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Understanding the DMV Hearing and Your Legal Rights

Chantal Tanner

Understanding the DMV Hearing and Your Legal Rights

DUI
| 5 min
5 Min

In case of a DUI arrest, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) will seek to suspend or revoke your driver’s license. For many people, driving is such an essential part of life that the suspension of driving privileges can have serious impacts, including affecting their ability to go to work or school. 

Generally, there is so much tied to having a driver's license. In California, as in many other states, driving is a privilege and not a right. Applying and testing for a driver’s license is a privilege as well.  

However, once you get the license, it becomes a vested property right. Subsequently, everyone is entitled to challenge the validity of a driver's license suspension in a DMV hearing.

What is a DMV Hearing?

As outlined in the California Vehicle Code (CVC), the Department of Motor Vehicle can suspend or revoke your driver’s license for a variety of reasons, including DUI, fraudulent activity and negligent operations. DUI arrests are among the most common reasons for driver’s license suspensions.

In California, a DUI arrest leads to both a criminal trial in the local court and an administrative hearing with the DMV. In case you are guilty of the DUI offense, the court can send you to jail or fine you. However, as an administrative procedure, the DMV can only suspend or revoke your driver’s license in the administrative hearings. 

It is these administrative hearings that are commonly referred to as DMV hearings. They are also known as ‘Admin Per Se’ or APS. Typically, you appear before a DMV hearing officer and try to prevent the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license.

For a DUI arrest with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08 percent or higher, you will be issued with a 30-day temporary license. To avoid the suspension of your driver's license, you must request a DMV hearing within ten days of the arrest. 

If you do not request a DMV hearing within the stipulated time, the Department will automatically suspend your license for up to four months in case you are a first offender. For multiple DUI offenders and depending on other factors, the suspension can be for up to one year or even longer. 

However, if the DMV is seeking to suspend your driver’s license for whatever reason, you have the right to contest or challenge the suspension.

What are my legal rights?

Compared to court trials, DMV hearings are informal in that they take place in an office instead of the courtroom. Sometimes, the hearings can even take place over the phone. DMV hearings are also presided over by a DMV hearing officer and not a judge. The hearing officer doesn't need to have formal legal training. 

Compared to a court trial, a DMV hearing does not require a lot of evidence to prove someone is guilty. However, despite the informal nature of the hearings and the lower standards of proof, you are still entitled to some legal rights during a DMV hearing. 

Your legal rights include:

  • Legal representation – you have the right to be represented by a lawyer in a DMV hearing at your own cost. However, having an attorney is not a requirement. 
  • Contest the evidence – whether you have legal representation or not, you have the right to review and challenge the evidence, including that of the arresting officer. For instance, in a DMV DUI hearing, you can challenge the police report and the blood or Breath Test results.
  • Cross-examination of witnesses – you have the right to cross-examine any witness at your DMV hearing. You can even cross-examine experts on the accuracy of the various tests, including the breathalyzer. 
  • Testify on your behalf – you have the right to give your side of the story in a DMV hearing, including presenting witnesses and evidence. Your testimony is critical in case the arrest was malicious or unlawful.

Right to appeal – after a DMV hearing, you have the right to receive the decision in writing and in case the decision is against you, you have the right to appeal. You can request the DMV to review the decision administratively, or you can appeal it in a Superior Court.

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