In most states, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will automatically suspend the person's driver's license after a DUI arrest. A DMV hearing must take place within a short time frame, usually 10 days from the arrest. This is the civil part of the case and the driver has the right to bring legal counsel to the hearing.
Issues Addressed by the DMV
The DMV Hearing is an administrative proceeding that allows the driver to present relevant evidence and testimony surrounding the arrest. The DMV is not concerned with establishing guilt or innocence, since this is not a criminal procedure. The following questions will be addressed:
- Did the police officer have reasonable cause to believe the driver was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
- Was the driver lawfully placed under arrest?
- Was the driver informed that refusing to submit to a chemical test would result in a suspension of driving privileges for a period of time?
- Did the driver actually refuse the chemical test or merely fail to complete the test?
Law enforcement officers will ask the driver to blow into a Breathalyzer machine in order to obtain a BAC level. Sometimes people are unable to blow hard enough for the machine to obtain a reading. Officers may note this as a refusal of the test when in fact the driver failed to complete it.
Preponderance of Evidence
At the DMV hearing, drivers have the right to present evidence, testimony and witnesses on their behalf. They are also allowed to be represented by an attorney, although this is not a requirement. Witnesses who may be reluctant to testify can be subpoenaed to appear. The burden of proof rests upon the DMV, which is required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the following:
- The officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the driver
- The driver was arrested lawfully
- The driver was informed about the penalties for chemical test refusal
- A test determined the driver had a BAC of .08 or higher at the time
The DMV hearing officer will suspend a driver's license if it is more likely that the above is true. The officer can choose to set aside or dismiss the charge, in which case the driver keeps their license.
Understanding a DUI Court Trial and a DMV Hearing
There are several important differences that you need to be aware of between a DUI court trial and a DMV hearing:
- A DMV hearing is generally optional. If your drivers license is automatically suspended when you get a DUI in the state where you live, then you will need to have a DMV hearing in order to try to get it back. When you receive the automatic license suspension, you'll also be told how to request a hearing in front of the DMV to try to get your license back. If you request such a hearing, you'll have to go and make an argument to an administrative representative from the DMV about why you must have a drivers license, even if it is a restricted drivers license. The DMV can then either decide to give you your license back (often on a restricted basis) or that your suspension will stand, usually for a period of one year
- A DUI court trial is not optional. When you are arrested, you'll be arraigned and a court date will be set for your trial. At this trial, the prosecutor will present his evidence against you to the judge. You'll be given the opportunity to make arguments and to either prove your innocence or to show that there were factors that mitigate your guilt. The judge or jury will consider all of the information and sentencing on the DUI charges will then occur. At this trial, you will find out whether you have to go to jail or what other criminal penalties, such as fines or required counseling, you will have to face.
When to Get Legal Help
Since the standard of proof in a DMV hearing is less strict than in a criminal case, it is more likely that the hearing officer will rule against the driver. When you hire an experienced attorney, they may be able to keep damaging evidence from being presented. Consult a lawyer if you have been arrested and charged with a DUI offense.