Any amount of alcohol or drugs in a person's bloodstream is likely to impact their ability to operate a vehicle. As a result, a person driving under the influence is at a higher risk of causing an accident or a highway injury than a sober driver. For this reason, the state of California imposes stiff penalties on any driver that is caught driving under the influence.

Other than DUI penalties, a driver must go through a DMV hearing to determine whether or not there driving privileges will be suspended, revoked, or restricted. Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm is here to ensure that drivers who are arrested and charged with DUI in Orange County are legally represented to safeguard their rights and also make sure that they are getting a fair trial. Reach out to us for excellent legal counsel and representation.

California DUI DMV Hearing and What It Entails

When a driver is arrested for drunk driving in the state of California, they are going to deal with two distinct legal proceedings: the criminal proceeding for DUI, which takes place in the courts of California, and a DMV hearing by the state’s motor vehicle department, which determines the state of their driver’s license.

The state’s DUI court procedure will impose criminal penalties on the driver if he/she is found guilty of the offense. The penalties, in this case, will be in terms of a possible jail term, fines, and a mandatory requirement to go through the California DUI program and probation that comes with several additional conditions for the driver. The process the driver goes through is just the same as anyone that is facing criminal charges in California.

The California DUI DMV hearing, on the other hand, is an administrative procedure that only deals with the driver's driving privileges. A DMV hearing will not sentence you to a jail term or impose fines on you, but it can revoke or suspend your driving license. Losing one's driving privileges is not an easy thing to deal with for many drivers, which is why you need proper legal representation if you want to have a fair hearing that might rule in your favor.

A DUI DMV hearing does not always lead to loss of driving privileges for DUI offenders. The laws have provided alternatives such as having an ignition interlock system installed in a person’s car if they want to continue driving their cars even after getting convicted of DUI. An experienced DUI defense attorney will explain all this to you, as well as provide you with other alternatives that will work in your favor, and then represent you during the hearing.

How to Schedule for a DUI DMV Hearing

If a driver is arrested for driving under the influence in California, the officer who is arresting them is expected to confiscate their license and serve them with a notice for their driving license suspension. The notice will act as the driver's provisional license for one month. Again, the document will give the driver a notice that they are allowed to have a DUI DMV hearing. The notice can help stop the deferment of the driver's license. Note that this can only happen if the driver requests for the DMV hearing within ten days of their DUI arrest.

If the driver does not request a hearing within ten days, their license will be automatically suspended after the one month they were given. A driver can reinstate their driving privileges by doing any of the following:

  • If they agree to enroll in a DUI program in the state

  • By submitting the SR-22 insurance document

  • By paying a reinstatement fee of $125

  • By agreeing to install the ignition interlock device (IID) system in their car.

The IID system is a breathalyzer, which helps keep a car from starting if it detects alcohol in the driver’s bloodstream. A first time DUI offender is required to have the device in their vehicle for at least four months. Subsequent offenders will have to install the device in their vehicles for a more extended period of one or two years.

The driver is expected to contact their local DMV office, which is also the place where their hearing will be held. The local DMV driver safety branch offices are very different from the traditional DMV field offices where drivers get their licenses and register their vehicles. Note that contacting the office should be done within ten days of their arrest, after which the driver will forfeit their rights to the hearing.

This is another reason why you need a representation of a DUI defense attorney as your attorney will request and schedule the DUI DMV hearing on your behalf. Your attorney can also appear in the DMV office on your behalf, which means that you don’t have to attend the hearing in person if you are not going to testify. Sometimes these hearings are conducted over a phone conversation, and so, your presence in the office may not be required after all. You, however, need a smart attorney who knows how to argue your case to get a lenient verdict.

Remember that scheduling your DUI DMV hearing will delay the suspension of your driver’s license, awaiting the result of the DMV hearing. That is why you should act fast if you don’t want to lose your right to the hearing. If you successfully defend yourself in the DMV hearing, the suspension of your driver’s license may be stopped in the end.

The Rights of a Driver in a DUI DMV Hearing

All DMV hearings in California are more relaxed, not as tensed up as court trials. DMV officers who preside over these hearings are usually not legally trained, and so, unlike a legal judge, they will be a little lenient to the offender. Again, the type of evidence, which is needed to convict the offender, also called the burden of proof, is easier to satisfy in a DMV hearing than in a criminal court. Lastly, a DMV hearing will take place in the DMV office and could also happen over a phone conversation and not in a court like a criminal proceeding. This means that the hearing will not be intimidating to the offender.

Even with that amount of informality, drivers have certain rights that need to be respected during a DUI DMV hearing. An offender, for instance, has a right to legal representation by a lawyer in a DMV hearing, at their own expense.  However, unlike in criminal court procedures in California, where the court appoints a lawyer for an offender who cannot afford their own, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not nominate any lawyer for you even if you are not able to pay for your own.

These are some of your rights in a California DUI DMV hearing:

  • The right to assess and challenge any evidence presented before the presiding officer

  • The rights to summon and also provide witnesses, which might include the officer who arrested you

  • The right to cross-examine the witnesses present

  • The right to give evidence on your own behalf

What Does the DMV Hearing Officer Consider?

A DUI DMV hearing in California considers a wide range of issues before a hearing officer pronounces his/her verdict. Some of the issues that must be considered include:

  • Whether or not the detaining officer had a credible reason to believe that the accused was driving under the influence

  • Whether or not the officer has a lawful reason to put the person under arrest

  • Whether or not the person was indeed driving under the influence and if their BAC level was .08% and higher.

Note that operating a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .08% or higher (Section 23152(b) of the California Vehicle Code) is an isolated offense from DUI (Section 23152(a) of the California Vehicle Code).

The presiding officer will also consider whether or not you submitted to a blood or chemical breath DUI test. If you did not submit to the testing, there was no way the detaining officer would have known the level of alcohol in your blood, and so, your BAC level will become a debatable point in the DMV hearing. Thus, other questions will arise, such as:

  • Whether or not the detaining officer informed you of the consequences of not submitting to the DUI tests, among them the possibility of losing your driving license through a license suspension of between one and three years.

  • If you willfully refused to yield to a blood or chemical breath test after an officer requested you to give a sample.

When all these issues have been considered, the DUI DMV hearing officer will take any of the following actions:

  • He/she will proceed to suspend/revoke your driver’s license in accordance with the DUI charge you are facing, which is referred to as sustaining the action.

  • He/she will reverse your driving license suspension for the supposed DUI charge, also referred to as setting the action aside.

If the action is set aside, it is the same as receiving a not-guilty verdict in a legal court proceeding. This will enable you to keep your driving license and will happen if you, with the help of your attorney, can effectively contest as a minimum, one of those issues that have been mentioned above. The action will also be set aside if you, with the help of your attorney, can fight any incriminating evidence that could have been gathered, from being used in the hearing.

Strategies to Help Win in a DUI DMV Hearing

Losing one's driving privileges is among the penalties a person could get if they are found guilty of driving under the influence. Without your license, you will not be able to go to work and back home, take your children to school, run errands, go to school, or generally handle your family's needs. That is why you should aim for the officer presiding over your DUI DMV hearing to set the action aside. There are several strategies that your DUI defense attorney can utilize. Some of them are:

You were not driving during the time of the arrest

You may have been drunk or on drugs, but if you do not operate a vehicle in that condition or you were not driving during the time you were arrested, there is no way you will be charged with DUI and consequently, attend a DMV hearing. This defense will only be useful if the officer admits that they did not see you driving, and also if the DMV does not summon a witness who saw you driving a vehicle while under the influence. If there is no evidence to show that you were indeed driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then the officer will set the action aside, and you will not lose your driving license.

The arrest was made at a non-compliant DUI checkpoint

If your arrest was made at a DUI checkpoint that doesn’t comply with the stringent legal requirements that have been set forth by the state's DUI laws, then the arrest will be illegal. You cannot be tried if you have been illegally arrested and so, the case will be dismissed. Even though you were driving under the influence during the time of your arrest, and there is sufficient evidence to support the arrest, the illegal arrest will be considered before the available facts, and this means that you automatically win on your DMV hearing.

The detaining officer didn’t have a probable reason to arrest you

Any law enforcement officer who arrests and charges a driver for DUI should have a probable reason to believe that the driver was driving under the influence even before they administer the DUI tests. If the arresting officer lacked any good reason to arrest you, the DMV hearing officer presiding over your hearing would set the action aside, meaning that you don’t get to lose your driving license. A smart DUI defense attorney should be able to present several arguments, citing reasons why the officer didn’t have a credible cause to detain you.

Your attorney can, for instance, state that you were driving well, and observing all traffic rules, but then you were stopped by the detaining officer because you are a target of racial discrimination.

The 15-minute waiting period was not properly conducted

According to Title 17 of the California state’s Code of Regulations, there are procedures in which blood and breath tests should be done. This title explains why traffic officers should administer the tests, how samples should be collected, stowed, and how they should be analyzed. If it is established that the officer who arrested you did not strictly follow the regulations provided, the DUI arrest will be placed under scrutiny, and the case could be thrown out.

One of the essential regulations under Title 17 is that the detaining officer should take 15 minutes on the minimum to observe a DUI suspect before collecting samples for breath testing. This is done to make sure that the DUI suspect doesn't vomit, smoke, regurgitate, drink, or do something that could compromise the test results.

If this is not done, the results could be affected, and this could suggest that the suspect's BAC level was not as it was reported during the time they were driving. When test results are jeopardized, the DMV hearing will be ruled in favor of the suspect.

The breathalyzer wasn’t working correctly

Again, Title 17 provides regulations that should be followed in the operation and maintenance of breathalyzers. The regulations provide that these testing devices must undergo accuracy checks at least every ten days of use or after taking 150 breath tests. If by any chance, the testing instrument that was used to take your DUI samples did not observe these regulations, the results will be rendered inaccurate, and this will help your case. The same thing will happen if the testing device was malfunctioning, as this could have resulted in false readings of your DUI breath test.

You did not refuse to take the DUI tests

In the absence of DUI test results, the court and the DMV office may assume that you refused to submit to the testing. However, there is a possibility that you indeed submitted to the testing, but the samples you provided were not sufficient to provide any results. In that case, your failure to submit to the testing will not be considered during the DMV hearing. Again, the officer who arrested you is required to provide an alternative of blood draw to suspects who are not able to blow into the testing instrument. If you started asking the officer who stopped you questions about the entire procedure and they assumed that you were hostile and therefore not willing to take the tests, this should not be held against you.

What Happens if You Lose in Your DUI DMV Hearing?

There is always no guarantee to win in a DUI DMV hearing, but with a good DUI defense attorney by your side, chances of winning in the hearing are usually higher. However, if you lose in the hearing, your driving privileges will be at stake, and its suspension will take effect immediately. The circumstances of the suspension and the length you will lose your driving rights will depend on whether the DUI charge you are facing was your first, second, or subsequent.

First time DUI offender

If a first-time defendant loses in their DMV hearing, they will get a driver’s license suspension for between 6-10 months after the date they lost in the hearing. After the first month of suspension, they may be allowed to change the suspension into a restriction, after which they will be allowed to drive only to and from work and DUI School.

Again, there is no guarantee that the restriction will be granted. You may be required to enroll in a DUI school or pay the reinstatement fee of $125.

Second-time offender

If the DUI charge you are facing is the second one in ten years, you might lose your driving rights for two years if you lose in the DMV hearing. A second-time offender will only be allowed to apply for the conversion of their license suspension to restriction after one year of obeying all the conditions that come with the suspension. If you refused to give in to a DUI test, you might lose your freedom to drive for up to two years. If, however, you have an IID installed in your car for one year, you may be allowed to drive without any limitation.

A third and subsequent offender

If you are facing a DUI charge for the third time within ten years, you will get a driver's license suspension for three years. Again, just like the second-time offender, you will be allowed to apply for the conversion of the suspension to a restriction after one year of adhering to all the set conditions.

However, if you caused an injury to another person while driving under the influence, the suspension of your driving license will be five years. 

A fourth and subsequent DUI offender gets a felony conviction, and this means loss of driving privileges for four years if they lose in their DMV hearing.

Find an Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Near Me

Losing one's driving privileges is not an easy thing to deal with, because it means that you may not be able to work, run errands, or take care of your family. That is why you need the best legal representation you can get in your DUI DMV hearing to challenge a move to suspend or revoke your license. The Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm is comprised of exceptionally trained and experienced DUI defense attorneys who are willing and ready to take up your case and ensure that your rights are protected and your needs are met. Call our Orange County DUI Lawyer at 714-740-7866 for quality and timely representation in your DMV hearing.