California DMV Hearing
California drivers arrested for a driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs often are unaware of the relationship between the arrest, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and their driver's licenses. DUI arrests in California trigger two separate cases - in criminal court, and at the California DMV. Losing either case can result in a driver's license suspension.
In the past, both the criminal court and the California DMV could order a license suspended, but only the California DMV could actually take the action. However, legislation affecting California DUI arrests after Sept. 20, 2005 has removed the power of criminal courts to suspend drivers' licenses. Now only The California DMV can now suspend a license, either because of an unsuccessful California DMV hearing or a criminal court conviction.
While an experienced California drunk driving defense attorney can assist with both cases, the California DMV case is far more time-sensitive, because a driver facing a DUI charge in California has only 10 calendar days from the date of arrest to request a hearing with California DMV. If no hearing is requested within the 10-day period, which includes weekends and holidays, the driver's license will automatically be suspended for 30 days. Even drivers licensed in another state may see their licenses suspended through the Interstate Driver's License Compact.
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The California Department of Motor Vehicles hearings are known as administrative per se (APS) actions. APS hearings are held at The California DMV Driver Safety Offices, not at DMV field offices. The issues involved in an APS hearing depend on whether the driver took a chemical test to determine blood alcohol content (BAC), or refused the test.
If the motorist submitted to a chemical test, there are three issues - whether police had a reasonable belief that the driver was under the influence, whether the arrest was lawful, and whether a chemical test showed that the driver had a BAC of .08 percent or greater. If these three facts are found to be true, the license will be suspended.
If the driver refused to submit to a chemical test, it is extremely important to determine whether the driver was advised of the repercussions of the refusal, and whether the motorist continued to refuse the test after being advised of the consequences. If the accused motorist is unsuccessful at the California DMV hearing, the length of the driver's license suspension will be substantially longer than for a driver who submits to a chemical test.
The California DMV decision is typically based on various police and chemical test reports, and is extremely technical in nature. The evidence usually introduced at the California DMV hearing is considered hearsay, which is generally inadmissible. This is why it's important to be represented by a California DUI defense lawyer who is knowledgeable about the California DMV hearing process. An attorney will challenge evidence based on the hearsay rule, and if the evidence cannot be legally introduced, the California DMV cannot suspend the driver's license.
Whereas courts are concerned with the criminal aspects of a DUI case, the California Department of Motor Vehicles focuses on the administrative aspects - the power to revoke, suspend, or restrict a driver's license. The DMV's action is civil, not criminal. Therefore, there are less constitutional protections when it comes to the DMV.
The California DMV hearing process is extremely unusual in that that the prosecutor and the judge are the same person, meaning the individual seeking to introduce evidence is the same person who will decide upon it. The DMV hearing officer isn't even a judge or an attorney - it's a DMV employee.
The license suspensions imposed by The California DMV against an unsuccessful driver can be severe - on a first offense, the license is suspended for four months, with the possibility of getting a restricted license to drive to work. Drivers facing a first offense who refused a chemical test will lose their licenses for one year, and there is no opportunity to get a restricted license.
When a driver has multiple DUI convictions within 10 years, the repercussions are even harsher. For a second offense, the driver's license is suspended for one year - two years if the driver refused a chemical test. On a third offense, the license is suspended for three years.
Even though the odds are stacked against the driver at a DMV hearing, it is possible to prevail. A California DUI defense lawyer who specializes in defending DMV cases will plan a strategy to attack a DMV license suspension action and fight to retain California driver's license.