The Department of Motor Vehicles Hearing Process

DMV DUIMany motorists arrested for drunk-driving or driving under the influence of drugs are unaware of the relationship between the arrest, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and their driver’s license. Arrests for a California DUI trigger two separate cases: a criminal case and a case at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV.) In the past, both the court and the DMV could order driver’s license suspensions, but only the DMV could actually suspend it. However, California legislation affecting DUI arrests after Sept. 20, 2005 has removed the power of courts to suspend or revoke driver’s licenses. Only the DMV can now suspend a license, either because of an unsuccessful DMV hearing or a criminal court conviction.

DMV Hearing: Time Sensitive

While both cases can be benefited by the counsel of an experienced California DUI attorney, the DMV case is more time-sensitive, because a motorist facing a drunk driving charge has only 10-day calendar days from the date of arrest to request a DMV hearing. If the driver doesn’t request a hearing within the 10 day period, which includes weekends and holidays, his or her license will automatically be suspended for 30 days. Even drivers licensed in another state will see their licenses suspended through the Interstate Driver’s License Compact.

The DMV Hearing is overseen by a DMV Hearing Officer. While most think this individual has spent time as a judge, on the bench, or has some experience as a lawyer, none of these are true. The DMV Hearing Officer is simply a long-term DMV employee who has passed certain tests and has worked their way up the administrative ladder.

There are three things a DMV Hearing Officer must prove to suspend your license:

  1. Did the peace officer have reasonable cause to believe you were driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol?
  2. Were you lawfully arrested?
  3. Were you driving a motor vehicle when you had .08% or more, by weight, of alcohol in your blood?


Preponderance of Evidence

DUI EvidenceA “preponderance of the evidence” is the standard or hurdle the DMV must get over in order to suspend your driver’s license. It is not much of a hurdle; however, it is much more like speed bump at best. It is the lowest or easiest standard to overcome that exists in law. The Department of Motor Vehicles must find that ALL the answers to the above questions are YES!

A standard can be looked at in terms of a balance of probability. Based on this information, what is the probability that something did or did not occur? Specifically, for Driving under the Influence of alcohol or drugs, what is the probability, based on this evidence, that you were guilty of a DUI / DWI?

The DMV merely looks at the police reports and if the bare minimum exists to answer “yes” to all three questions, they can suspend your license. That is all a “preponderance of the evidence” requires for license suspension.

Possible Outcomes of a DMV Hearing

There are two possible outcomes to a DMV hearing. First, the DMV Hearing Officer can Set Aside the action (revocation, suspension or restriction of your driver’s license / privileges). This means that your DMV case is over, and you are free to go to your local DMV and obtain from them a duplicate driver’s license at no charge.

The second possible outcome is an APS action will be imposed. This could be a revocation, suspension or restriction of your driving privileges. It could also include certain requirements you must meet before your driving privileges will be reinstated. These requirements generally include the enrollment and completion of an alcohol education program and/or community service. These classes could range from 3 to 30 months in length of time. The length of the class depends on how many DUI convictions and/or APS suspensions you have had in the past.

The outcomes of the DMV Hearing are much different from what you will find on the court side of your case. In order to convict you of DUI / DWI on the court side of the case, the judge/jury must find you guilty of DUI / DWI beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” & “Clear and Convincing Evidence”

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the most difficult standard to prove. It has been defined as not simply a mere possible doubt. Only after a thorough comparison and consideration of all the evidence, if in the minds of the jurors they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction, to a moral certainty of the truth of the charge, then they must find the defendant NOT GUILTY. In court, the bare minimum would not suffice. The evidence could not be a mere police report, in which the arresting police officer checked off the box to indicate that you were guilty of a DUI.

“Clear and convincing evidence” is even more difficult than “preponderance of the evidence” to overcome. It is considered the mid-range standard.

The Department of Motor Vehicles does not need much to take your driver’s license / privileges away. A preponderance of the evidence or mere arrest reports and documents is all that are needed to take away your license.