If you've been charged with a DUI in California, you stand the risk of losing your license from two separate fronts. One way you can lose your license is to be convicted of your DUI, but you can still lose your license if these charges are dropped or reduced. That's because the state of California allows the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to take your license away if they see fit, and this type of suspension is called an administrative or "admin per se" suspension.

While both a DUI conviction and the DMV can strip you of your right to drive, an administrative suspension varies from the penalty applied in association with a DUI conviction in one important way: An administrative suspension automatically robs you of your license 30 days after the date of your arrest. Even if you aren't convicted, if you're merely arrested for a DUI in California, the DMV will automatically take your license away. However, it's possible to contest this action if you represent yourself adequately in a DMV hearing.

What Is a DMV Hearing in California?

A DMV hearing occurs in a DMV office instead of a criminal court. The purpose of this type of hearing is to determine whether or not you are able to keep your driver's license, and no other matters are touched upon in these hearings. If you want to try to protect your ability to drive by requesting one of these hearings, you'll need to contact the DMV within 10 days of your arrest. If you wait any longer than 10 days from the date of your arrest to request a hearing, the DMV will reject your request out of hand, and you will have no further recourse against losing your license once 30 days have passed since your arrest.

When you are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in California, your arresting officer will supply you with a Notice of Suspension along with your arrest paperwork. If you need to drive for work or for other reasons, this pink piece of paper will serve as your lifeline since it's mandated by California law that arresting officers have to physically confiscate your driver's license when they arrest you for a DUI. If you win your DMV hearing, you'll receive your license back, but your Notice of Suspension will serve as a valid temporary driver's license for 30 days if you don't go to your hearing.

If you request a DMV hearing within 10 days of your DUI arrest, your driver's license suspension will be delayed until the hearing is completed. If you win your DMV hearing, it may be possible to prevent the suspension of your license altogether.

What Are Your Rights at a DMV Hearing?

A DMV hearing isn't anything like a court trial; for starters, a DMV hearing officer oversees this type of hearing instead of a judge, and even though your license is on the line, there's a lot less at stake in a DMV hearing than the consequences that attend a court trial gone bad. DMV officers don't have any formal legal training, and the burden of proof is much more easily satisfied in a DMV hearing than it is in a court trial.

Even though DMV hearings are more informal than court trials, the state of California still provides you with certain rights to ensure that these hearings remain fair and impartial. For instance, you have the right to be represented by an attorney at your hearing; however, the state will not provide you with a free attorney if you are not capable of supplying your own legal representation.

At your DMV hearing, you will be provided with the right to review and challenge the evidence that has been amassed against you, and you'll also be able to present witnesses. You'll even be able to subpoena relevant witnesses such as your arresting officer. In addition, the state of California doesn't require that you have a lawyer represent you at a DMV hearing; you can represent yourself if you want to. However, your chances of winning your hearing are greatly reduced if you choose not to work with a DMV hearing attorney.

How Do You Schedule a DMV Hearing?

To get started with scheduling a DMV hearing, you'll need to contact the DMV driver safety branch office nearest to you. This location will also be where your hearing will be held, and driver safety branch offices vary from normal DMV offices in that you can't register your vehicle or obtain a driver's license at one of these locations. It bears repeating that you'll need to contact this office within 10 days of your arrest, and when you do so, you'll be provided with a date when you'll need to appear to argue your case.

The easiest way to schedule one of these hearings is to work with a lawyer who specializes in DMV hearings in California They will be able to locate the DMV branch office nearest to your location, and they will handle the initial scheduling call that will prevent you from losing your license automatically. This competent legal professional will also appear at the hearing on your behalf, which means that your physical presence won't be required unless you intend to testify. It's also important to note that many DMV hearings take place over the phone, which means that it's possible that neither you nor your attorney will need to corporeally present yourselves to defend your continued ability to drive.

How Do You Win a DMV Hearing?

To win your DMV hearing, you'll need to present a cohesive and compelling argument that the charges presented don't apply to you or that they are flawed. Assessments of character or remorse will make no difference in this type of hearing; the only type of evidence that can alter the DMV's decision to suspend your license is a concrete argument that you didn't do what the state of California says you did. In the course of your DMV hearing, your attorney may use one or a number of different defenses that have been shown to be effective in changing the DMV's mind about suspending your license.

What Are Some Winning DMV Hearing DUI Defenses?

Here are some examples of the types of defenses that may cause the DMV to reconsider their decision to deprive you of your driving privileges:

  • You weren't observed to be driving: Sometimes, an officer can make a mistake and think that you were driving when you weren't. For instance, if you were intoxicated, and you decided that you should spend the night in your car instead of taking the risk of driving home, a law enforcement officer may mistakenly believe that you were driving your car even though you were simply passed out behind the wheel. If neither your arresting officer nor any subpoenaed witnesses can prove that you were driving, your license suspension may be dropped. Even if the car was running and you were sitting behind the wheel while you were intoxicated, if it can't be established that you actually drove while intoxicated, it may be determined that your arrest was unlawful.
  • You weren't arrested at a legal location: The state of California has a number ofsobriety checkpoints at which drivers are mandated to stop and be tested for intoxication. If you were stopped at a sobriety checkpoint and found to be driving under the influence of alcohol, but the checkpoint where you were stopped didn't comply with California law, you may be able to keep your license and invalidate the premise of your arrest.
  • The officer didn't have probable cause: To arrest you for DUI, your arresting officer must have probable cause. If, for instance, you were pulled over for racial profiling even though you were obeying all of the traffic laws, it may be found that your arresting officer didn't have sufficient grounds for your arrest.
  • The officer didn't conduct a proper observation period: Under California law, your arresting officer must observe you for at least 15 minutes before administering a breath test to ensure that you don't take any actions that could alter the test. If your arresting officer didn't conduct this observation period, you might be able to keep your license.
  • The breath testing device was defective: Breath testing devices must be checked and calibrated regularly under California law, and if the device that your arresting officer used hadn't been calibrated properly or was malfunctioning, the grounds of your arrest may be invalidated.
  • There's a valid reason to explain your high blood alcohol level: Sometimes, high-protein diets can create higher-than-normal blood alcohol levels, and certain medical defenses can also be used to explain the heightened levels of alcohol in your blood. If it's found that there is a good explanation for your blood alcohol levels, the DMV will rule in your favor.
  • You never refused a test: If your arrest paperwork indicates that you refused to take an intoxication test but this can be proven not to be the case, the DMV may determine that you can keep your license.
  • The officer failed to correctly submit paperwork: If your arresting officer made serious errors in your arrest paperwork, it's possible that the premises of your arrest may be negated. If so, you will be able to keep your license, and the prosecutor in charge of your case will be forced to view the situation in a different light.

Does Winning a DMV Hearing Negate Your DUI Charges?

While a win with the DMV won't automatically get you off the hook with the state of California, winning your DMV hearing can allow you to make some headway toward clearing your name in regards to your DUI charges. Testimony obtained during your DMV hearing may convince a prosecutor to drop your case; for instance, if it was determined in the course of your DMV hearing that your arrest was unlawful, the prosecutor may have no choice but to drop DUI charges against you. Relatedly, if you are found not guilty in your court trial for your DUI charges, the DMV will have no choice but to reissue your driver's license. 

What Are the Benefits of Winning a DMV Hearing?

If you win your DMV hearing, you won't lose your driver's license. In most cases, winning a DMV hearing means that the prosecutor won't be able to find you guilty of drunk driving, but it's important to note that a win with the DMV doesn't necessarily mean that the state of California won't take your license away anyway. Even if you win your DMV hearing, if you're found guilty of driving under the influence, your driving privileges will still be stripped according to the specifics of your sentencing.

What Are the Consequences for Losing a DMV Hearing?

If you lose your DMV hearing, your right to drive will be stripped immediately. However, it's still important to attend a DMV hearing even if you have a losing case because your lawyer may be able to obtain information during the hearing that will convince the prosecutor to drop or reduce the charges against you. It's also important to remember that your driving privileges will be stripped in 30 days anyway if you don't schedule or attend your DMV hearing.

How Do You Get Your License Back if You Lose Your Hearing?

If you aren't capable of convincing the DMV that you should keep your license, you'll eventually be able to petition to receive your license back at a later date. The amount of time that you have to wait to get your license back varies, but you'll need to complete a number of other requirements to have your driving privileges reinstated besides simply waiting. You'll also need to enroll in a California DUI school, and you'll have to prove that you've obtained SR-22 driver's insurance by submitting an SR-22 insurance form. A $125 fee will be required to receive your license back, and the court or the DMV may also demand that you install an ignition interlock device in your car, which stops you from starting your car until it tests your blood alcohol levels. Keep in mind that the steps you'll need to take to get your license back get more severe the more times that you are arrested for driving under the influence.

What Happens if Your Driver's License is Suspended?

  • First offense: DUI first offenders will have their licenses suspended for between six and 10 months. After one month, you'll be able to apply for a restricted license, but you must also enroll in a DUI school, submit an SR-22 insurance form, and pay a $125 fee to receive these restricted driving privileges. Under certain circumstances, your license may be suspended longer for a first offense.
  • Second offense: If you're arrested for another DUI within 10 years, your license will be suspended for two years, and you'll be able to get a restricted license after one year. You may be able to get a restricted license within 90 days if you follow all of the prior stated conditions and install an ignition interlock device.
  • Third offense: A third DUI offense within 10 years results in a three-year suspension with the opportunity for a restricted license offered after one year. All of the prior stated conditions also apply.
  • Fourth and subsequent offenses: If you are arrested for DUI four times within 10 years, your arrest is elevated to a felony-level offense. Your license will be suspended for four years, all of the prior stated conditions will apply, and you'll be eligible to apply for a restricted license after a year.

Can You Appeal a DMV Hearing?

If you feel that you wrongly lost your hearing, you can appeal to the DMV or the California Superior Court to change the decision of your DMV hearing officer. You'll need to pay a $120 fee to receive one of these reviews from the DMV, but filing a writ of mandate with the Superior Court to review your case can cost upwards of $3,000. If you decide that it's in your best interests to appeal the results of your DMV hearing, you can rely on your California DMV hearing lawyer for help in this process.

Find a DMV Hearing Lawyer Near Me

If you've been arrested for a DUI, you'll need to act quickly to hang on to your driving privileges. The best way to set yourself up for success in your DMV hearing is to equip yourself with the services of a qualified lawyer, and the DUI experts at the offices of San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm are standing by to help you win your hearing and conquer this hurdle that stands in between you and the driver's seat of your car. To get started with a free consultation to determine the best course forward, get in touch with our DUI lawyer by calling 619-535-7150 today.