Obtaining a driver's license is not a guaranteed right but a privilege with specific responsibilities and restrictions. Driving can potentially cause harm to the driver and others, which is why the government is responsible for setting rules and regulations for who can drive and under what circumstances. Thus, if you violate traffic laws, the government, through California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, can suspend or revoke your license. This decision is only reached in an administrative hearing at the DMV. The DMV will consider the case as put forth by the prosecutor and allow you to make your case before deciding on the appropriate action.

You will likely have a better outcome in an administrative hearing if you enlist the services of an experienced driving offenses defense attorney. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we are ready to assist. Below is a detailed explanation to help you better understand DMV administrative hearings.

DMV Hearings and Court Proceedings

An important question arises, “Are DMV hearings the same as court proceedings?”

No. DMV proceedings are generally independent of court proceedings. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) conducts administrative proceedings known as DMV proceedings. These proceedings are held to assess whether a driver's license should be suspended or revoked, taking into account various factors, including:

  • Alcohol or drug use while driving.
  • Accumulation of too many points on their driving record, or
  • Physical or mental conditions that could impair an individual’s ability to drive.

These proceedings are not criminal. They are typically separate from any court proceedings related to traffic violations or other criminal charges. If a driver faces criminal charges related to a traffic offense, he/she must address those charges in court. The outcome of the court case could also affect their driving privileges.

DMV proceedings concentrate on assessing the driver's capability to operate a motor vehicle safely. Conversely, court proceedings center on determining if the driver has violated traffic laws or committed other criminal offenses. While the outcome of court proceedings could affect a driver's DMV hearing or the DMV's decision on their driving privilege, the two proceedings are separate and have different objectives.

DMV Hearings

DMV administrative hearings address a person's driving privilege. These hearings are typically held after a traffic violation to determine whether a driver’s license should be suspended or revoked. Drivers are allowed to contest the DMV's decision.

There are several types of DMV administrative hearings, including:

  1. Administrative Per Se (APS) Hearings

Administrative Per Se (APS) hearings determine whether a driver was driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit of 0.08% or refused to take a chemical test when pulled over for suspicion of DUI. Further, it also addresses cases where a minor was arrested for driving with a BAC exceeding 0.01%.

If a driver is arrested for DUI, the arresting officer will confiscate their driver's license. The officer will then inform the driver that his/her license is suspended. The driver then has ten days from the date of their arrest to request an APS hearing to contest the suspension of their driver’s license. If the driver fails to request a hearing within these ten days, their license will be automatically suspended.

At the APS hearing, the DMV hearing officer will review the evidence presented by the driver and the arresting officer. The evidence includes the results of any chemical tests, witness testimony, and other evidence. After considering the presented evidence, the hearing officer will either maintain the license suspension or reinstate the driver's license.

Note: Even if you are acquitted of criminal DUI charges, you could also face license suspension or revocation if you lose your APS hearing. Conversely, winning an APS hearing does not guarantee you will not face criminal charges related to the DUI incident.

  1. Negligent Operator Hearings

Negligent operator hearings determine whether you were negligent and whether your driving privileges should be suspended or revoked after accumulating too many points on your driving record within a set time frame.

A driver is deemed negligent if they amass too many points on their driving record within a certain period. A driver who accumulates 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months, or 8 points in 36 months is deemed a negligent operator. Additionally, a driver involved in multiple at-fault accidents or traffic violations within a certain period may be considered negligent.

The DMV takes the following actions in a negligent operator hearing:

  • The DMV will issue warning letters to drivers at the Level 1 stage — These are drivers with two points in 12 months, four points in 24 months, or six points in 36 months.
  • The DMV will issue a notice of intent to suspend drivers at the Level 2 stage — Level 2 drivers with three points in 12 months, five points in 24 months, or seven points in 36 months.
  • The DMV will order suspension or probation to drivers at the Level 3 stage — These are drivers with four points in 12 months, six points in 24 months, or eight points in 36 months.

If a driver is considered a negligent operator, the DMV could initiate a suspension or revocation of their driving privilege. The driver can request a “negligent operator” hearing to contest the suspension or revocation. At the hearing, the DMV hearing officer will review the driver's driving record and any evidence presented by the driver or their representative. The hearing officer will decide whether the driver's driving privilege should be suspended or revoked. Alternatively, he/she could also determine whether the hearing should continue.

  1. Reexamination Hearings

Reexamination hearings seek to determine whether a driver is still qualified to hold a driver's license due to factors including physical or mental conditions. These conditions impair a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.

You could be required to attend a reexamination hearing if:

  • You have been involved in multiple accidents or traffic violations,
  • You have a medical condition that could affect your ability to drive, or
  • A report concerning a driver's capability to operate a vehicle safely is submitted to the DMV by a concerned citizen or a law enforcement agency.

The DMV hearing officer will review your driving record at the reexamination hearing. The officer will also consider any evidence your attorney presents, including medical reports or letters from medical professionals. The hearing officer could also require you to take a written, vision, or driving test to evaluate your driving skills.

After reviewing the presented evidence, the DMV hearing officer will determine whether the driver meets the requirements to hold a driver's license. The driver's license could be suspended, revoked, or restricted if the hearing officer determines you cannot safely operate a vehicle.

  1. Fraudulent Activity Hearings

Under the fraudulent activity hearings, the DMV officials seek to determine whether a driver or vehicle owner engaged in fraudulent activity related to their driver's license, vehicle registration, or any other DMV-related matter.

Examples of fraudulent activity that could lead to this hearing include:

  • Providing false information on a driver's license application
  • Using someone else's identity to obtain a driver's license
  • Altering or forging a driver's license or registration documents, or
  • Using a stolen or counterfeit driver's license or registration documents.

After considering the presented evidence, the hearing officer may enforce penalties such as license or registration suspension or revocation, fines, or even criminal charges if the fraudulent activity is severe enough.

Winning Strategies in a DMV Hearing

The winning strategies at a DMV hearing depend on the facts of the case. However, some general approaches can be effective. Here are some strategies that could help drivers win a DMV hearing:

  1. Demonstrating that the Police Officer Lacked Probable Cause to Stop You

Challenging the officer's probable cause for the traffic stop can be an effective strategy for winning a DMV hearing. You must demonstrate that the officer had no valid justification for stopping you in the initial instance.

Some of the common defenses when asserting the lack of probable cause include:

  • You obeyed the traffic regulations while driving and
  • The stop was because of the officer’s racial bias.

Both can be factors that a DUI defense attorney could use to challenge probable cause for an arrest in a DMV hearing.

Note: Officers generally have broad discretion when making traffic stops and arrests. Hence, your DUI attorney needs to make a convincing argument, supported by evidence and legal precedent, to persuade the DMV hearing officer that the traffic stop or arrest by the officer lacked sufficient justification. This could include:

  • Challenging the officer's observations or administration of field sobriety tests.
  • Demonstrating inconsistencies in the police report or testimony or
  • Presenting evidence of other factors that could have affected the officer's judgment.
  1. Challenge the Blood Alcohol Results

If you are facing a DMV hearing for driving under the influence, one possible winning strategy is demonstrating that your BAC was below the legal limit of .08%. Another approach is to challenge the BAC results. Here are some possible ways your attorney could use this defense strategy:

  • Chain of custody — You can question the chain of custody. Your DUI defense attorney will investigate and try to demonstrate a break in the chain of custody of the blood or breath sample from when it was taken to when it was tested. This break could have led to contamination or tampering.
  • Blood sample contamination — Blood samples can become tainted in various ways, for example, incorrect handling or storage, exposure to bacteria or other materials, or using non-sterilized needles. Your attorney could argue that the blood sample was contaminated, leading to an inaccurate BAC reading.
  • Calibration and maintenance of equipment — Another possible challenge is to question whether the testing equipment was properly calibrated and maintained. The defense attorney could argue that the testing officer incorrectly calibrated, maintained, or operated the breathalyzer or blood test equipment, leading to inaccurate results. Any violations of Title 17 are an opportunity for your defense.
  • Blood sample contamination — Blood samples can become tainted in various ways, for example, incorrect handling or storage, exposure to bacteria or other materials, or using non-sterilized needles. Your attorney could argue that the blood sample was contaminated, leading to an inaccurate BAC reading.
  • Health issues or medications — Certain health issues or drugs can affect the accuracy of BAC test results. For example, some medical conditions, like diabetes or medicine like cough drugs, can cause a false positive on a breathalyzer test. In contrast, others could affect the accuracy of blood tests. Your attorney will present evidence of these conditions or medications to support their argument that the test results are inaccurate.
  • Rising BAC — Another defense strategy is to argue that the BAC was below the legal limit at the time of driving. However, the BAC exceeded the legal limit when the test was administered. Expert testimony is needed.
  1. Substantiate Your Claims of Not Being Advised Against Refusing to Submit to a Breath Test

Under the state's implied consent law, drivers arrested on suspicion of DUI must submit to a blood, breath, or urine test. Refusal to take the test can result in administrative penalties, including a driver's license suspension.

Nevertheless, law enforcement officials must notify the driver of the consequences of refusing a blood or breath test before conducting the test. Your attorney could assert the following to challenge a blood or breath test based on a lack of advisement:

  • The arresting officer did not properly advise you of the consequences of refusing the test.
  • The advisement given was unclear, incomplete, or misleading.
  • You were too impaired at the time of the advisement to fully understand its meaning and consequences.

If your attorney can show that the advisement was inadequate in any way, the test results could be deemed inadmissible in court or at a DMV hearing. This can significantly strengthen your case.

  1. Show that You Agreed to Submit to the Tests

If you agree to take a blood or breath test after being arrested for DUI, the test results will typically be used as evidence against you in an Administrative Per Se hearing or criminal trial. However, you could agree to take the test in some situations, but the results could still be challenged.

One possible strategy for challenging the test results is to argue that you only agreed to take the test under duress, coercion, or confusion. If your legal representative proves that you were not fully aware of your rights or were pressured or intimidated by the authorities into taking the test, the test results could be deemed unacceptable as evidence.

Another approach is showing that you complied with the authorities and submitted to a chemical test and that the test results show that they were not intoxicated. You can win your Administrative Per Se (APS) hearing with the DMV if proven. This is a common defense strategy for drivers arrested for DUI.

There are several ways that a driver can show that they complied with the authorities and submitted to a chemical test. Some examples include:

  • You tried blowing into the breathalyzer, but the samples were insufficient.
  • You were not offered a blood draw as an alternative to a breath test.
  • You asked questions about the tests, and the police assumed that the questions were not serious and interpreted them as a refusal.
  1. Demonstrate that You Were Not Actively Operating or Driving a Vehicle at the Time of Your DUI Arrest

If you can show that you were not actually "driving" a car during your DUI arrest, you can win the Administrative Per Se (APS) hearing with the DMV. This is a winning strategy because to be arrested for DUI, you must have been driving or operating a vehicle during your arrest.

Multiple approaches are available to demonstrate that you were not operating a vehicle during your DUI apprehension.

One way to demonstrate that you were not "driving" during a DUI arrest is by showing that although you were in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition, the engine was not running. Another possibility is if you were sleeping in the car with the keys in your possession and had no intention of driving the vehicle.

If you can present evidence to support your claim that you were not actually "driving" a car at the time of your DUI arrest, for example, witness testimony, video footage, or other evidence, the DMV hearing officer could find in your favor and set aside the suspension of your driver's license.

Appealing a DMV Hearing Decision

If a driver is not satisfied with the outcome of their DMV hearing, they can appeal the decision. Drivers can appeal the DMV's decision to suspend their license in a court of law.

You have two options:

  • Request for an administrative review.
  • To appeal through the Superior Court or
  1. Request for an Administrative Review

An administrative review is the first step of the appeals process before proceeding to the Superior Court.

The driver must request an administrative review within 15 days of receiving the DMV's decision. A DMV hearing officer will conduct the hearing, examine the evidence, and render a decision.

If the driver is dissatisfied with the administrative hearing ruling, they can appeal with the California Superior Court. The appeal must be filed in the county where the driver resides or where the DMV hearing was conducted.

  1. Appealing Through The Superior Court

If you are dissatisfied with the ruling made by the DMV hearing officer during the appeal hearing, you can seek additional appeals via the California Superior Court.

You must file a writ of mandate with the Superior Court. The writ of mandate is a legal document that asks the court to review the decision made by the DMV hearing officer and order a different outcome. You must file the writ of mandate within 15 days of the DMV's decision becoming final. Your application must include specific legal arguments for why the DMV's decision was incorrect.

The appeal process through the Superior Court is similar to a civil trial. You can present evidence and argue your case before a judge. You first must pay a filing fee to appeal the DMV's decision to the Superior Court.

A Superior Court judge can only reverse a DMV decision if:

  • The decision was made without or more than jurisdiction,
  • There was a violation of the applicant’s constitutional rights.
  • The decision was made in error of law.
  • The evidence did not support the decision, or
  • The petitioner did not have a fair hearing.

The judge cannot simply reverse the decision because they believe the hearing officer's decision was arbitrary or capricious. The judge must find that the DMV's decision violated the law or the petitioner's rights in some way.

Can I Drive While Awaiting the Decision on My Appeal?

The process of appealing can be intricate and lengthy. Various factors impact the time before you can receive the decision on your appeal.

If your driver's license was suspended or revoked following a DMV hearing, you can only legally drive once your appeal is resolved and your driving privileges are reinstated. However, in some cases, you can obtain a restricted driver's license to drive to and from work, school, and other essential activities. You should consult your attorney to determine if you are eligible for a restricted driver’s license while your appeal is pending.

Find a DUI Attorney Near Me

Hiring a defense attorney for a DMV hearing can benefit individuals facing license suspension or revocation. An experienced attorney can help in various ways, including choosing a winning strategy and presenting evidence based on your case, negotiating with the DMV on your behalf, and leading your appeal.

Enlisting the services of an attorney can increase the chances of a successful outcome in a DMV hearing. You should find an attorney with experience in DMV hearings and a track record of success in these cases. The Chula Vista Criminal Attorney fits this description. We pride ourselves on offering the best legal services for individuals facing charges and DMV hearings for traffic offenses. We can help you too. Contact our team at 619-877-6894 for more information.