Drunk driving is a serious offense in California. The consequences of a DUI conviction are severe and life-changing, including jail time, probation, fines, and driver's license suspension. Suspension or revocation of your driving privileges is one of the most feared penalties among DUI defendants.

Under California law, there are two ways through which you can lose your driver's license following a DUI arrest. One is when you are convicted of DUI in criminal court. The other type of license suspension happens before your trial for DUI and is triggered by the Department of Motor Vehicle. When the DMV learns of your DUI arrest, they expect you to schedule a hearing where you will be able to defend against the suspension. 

Although the DMV hearing is less formal than the criminal trial, a loss in the hearing could result in a lengthy license suspension. Therefore, hiring a DUI attorney to guide and represent you in the hearing is crucial. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we offer legal guidance for all our clients battling the DMV hearing and DUI criminal charges in Riverside, CA.

What is a DMV Hearing?

A DMV hearing is an administrative hearing that addresses the suspension or revocation of your driver's license following a drunk driving arrest. When you face an arrest for DUI in California, there are two types of driver's license suspension that you could face. The first suspension is triggered by the court when you are convicted of drunk driving. The Department of Motor Vehicle triggers the other license suspicion when they learn about your arrest.

Contrary to popular belief, everyone has a right to have due process of the law even after an arrest for DUI. Therefore, when the DMV seeks to suspend or revoke your license, you have a right to contest the action. In California, fighting an administrative license suspension happens at the DMV hearing.

Following your DUI arrest, the arresting officer will confiscate your driver's license and issue you a notice informing you that the DMV wishes to suspend your driver's license. After your arrest, you have up to ten days to schedule the DMV hearing. If you want to contest the license suspension, it would be wise to schedule this hearing as soon as possible. Failure to schedule a DMV hearing or doing it after the ten days will waive your rights to the hearing, and the DMV will suspend your license.

It is essential to understand that a DMV hearing is not a substitute for a criminal trial. The criminal court seeks to prosecute you and reach a guilty verdict for the specific DUI statute you are charged with. On the other hand, the DMV hearing only claims that you were intoxicated at the time of arrest and suspend your driving privileges.

Your Rights at The DMV Hearing in California

Despite the informality of a DMV hearing, you have a right to have legal representation. However, the DMV does not appoint a lawyer for you in a criminal case where the court appoints an attorney for you when you cannot afford one. DMV hearings often take place at the DMV offices, and you are entitled to:

  • Present evidence. After the DMV officer has presented the evidence collected against you, you have a right to present your evidence. At this point, you must shed light on any information not presented.
  • Challenge the evidence. Like in criminal court, you can challenge and create doubt in the evidence presented against you. This will include the police reports and chemical tests.
  • Subpoena witnesses. With the help of your attorney, you can present your witnesses and subpoena the ones presented by the DMV, including the arresting officer.
  • Cross-examine witnesses. After the witnesses have presented their testimony against you, you have a right to ask them questions.

A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney by your side ensures that you can exercise these rights in your DMV hearing.

Benefits of Requesting a DMV Hearing

Following your arrest, you have a ten-day deadline to request a DMV hearing. Some of the benefits that you accrue from scheduling the hearing within the stipulated time include:

  • Allows You Room to Breathe

An administrative driver's license suspension typically begins thirty days after your arrest. The hearing could be set months out when you schedule a DMV hearing. This will help delay the suspension of your license even. With this breathing space, you can gather more evidence on the DUI and build a strategy to fight the administrative suspension.

  • Advantages for your Criminal Case

The DUI criminal case and the DMV hearing are separate proceedings. However, some factors in the DMV hearing could give you an upper hand in your criminal trial. You have the right to cross-examine the witnesses in your DMV hearing, including the arresting officer. The information and evidence you gather from the officer will give you an overview of what the state will present in your DUI case. Therefore, you can use this information to build a strong DUI defense.

If you win your DMV hearing, the win may be able to convince the criminal court that you are not guilty of DUI. This could help you avoid a DUI conviction or increase your chances of a plea deal and a reduced sentence.

  • A Chance to Keep your Driver's License

When you fail to schedule a DMV hearing, the Department of Motor Vehicle will suspend your license automatically. This denies you the chance to fight for a different outcome. A license suspension even before you are found guilty of DUI could cause significant inconvenience to your life. DMV hearings are not formal, and the burden of proof is less than in criminal court. With the help of an aggressive DUI defense attorney, you can win the hearing and retain your license.

How can I Win my DMV Hearing?

With the increased number of drunk driving arrests in California, you may need to wait a while before attending your DMV hearing. Carrying out extensive legal research can help prepare you for the hearing and increase your chances of winning. The scope of the DMV hearing in California is broad. Some of the factors that the DMV officer presiding over the hearing considers are:

  • Whether or not your DUI arrest was lawful. Factors that make a DUI arrest lawful are the presence of probable cause for a stop and arrest.
  • Whether or not you were driving with a BAC exceeded the legal limit. Legal limits for BAC vary for different drivers. The BAC limit for adult, underage, and commercial drivers is 0.08%,0.05, and 0.04% consecutively. 

If you fail the chemical tests, there will be no evidence to rely upon. In this case will decide whether:

  • The arresting officer notified you of the consequences of refusing to take the tests on your license suspension
  • You willfully refused to take the test even after the officer requested that you do so

After considering the above factors, the DMV officer will decide on either of these outcomes:

  • Sustain the action and suspend your driving privilege
  • Set aside the action and allow you to retain your driving privileges as you wait to attend your criminal trial

Defenses Applicable in a DMV Hearing

At your DMV hearing, you can rely on the following defenses to avoid a license suspension:

You Weren't Driving

In California, the evidence of your driving must be clear before you face a conviction for DUI or have your license suspended by the DMV. Sometimes, traffic police arrive at an accident scene and begin to test the parties involved for alcohol or drug use. Therefore, they may not have seen you driving. When there is insufficient evidence of your driving, the hearing officer at the DMV hearing could set aside your license suspension.

You were arrested at an Illegal DUI Checkpoint

There are legal requirements on where a law enforcement officer can stop you for a DUI investigation. If you were arrested at an illegal sobriety checkpoint, the evidence collected at this checkpoint may be thrown out of your DMV hearing and increase your chances of a win.

The officer Arrested you without a Probable Cause

One of the factors that the DMV hearing officer checks is whether your arrest was lawful. Police officers must always have probable cause to arrest and detain you for drunk driving. You can win your administrative hearing if you prove that the police officer arrested you without probable cause.

Attack the Accuracy of your Breathalyzer Test Results

Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations stipulates how the law enforcement officers must conduct the blood and breath samples. If the officer fails to adhere to these regulations, the results of your chemical tests could be in question. You can argue that the breathalyzer device was faulty or the blood test was not done correctly. Since the breath and blood tests form a significant part of the DMV hearing, doubt in their accuracy will weaken the case and could prompt a win in the hearing.

The Arresting Officer Did Not Conduct a Field Sobriety Test

At DUI checkpoints, the police officer must follow the correct procedures, including carrying out a field sobriety test for up to fifteen minutes. This observation helps identify vomiting, drinking, or eating incidents before the test. If you were not observed correctly, you could argue that the results are inaccurate. 

Your High BAC Resulted from Other Factors Other than Alcohol consumption

Several reasons unrelated to alcohol consumption could result in a high BAC. You can argue that your BAC exceeded the legal limit due to these reasons:

  • Low carbohydrate diets
  • Residual mouth alcohol
  • Medical conditions like diabetes, acid reflux, or GERD

The officer Failed to Advise you on the Consequences of a Chemical Test Refusal

Refusing to submit to a chemical test following a DUI arrest could negatively affect your DMV hearing. However, traffic officers are legally required to inform of the consequences of the refusal. Due to the numerous arrests that the law enforcement officers make, they may:

  • Choose not to offer this information
  • Forget to read the admonition
  • Recite their interpretation of the document

You could win your DMV hearing if the officer did not read the admonition to you.

Tips for a DMV Hearing after a DUI Arrest in California

A DMV hearing is less formal when compared to criminal court and is held at the DMV offices. However, a loss of hearing could have devastating consequences. The following are some tips that could improve the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome in your administrative hearing:

  • Request the Hearing on Time

The DMV requires you to schedule a hearing within ten days following your DUI arrest in California. Failure to schedule the hearing within the stipulated time results in a forfeiture of your rights to one. This will result in automatic license suspension. You will not enjoy the benefit of time out offered by a delayed DMV hearing, and you have no chance to defend yourself.

You schedule a DMV hearing by contacting their local office. When you have a skilled attorney by your side, they can file it for you. This allows you time and space to deal with the aftermath of your DUI.

  • Request Discovery as Soon as Possible

Discovery is the opportunity you have to review the DMV's evidence on your case. The DMV officer who holds the hearing acts as a prosecutor in their attempt to suspend your license. When you request discovery, all the evidence, including chemical test results and arresting officer testimony, will be presented at the administrative hearing. Your attorney can rely on this evidence to build a defense against license suspension.

  • Gather Evidence by Serving Subpoenas

As you request for discovery, you should take time to collect additional evidence for your cases. In most cases, the arresting officer will collect evidence to prove that you were driving under the influence. A subpoena is an official document or information the court intends to use against you. Having this information gives your attorney grounds upon which to base your defense.

If you submitted to blood, you must subpoena the lab for the results and other materials used for the testing. Additionally, you can subpoena the maintenance and calibration records of the breathalyzer device used to take your breath test at the DUI stop or checkpoint. Any mistakes with this evidence may provide you with an opportunity to dispute the accuracy of the test results.

  • Contact a Forensic Expert to Testify at your DMV Hearing

The DMV hearing exists to help determine whether your arrest was lawful. Another factor that affects the outcome is whether or not your blood alcohol content at the time of arrest exceeded the legal limit. Depending on the circumstances of your case, a forensic expert's testimony can significantly impact the outcome of your DMV hearing.

  • Have a Skilled DUI Attorney by your Side

One of the mistakes you can make as you fight your administrative license suspension is representing yourself at the DMV hearing. California DUI laws are complicated and may be challenging for individuals without a legal background. Hiring an attorney gives you the legal expertise necessary to fight in the hearing and avoid the consequences of a loss in the DMV hearing.

Losing your DMV Hearing

When deciding on your license suspension, the DMV officer must find that you were operating your vehicle with an illegal BAC by a preponderance of the evidence. The burden of proof, in this case, is lower when compared to the criminal case. Therefore, you can lose the DMV hearing and still avoid a conviction for DUI.

A loss in your DMV hearing will cause a suspension of your license for a specified time. Even when you lose the hearing, your attorney will have gathered some evidence that they can apply in your DUI defense. The length of an administrative license suspension varies depending on the nature of your charges:

First Offense DUI

If you are a first-time offender, a loss in the DMV hearing attracts a six months driver's license suspension. After serving a month of the suspension, you can apply for a restricted license that allows you to dive to work, school, or other court-ordered programs. However, to convert your suspension to a restricted license, you must file a certificate of financial responsibility and pay a $125 fee.

If this is your first DUI and you caused injuries to another person, the DMV increases your license suspension to one year.

Second DUI Offense

For a second DUI offense, the DMV imposes a two-year driver's license suspension. If your drunk driving conduct is associated with injuries to a third party, the DMV suspends your license for three years. After your suspension, you can apply for the restricted license after one year. If your DUI is solely based on alcohol instead of alcohol and drugs, you are eligible for a restricted license after three months. When you apply for a restricted license following a suspension for a second DUI, you must:

  • Install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle
  • Provide proof of enrollment in a California DUI School

Third DUI Offense

If you face an arrest for a third DUI offense in ten years, a loss in the DMV hearing triggers a three-year license suspension. A third DUI causing injuries will attract a five-year driver's license suspension by the DMV. When you adhere to all the requirements, the DMV can allow you to convert the suspension to a restricted license.

Fourth or Subsequent DUI

Losing your DMV hearing in a fourth or subsequent DUI within ten years triggers a four-year driver's license suspension. The DMV imposes a five-year license suspension for a fourth DUI with injuries. Failure to submit to chemical tests during an arrest for a fourth DUI causes you to lose your driving privileges for three years.

Underage DUI

Under the Zero tolerance law, drivers under twenty-one years should not drive with a BAC of 0.01% or higher. If you lose your DMV hearing after an arrest for underage DUI, you will suffer a one-year driver's license suspension. Failure to submit to chemical tests after an arrest for underage DUI increases the license suspension to three years.

Out-of-State Drivers

If you are not a California resident and face an arrest for DUI in the state, you can schedule your DMV hearing the same way as other drivers. Your attorney can represent you over the phone if you cannot attend the DMV hearing due to the distance issue. A loss in your DMV hearing as an out-of-state driver will affect your driving privileges in California and your home state.

Appealing the DMV's Decision to Suspend your License

You are not obligated to accept the results of your DMV hearing. You can appeal the decision if you believe you should have won the hearing. You can ask the DMV to review your case or file an appeal in the supreme court. The instructions on timeframes for filing the appeal are indicated on the notice you receive after the first hearing. Additionally, you must pay $120 for a DMV review. 

Find a Skilled Riverside DUI Defense Attorney Near Me

Your driver's license suspension or revocation is one of the most severe consequences of a drunk driving arrest in California. Bite the court, and the Department of Motor Vehicle will seek to suspend your license for different reasons. The first license suspension attempt you will encounter is with the DMV, which goes into effect thirty days after your arrest. Fortunately, you have a right to defend against this suspension by scheduling a DMV hearing.

At the DMV hearing, you have the right to present a variety of defenses or even cross-examine witnesses to avoid the suspension. A win in the DMV hearing allows you to retain your license while awaiting the outcome of your criminal trial. Having an experienced DUI defense attorney by your side can significantly affect the outcome of your DMV hearing. 

At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we explore all avenues of defense for your DMV hearing to ensure the best possible outcome. We offer the professional representation you need to fight your DUI charges and win your DMV hearing in Riverside, CA. Contact us today at 951-946-6366.