What are My Legal Rights at a California DMV Administrative Hearing?

Being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in California can have numerous consequences. First, you have a criminal charge against you that could result in jail time, fines, and other criminal penalties. 

However, you also have a second legal proceeding – the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) administrative review to suspend your license. The DMV administrative hearing only deals with your driving privileges. They cannot sentence you to jail or impose other criminal penalties. However, the DMV can suspend your driver’s license for a year or longer.

Therefore, it is crucial that you understand your legal rights at a DMV administrative hearing. For first-time DUI offenders, the process may be unfamiliar. Contacting an experienced California DUI attorney can give you the best chance of winning at a DMV license suspension hearing.

What is a California DMV Administrative Hearing for DUI Offenses?

After DUI arrests, police officers take the person’s driver’s license immediately. Then, he issues the person a Notice of Suspension that allows the person to continue driving for 30 days. The police officer must forward a copy of the Notice of Suspension and the driver’s license to the DMV.

If you receive a Notice of Suspension after a DUI arrest, you must act quickly. You have just ten days to request a DMV administrative hearing. If you do not request the hearing within ten days, the DMV automatically suspends your driver’s license. 

A DMV hearing is your opportunity to present evidence proving your driver’s license suspension was not justified. If the DMV does not find evidence to support a suspension, it restores your driving privileges. 

However, if you took a chemical blood, breath, or urine test and had a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .08% or higher, your driver’s license is suspended for four months for a first-time offense. A second DUI offense within ten years results in a one-year driver’s license suspension.

If you are under 21 years of age, and the chemical test or a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test shows a blood alcohol level of .01% or higher, you lose your driver’s license for one year.

It is important to remember that the DMV revocation of your driving privileges is separate from any criminal penalties ordered by the court. A judge could suspend your driver’s license for a longer period, depending on the circumstances of your DUI conviction. 

What Are My Rights at a California DMV Administrative Hearing?

A DMV hearing is more relaxed than a criminal court case. A DMV hearing officer conducts the hearing instead of a judge. In many cases, the DMV hearing officer has no formal legal training. The DMV holds administrative hearings at a Driver Safety Office.

You have the right to be represented by a California DUI defense lawyer at the hearing, at your own expense. Your or your attorney has the right to:

  • Review the evidence against you
  • Cross-examine any witnesses presented by the DMV
  • Testify on your own behalf
  • Present evidence and witnesses on your behalf
  • Subpoena witnesses to testify, including the arresting police officer
  • Subpoena evidence and documents to use in your defense

You also have the right to receive a written decision after the hearing. If the decision is against you, you may request that the DMV conducts an administrative review. You also have the right to appeal the decision to Superior Court.

Who Has the Burden of Proof at a DMV Hearing in a DUI Case?

The hearing at the DMV only deals with your driving privileges. It does not decide whether or not you violated a criminal statute. The things a hearing officer considers when determining whether to suspend your driver’s license include:

  • Whether you were in physical control or driving the vehicle
  • If the arresting officer had probable cause to make a DUI stop
  • Whether the DUI arrest was lawful
  • If you were operating the motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher 
  • Whether drugs or alcohol impaired your driving abilities

Unfortunately, the burden of proof and evidence required at a DMV hearing is lower than in a criminal DUI case. Therefore, you are going up against the police officer and the DMV at a disadvantage. Having a California DUI lawyer who can challenge the chemical results, field sobriety tests, and probably increases your chance of reversing the license suspension.

How Do I Schedule a DMV Administrative Hearing After a DUI Arrest in California?

Remember, you have just ten days to request a DMV hearing. If you hire a California DUI defense attorney, your lawyer can request the hearing if you hire him within just a few days. If not, you need to request the hearing and then decide whether you want to hire a DUI lawyer to represent you at the administrative hearing. 

Hearing requests for DUI driver’s license suspensions must be made to the applicable Driver Safety Office. You must provide your full name, driver’s license number, and date of birth when requesting a hearing. You may also need to provide details of your DUI arrest, including the date of arrest, arresting officer’s name and ID number, and any tests used to determine your impairment. 

Generally, you must request a hearing by telephone or fax. The information you need to provide is on your DUI arrest ticket or the Notice of Suspension. 

Defending Yourself at a California DMV License Suspension Hearing

The defenses you present at a DMV administrative hearing depend on the facts and circumstances of your DUI arrest. Potential DUI defenses your attorney might raise at a DMV hearing could include, but are not limited to:

The DUI Arrest Was Unlawful

Your attorney may argue that the police officer lacked probable cause to make a traffic stop and/or DUI arrest. Without probable cause, the evidence against you could be thrown out of court. Therefore, it could be a compelling argument at a DMV hearing.

You Were Not Driving 

You might convince the DMV hearing officer to reinstate your driving privileges by arguing you were not driving or in physical control of the motor vehicle. If the police officer did not see you driving the car and there is no other evidence, the DMV hearing officer may not suspend your driver’s license.

Title 17 Violations for Chemical Tests

Title 17 of the Code of Regulations has strict guidelines for collecting, storing, and testing chemical samples for DUI cases. Violations of these regulations could result in the BAC results being inadmissible because of possible contamination or other problems. If you can prove Title 17 violations, it may be sufficient for the DMV officer to rule in your favor.

Challenging the Accuracy of the BAC Results

Some medical conditions can result in falsely high BAC levels, including diabetes, GERD, and acid reflux. A high protein diet could also cause your BAC results to be false. If you can prove that a health condition or other issue not related to alcohol caused higher BAC levels, you could win your DMV hearing.

You Did Not Willfully Refuse a Chemical DUI Test

Suppose the officer did not explain that refusing to submit to a blood or breath test would result in an automatic driver’s license suspension. In that case, the DMV hearing officer may find that the suspension of your driving privileges should be set aside. However, proving you were not informed could be challenging when it is your word against the police officer’s testimony.

However, if you did not willfully refuse to submit to the test after the officer asked for a sample, that could be a different story. Some medical conditions prevent a person from blowing strong enough for a breath test. Therefore, if the officer did not request a blood test after you “failed” to blow hard enough on the breath test, that is not your fault. 

Illegal DUI Checkpoint Arrests

California permits law enforcement agencies to conduct DUI checkpoints. However, the agencies must follow strict rules for establishing and operating the DUI checkpoints. Failing to follow those rules could result in an unlawful arrest.

Failure to Conduct a 15-Minute Observation Period

Title 17 requires that a police officer monitor a driver for at least 15 minutes before a breath test or blood test. If the person vomits, smokes, eats, drinks, regurgitates, or does anything to compromise the test, the waiting period must begin again. Failing to conduct the observation period correctly could result in inaccurate BAC results.

How Do I Reinstate My Driver’s License After a DUI in California?

At the end of your driver’s license suspension, you can apply to reinstate your driver’s license. To be eligible to reinstate your driving privileges, you must show:

  • Enroll in California DUI school
  • Pay a $125 reinstatement fee to the California DMV
  • Submit an SR-22 insurance form

In some cases, you may need to install an ignition interlock device (IID) before you can begin driving again. The best way to avoid losing your driving privileges is to request a DMV administrative hearing and hire a California DUI lawyer to help you fight to keep your driver’s license. 

Is it Worth Requesting a DMV Administrative Hearing After a DUI Arrest?

Yes, you could retain your driving privileges until the court resolves your DUI case. Also, your California DUI attorney has the opportunity to review the evidence against you and cross-examine the arresting officer. This information could be invaluable for determining the best DUI defense strategy. It also helps when negotiating a DUI plea agreement to know how a police officer may perform in court and the strength of the evidence against you. 

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