In most states, a DUI arrest leads to two distinct processes:
While the punishments in a criminal case can include potential jail time and severe fines, in a DMV hearing only your driving privileges are at stake. If an officer pulls you over on suspicion that you might be under the influence, the law expects you to submit to a Breathalyzer test. Failure to submit to this test could lead to your arrest and the potential suspension or revocation of your driver's license.
A DMV hearing is an administrative hearing where you appear before a DMV hearing officer and argue against the suspension of your driver's license. After a DUI arrest, you will be issued a pink sheet of paper which will advise you to request a DMV hearing within ten days of the arrest.
The pink sheet of paper also serves as your temporary driver’s license. Failure to request a DMV hearing will lead to an automatic suspension of your license. A DMV hearing is mostly informal and takes place in a small office. The hearing is conducted by a DMV officer who is neither a judge nor a lawyer. In addition to the hearing officer, the arresting officer may attend the hearing.
To avoid losing your driving privileges, you may want to follow these steps in approaching your DMV hearing:
The DMV needs to justify the suspension or revocation of your license by proving several issues. If you submitted to a chemical test, the main focus of the DMV hearing would be;
· Whether the officer had reasonable cause to believe you were driving while under the influence,
· Whether the stopping and subsequent arrest was lawful, and
· Whether you were driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher.
If you refused chemical testing, in addition to the above first two issues, the DMV hearing would also focus on;
· Whether the officer properly advised you that refusing to submit to a chemical test will result in the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license, and
· Whether you refused to submit to testing even after being requested to do so by the officer.
To have a good defense, you need to understand these issues, and you or your attorney must successfully refute at least one of them.
Unlike in the criminal case, the law does not require you to be represented by a lawyer in a DMV hearing. However, a DMV hearing is like a mini-trial where evidence rules are applicable; hence you need a legal expert to help you navigate the process.
For instance, you may need to cross-examine witnesses, including the arresting officer. A skilled attorney will also help you handle other aspects of the hearing, including handling scientific evidence and dealing with objections. A DUI attorney will also be familiar with the defenses that apply to your case.
Successfully handling your DUI DMV hearings will also require you to give an accurate account of what happened. To help your attorney defend you, you need to recall the events of your arrest.
You need to write down your arrest details, including why you were pulled over and what the officer said or did. Recalling what happened before and after you were stopped will be valuable for your defense.
While you need to be positive about winning a DMV hearing, you should also consider the possibility of losing the hearing. You need to know the alternatives in case your license is suspended.
For instance, you can request a restricted non-commercial license that will allow you to drive to and from work or school. Knowing you have options will help you approach a DMV hearing with the right attitude.
Despite being mostly informal, the DUI DMV hearing process can be complicated and overwhelming if not handled well. In addition to understanding the issues that will be the focus of the hearing, you need to have an experienced attorney. To successfully navigate the process, you also need to recall your arrest details as much as possible, even as you explore alternatives.
Image credit: Gabe Pierce