof at a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) hearing or APS hearing is by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This level of proof is less than the burden of proof a prosecutor would need to prove a case in criminal court.
However, just because your burden of proof at a DMV hearing may not be as high as if you were defending yourself in criminal court, it does not mean you should not consult a DUI defense attorney about the hearing. Losing your driving privileges can negatively affect numerous aspects of your life, including work, school, family, custody, and visitation.
During a DMV administrative hearing, the California DMV can take several actions against your driving privileges. Understanding the burden of proof and your rights at a DMV hearing can help you fight a driver’s license suspension or revocation by the California DMV.
What Is a DMV Administrative Hearing?
If the CA DMV revokes, suspends, or takes other discretionary action against your driving privileges, you have the right to a hearing before the department. The purpose of the hearing is to challenge the action taken by the department by reviewing the evidence the department has to support the action.
You must request an administrative hearing within ten days of receiving the notice from the CA DMV. Hearing requests are made through a DMV Driver Safety Office. You need to provide your full name, date of birth, address, and driver’s license number. It is also wise to have the notice available to provide other information the office may request.
The Standard of Proof for a California DMV Hearing
At a DMV administrative hearing, the hearing officer must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that your driver’s license should be revoked or suspended. When the charges involve driving under the influence, the officer must prove that you were operating a motor vehicle:
- With a Breath Alcohol Content (BAC) over the legal limit (.08% or higher); OR,
- While impaired by drugs or alcohol
The evidence presented against you must prove you were driving under the influence or with a BAC above the legal limit by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, it was more likely than not that you were intoxicated or impaired when a police officer arrested you for DUI. A “preponderance” generally means there is more than a 50% chance that the allegations are true.
A preponderance of the evidence is used in a civil trial. If your DUI charges proceed to criminal court, the burden of proof changes. The burden of proof increases to “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The burden of proving the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt is higher than by a preponderance of the evidence. A prosecutor in a DUI case must prove to a jury or the judge that the only reasonable explanation for the evidence presented in court is that you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
What Are My Rights At a CA DMV Administrative Hearings Held?
Your DMV administrative hearing is held in person or by telephone. A DMV hearing officer conducts the hearing. He is not a judge, but he has the authority to suspend or revoke your driver’s license.
You are informed of the actions or proposed actions taken against your driving privileges at the hearing. You are also informed of the legal grounds that the CA DMV has to take those actions. Your rights at a DMV hearing include:
- To be represented by an attorney at your expense
- Review the evidence the DMV has against you
- Challenge the DMV’s evidence
- Testify on your own behalf
- Present evidence you have regarding the matter, including witnesses, documentation, and testimony
- Cross-examine any witnesses that appear on behalf of the CA DMV
You receive a written copy of the hearing officer’s decision following the administrative hearing. If you disagree with the decision, you may request an administrative review by the DMV. You may also appeal the decision to the Superior Court.
What Actions Can the DMV Hearing Officer Take After the Hearing?
The CA DMV hearing officer is not a judge. He hears evidence after a DMV arrest to determine whether the person’s driving privileges should be suspended. The DMV officer may suspend your driving privileges if he finds the evidence proves:
- The officer had reasonable cause for the DUI stop;
- The officer had probable cause for a DUI arrest; and,
- You were operating your vehicle with a BAC of 0.8% or higher.
The hearing officer may also suspend your driver’s license if you refused a blood or breath test. California is an implied consent law for BAC testing. Drivers are deemed to have consented to chemical testing for BAC levels after a DUI arrest. Failing to consent to a breath, urine, or blood test after a DUI arrest can result in an automatic suspension of your driving privileges.
How Can I Win at a California DMV Hearing After a DUI Arrest?
Drivers who retain a Los Angeles DUI attorney to assist them in presenting a solid legal defense have a better chance of winning a DMV hearing. Even though DMV hearings are not criminal court cases, they are governed by rules, including the Administrative Procedures Act and the California Vehicle Code. Attorneys understand these rules and how to use the rules to a person’s advantage.
Furthermore, a DUI lawyer also understands the various DUI defenses that can help you win your case at a DMV hearing. Potential defenses you might raise during a CA DMV hearing include:
- The police officer did not have reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop
- You were not the person driving the motor vehicle, or you were not driving a motor vehicle (you were sitting in a parked vehicle)
- The breath testing machine used after the DUI arrest malfunctioned because of a defect, lack of maintenance, or improper calibration
- Your medical conditions resulted in inaccurate BAC readings
- You were arrested because of an illegal police DUI checkpoint
- The arresting officer lacked probable cause for a drunk driving arrest
- The field sobriety tests administered to obtain probable cause were flawed or administered incorrectly
- There were serious and fatal mistakes contained in the police officer’s reports and arrest documents
- The police officer violated your civil rights
If you do not defend yourself at a DMV hearing, your driver’s license will be suspended. However, that is not the worst consequence of a DUI arrest. A conviction for driving under the influence in California can result in numerous criminal penalties. Therefore, you also need to prepare a strong criminal defense against the DUI charges in criminal court.
Potential Punishments for a DUI Conviction in California
In addition to losing your driving privileges, you could also face several criminal penalties if convicted of drunk driving in California. Potential punishments that the criminal court might impose for a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction include:
- Fines, penalties, and assessments of $1,500 to $2,000 depending on the circumstances and the county
- Up to six months in a county jail
- Informal probation from three to five years
- Attendance at a DUI school from three to nine months
- Loss of driving privileges for six months
- Installation of an ignition interlock device to avoid six-month driver’s license suspension
- Attendance at a victim impact panel
In some counties, you might be eligible for work release if the court sentences you to jail time for a DUI conviction. In addition to the above consequences of DUI, you also may pay higher insurance premiums and could lose your job if you cannot drive to work. In the future, you could face harsher penalties for another DUI conviction within ten years.
Could I Face Enhanced Penalties for a First-Time DUI Conviction in California?
Yes, aggravating factors could significantly increase the punishment for a DUI first offense. Even if you have a clean driving record, certain aggravating factors could result in higher fines, longer jail terms, and even time in state prison.
Examples of aggravating factors include, but are not limited to:
- Being under the age of 21 years at the time of the DUI offense
- Causing an accident while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Having a BAC of .015% or higher (some counties set a lower BAC level for this aggravating factor)
- Refusing to submit to a chemical test for BAC levels
- Having a child under the age of 14 years in the car
- Driving at excessive speeds
Some of the above factors could result in additional criminal charges associated with the drunk driving charge. For example, having a child in the vehicle could result in child endangerment charges. Also, driving at excessive speeds could result in racing or reckless driving charges.
If you cause a DUI accident, you may be ordered to pay restitution to all injured parties. Furthermore, the accident victims could sue you in civil court for compensation for damages. Finally, if the DUI accident resulted in death, you might be charged with a serious criminal offense, including felony charges.
It is always best to seek legal counsel regardless of whether this is your first or fifth DUI charge. The best way to fight DUI charges is to have a strong defense prepared by an experienced California DUI Defense lawyer.