If you are arrested for DUI in California, you will face two separate legal proceedings: a criminal charge for DUI in California courts, and a California Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") hearing to determine what will happen to your driver's license.
What is at stake in the California DUI court process are criminal penalties: fines, potential jail time, completion of California DUI school, and a variety of additional DUI probation conditions. The process is therefore very similar to the court process for most other crimes in California.
In contrast, a California DMV hearing in a DUI case is an administrative procedure and deals only with your driving privileges. The DMV cannot send you to jail or fine you, but they can suspend your driver's license.
In this article, our California DUI defense attorneys1 will tell you what to expect during a DMV DUI hearing by explaining the following:
- 1. What is a DUI DMV Hearing in California?
- 2. How Can I Win at My DUI DMV Hearing?
- 3. What is the Relationship Between My DMV Hearing and My DUI Court Case?
- 4. What Happens if I Win My DMV Hearing?
- 5. What Happens if I Lose My DMV DUI Hearing?
- 5.1. Driver's license suspension for first-offense DUI
- 5.2. Driver's license suspension for second-offense DUI
- 5.3. Driver's license suspension for third-offense DUI
- 5.4. Driver's license suspension for fourth and subsequent DUIs
- 5.5. Underage DUIs
- 5.6. Out-of-state DUIs
- 5.7. Appealing your DMV DUI hearing decision
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
A DMV DUI hearing in California is an administrative hearing held at a DMV office (not a criminal court). The sole issue in this hearing is whether or not your driver's license will be suspended as a result of your having been arrested for DUI.
If you are arrested in California for drunk driving, the arresting officer will confiscate your driver's license and provide you with a pink "Notice of Suspension". This notice acts as a temporary license for 30 days.
More importantly, this document also gives you notice that you are entitled to a DMV DUI hearing to prevent the suspension of your license--but only if you request it within ten (10) days of the arrest.
If you do not request a hearing within this 10-day window, your license will be suspended automatically at the end of the 30 days. At a certain point you will be eligible to reinstate your license once you
- enroll in California DUI school,
- submit an SR-22 insurance form,
- pay a $125 reinstatement fee, and
- in some cases, install an ignition interlock device in your car.
It bears repeating that, in order to try to avoid the suspension, you will want to request a DMV hearing, which is formally known as a Driver Safety Administrative Per Se "APS" Hearing. You only have 10 days from the date of arrest to request this DMV DUI hearing. If you do not request your hearing within that timeframe, you lose your right to do so.
If you do request the DMV hearing for your DUI, the suspension of your driver's license will be delayed pending the outcome of the hearing. And if you win the DUI DMV hearing, it may be prevented altogether.
DMV hearings, including DMV hearings for California DUIs, are much more relaxed than court trials.
One clear example lies in the fact that a DMV hearing officer--who often has no formal legal training--presides over the DUI hearing case instead of a judge.
Another is that the "burden of proof"--that is, the amount of evidence that is required to prove guilt--is more easily satisfied in a DMV DUI hearing than in a criminal proceeding.
A third Is that the DMV DUI hearing takes place in an office--and sometimes even over the phone--instead of in a courtroom.
But despite this informality, you still maintain certain important rights during a DMV DUI hearing.
You have the right to be represented at your DUI DMV hearing by an attorney at your own expense. This means that, unlike in a California criminal court proceeding, the DMV will not appoint an attorney for you in the event you are unable to afford your own.
At the DMV DUI hearing, you are entitled to
- review and challenge evidence,
- subpoena and present witnesses (including the arresting officer),
- cross-examine witnesses, and
- testify on your own behalf.
In order to schedule your DMV DUI hearing, you must contact your local DMV driver safety branch office, which is where your hearing will be held. These offices are different from the "traditional" DMV field offices where you go to obtain a license or register your vehicle.
And remember: you must contact the office to schedule your DUI DMV hearing within 10 calendar days of your arrest. Your failure to do so forfeits your right to this hearing.
If you hire a private DUI defense attorney to represent you in your court case, he / she will likely request and schedule your DMV DUI hearing for you, provided that you retain his / her services within that 10-day timeframe. He or she may also appear on your behalf, in which case you do not need to attend if you are not going to testify.
And many times the hearing is conducted over the phone rather than in-person.
The scope of a California DUI DMV hearing is quite broad. There are a handful of issues that the hearing officer will consider:
- Did the arresting officer have probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence?
- Did the officer have lawful cause to put you under arrest?
- Were you driving with a blood alcohol concentration "BAC" of 0.08% or greater?
* It must be noted that driving with a BAC of 0.08% or greater is a separate offense from driving under the influence. The first is prohibited under Vehicle Code 23152(b) whereas the latter is the offense more generally prohibited under Vehicle Code 23152(a).2
If you allegedly refused to submit to a chemical breath or blood DUI test, the last question becomes a moot point at your DMV DUI hearing. Instead, the key questions become:
- Did the officer tell you that if you refused to submit to a blood or breath test your driving privilege would be suspended for one year or revoked for two or three years?
- Did you, in fact, willfully refuse to submit to a chemical breath or blood test after the officer asked you to provide a sample?
After considering these issues, the DMV hearing officer in your California DMV DUI hearing will either
- decide to suspend your driver's license based on the alleged DUI (known as "sustaining the action"), or
- reverse the suspension of your driver's license for the alleged DUI (known as "setting aside the action"). If the officer sets aside the action, it is equivalent to receiving a not guilty verdict.
The hearing officer should set aside the action and allow you to retain your driving privilege if you successfully refute at least one of the issues raised above or successfully prevent incriminating evidence from being admitted at the DMV DUI hearing.
The following are examples of common DUI defenses that a skilled DUI defense attorney may present on your behalf at your California DMV DUI hearing:
You were not driving
If the officer did not personally observe you driving, and either
- the DMV does not subpoena any witnesses who did, or
- there is no other evidence that could reasonably establish that you were driving,
then the hearing officer at your DUI hearing should set aside your driver's license suspension based on the "no driving" defense to a DUI.
Let's say, for example, that you were out drinking and when you went back to your car, you realized you should not be driving. You decided to "sleep it off", so you reclined your seat and closed your eyes. A cop approached you to see if you were okay, smelled the alcohol on your breath, and arrested you for DUI. This would be an unlawful arrest, since you did not drive under the influence.
You were arrested at an illegal DUI / driver's license checkpoint
Similarly, if you are arrested at a California DUI sobriety checkpoint that does not conform to the strict legal requirements set forth under California DUI law, the arrest is illegal. This means that even if you were technically driving under the influence, the unlawful arrest wold override that fact--and you should win your DUI DMV hearing.
The officer did not have probable cause to detain you for DUI
If the officer did not have any probable cause to detain you for driving under the influence, the hearing officer at your DMV DUI hearing must set aside the suspension of your driver's license. Your California DUI defense lawyer could argue any number of reasons why the officer lacked probable cause to arrest you. For example, perhaps you were
- obeying all traffic laws and pulled over only because you were the victim of racial profiling (racial profiling is the practice of initiating a stop based on someone's race, ethnicity or nationality), or
- involved in an accident but did not start drinking until you got home (after which the officers came to interview you).
The officer did not conduct a proper 15-minute observation period
Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations governs how breath and blood tests must be administered, collected, stored and analyzed. If the officer does not strictly adhere to California's Title 17 regulations, a California DUI arrest is subject to scrutiny.
One of these regulations is that an officer must observe the suspect for at least 15 minutes immediately prior to conducting a breath test. This is to ensure that the suspect does not vomit, eat, drink, smoke, regurgitate, or do anything else that may compromise the results of the test.
The failure to conduct this observation jeopardizes the results and may mean that the arrestee's blood alcohol concentration ("BAC") was not at 0.08% or above at the time of driving--a fact which could result in a "win" at the DMV DUI hearing.
The breath testing instrument was not calibrated or was not working properly
Title 17 also regulates the maintenance and operation of breath testing instruments. Current law provides that these instruments must undergo an accuracy check every ten days or 150 "blows". If you provided your samples on instruments that failed to adhere to these standards, your BAC measurement may be inaccurate--and the DMV hearing officer at your DUI hearing may need to reverse your driver's license suspension.
Similarly, if the instrument was malfunctioning, that too could produce false high results on a DUI breath test.
At one point, 125 breath testing instruments in Ventura County were removed from the field because of suspected errors that were occurring with faulty parts and mouth pieces. The Ventura County District Attorney then had to review hundreds of arrests to see if any of the convictions based on breath test results taken on these instruments should be overturned.
There were physiological explanations for your false high "BAC" level
There are a variety of reasons why you could have a BAC of 0.08% or greater that are unrelated to the amount of alcohol that you consumed.
- High-protein, low carbohydrate diets can trigger false high BAC results;
- Medical defenses like GERD, acid reflux and heartburn can produce inaccurately high BAC results; and
- Residual "mouth alcohol" may have caused a falsely high reading.
If you suffered from any of these conditions at the time you provided your breath sample, you may not have truly been driving with a BAC of 0.08% or greater, despite the results of your breath test, and you may be able to win your DMV DUI hearing on that basis.
The officer did not properly advise you of the consequences of refusing to submit to a chemical breath or blood test
If you refuse to submit to a DUI chemical blood or breath test, the officer must advise you that your driver's license will be suspended automatically for one year. This admonition is in writing and the officer is supposed to read it verbatim (that is, word for word). If he / she fails to do this, you could win your DMV DUI hearing.
Because many officers make numerous drunk driving arrests, often they simply "go through the motions." If the officer
- forgets to give this admonition,
- deliberately chooses not to give it,
- recites his / her own interpretation of the admonition instead of reading it--and confuses you to the point that you do not know what is expected of you, or
- tells you that your refusal could result in a mandatory suspension instead of telling you that your refusal will result in a suspension,
the action against your driver's license for a DUI could be set aside at your California DMV hearing.
You did not refuse to submit to a chemical test
Perhaps you did not refuse to submit to a chemical test. Maybe you tried to "blow" but your breath samples were not sufficient. Maybe you were not offered a blood draw as an alternative. Maybe you were simply asking questions about the procedure and the officer misinterpreted your inquiries as hostility and assumed you were refusing.
If you did not refuse, you should win your DMV DUI hearing. If there's no refusal--and no BAC results--the DMV hearing officer cannot sustain your license suspension on that basis.
There were fatal flaws with the officer's paperwork
When an officer makes a DUI arrest, he / she must fill out certain mandatory reports and paperwork.
If the officer forgets to sign the paperwork, writes the wrong dates on the documents, fails to report the BAC results, or records the wrong BAC results and can not independently recall the facts of your arrest to correct these mistakes, these errors could prove fatal to the case against you and result in a favorable outcome for you at your DMV DUI hearing
You were arrested for violating the "under 21 zero tolerance law" and the officer did not lay the proper foundation for your BAC results
Drivers under 21 are forbidden from driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in their bodies. This is known as California's "zero tolerance" law (Vehicle Code 23136 VC). Most of the time, officers administer preliminary alcohol screening ("PAS") tests to these drivers.
PAS devices are not regulated by Title 17. This means that if an officer is going to testify about the BAC level in the DMV DUI hearing for an under 21 DUI case, he / she would need to lay the proper foundation as to why the PAS is a reliable breath testing instrument.
In other words, the officer must supply the proof as to why the PAS results should be used as evidence against the driver. The officer may be able to do this, but many times s/he will not know how to do this.
And, depending on the circumstances, you or your attorney may want to call witnesses at your DUI DMV hearing to support these defenses. This may include the arresting officer, a forensic alcohol expert, and / or you.
It bears repeating that, unlike your DUI court proceedings, the DMV DUI hearing is not concerned with whether or not you committed a criminal act. The hearing officer focuses exclusively on the circumstances surrounding your arrest and on whether your driving privileges should be suspended.
That said, the two proceedings are closely related. Testimony obtained during the California DMV hearing could persuade the prosecutor to dismiss your charge or to offer a reduced charge as part of DUI plea bargain negotiations.
If, during a bench or jury trial, you receive a not guilty verdict on Vehicle Code 23152(b)--California's law against driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or greater--that verdict forces the DMV to reissue your driver's license. However, a court dismissal or pleading guilty or no contest to a reduced charge does not have any bearing on your DMV license suspension / revocation.
A major difference between the DMV DUI hearing and the DUI trial Is that a trial is much more comprehensive. The attorneys have more leeway to explore a wider variety of legal defenses in an effort to fight your DUI charge.
And perhaps the most significant difference between the two Is that the DMV hearing is governed by a DMV hearing officer--an employee of the DMV! A DUI jury trial is governed by a panel of impartial jurors--12 people who must unanimously agree that you are guilty before you can be convicted of drunk driving.
This is why it is so critical to have a California DUI defense attorney who has experience with California DMV DUI hearings and California DUI trials. Because these proceedings are conducted so differently, it is essential to have a lawyer who understands both systems.
As Ventura DUI defense attorney John Murray3 explains,
"Because I have relationships and experience with so many different DMV hearing officers, I can offer my clients unsurpassed service. I understand the types of evidence and arguments that win with these officers. And this same service extends into the courtroom. As a DUI specialist, my relationships and experience with local prosecutors, judges and practices allow me to secure the best deals for my clients."
If you win your DMV DUI hearing and the hearing officer sets aside the action, this means that you will retain your driving privilege intact.
This also means that means that you may be able to obtain a better "deal" with the prosecution during plea bargain negotiations for your DUI criminal case. If the DUI hearing reveals significant flaws in the state's case, it may even convince the prosecutor to dismiss your DUI charges altogether.
But because the DMV and DUI court hearing process are completely separate proceedings, "winning" the DMV hearing does not automatically carry over to the court proceedings. For whatever reason, the prosecutor may still believe he / she has strong enough evidence to proceed to trial.
And if you are ultimately convicted of the offense in court, the judge retains the power to revoke or suspend your license. This is why it is critical to have a California DUI defense attorney who knows how to win cases at the DMV and in court.
Even if you lose your DMV DUI hearing, your DUI attorney nevertheless may have elicited information during the proceeding that could encourage the prosecutor to offer you a reduced plea. Certain plea bargains, or you winning at trial, could also cause the DMV to set aside the driver's license suspension even after it has gone into effect.
But as far as your driving privilege is concerned, the suspension / revocation of your driver's license will go into effect if you lose your DMV DUI hearing. The length and circumstances of the restriction will depend on whether it is your first, second or subsequent offense.
If this is your first DUI arrest, your privilege will be suspended for six to ten months after you lose your DMV DUI hearing.4 After the first month, you may be able to have the suspension converted into a restricted license that allows you to drive to and from
- work, and
- your California DUI school.
These are the only exceptions. And your privilege will only be converted to a restricted one once you
- enroll in California DUI school,
- submit an SR-22 insurance form, and
- pay a $125 reinstatement fee.5
If the DUI caused injury to another person and you lose at your DMV DUI hearing, the California DMV may suspend your license for one year.6
If you refused to submit to a chemical blood or breath test, the privilege will be suspended for one year.7
And in either of these two cases--that is, If the DMV hearing officer at your DUI hearing finds you caused a first-offense DUI with injury or refused to submit to a chemical test--you will not have the opportunity to convert your license suspension to a restricted license. This will also be the case if you were driving with a BAC of 0.01% or higher while you were already on probation for DUI at the time of your arrest.
If this is your second DUI within a ten-year period and you lose your California DMV DUI hearing, the DMV will suspend your license for two years. You may be eligible to convert the suspension to a restriction after one year by adhering to the conditions set forth in Section 5.1 above.8
And if your DUI involved alcohol only (as opposed to drugs or even a combination of alcohol, and drugs) and there were no additional aggravating factors, such as a particularly high BAC or a traffic accident, you may be eligible to obtain a restricted license after 90 days if you
- adhere to the conditions set forth above,
- submit proof of enrollment in an 18-month or 30-month California DUI school, and
- submit proof that you have an ignition interlock device installed.
If the DUI caused another person to suffer an injury, the driver's license suspension is for three years. This, too, may be converted to a restricted license after the first year, provided you comply with the procedures above.9
If you refused to submit to a chemical blood or breath test, the California DMV will suspend your driver's license for a period of two years.10 This is because your license gets suspended one year for the refusal and an additional year for each prior DUI.
If this is your third DUI within a ten-year period, and you are not successful at your DUI DMV hearing, the DMV will suspend your license for three years. You may be eligible to convert the suspension to a restriction after one year by adhering to the conditions set forth in Section 5.1 above.11
If the DUI caused injury, and it is your third or subsequent DUI offense within the ten-year period, the suspension of your California driving privileges is for five years. This, too, may be converted to a restricted license after the first year, provided you comply with the procedures above.12
If you refused to submit to a chemical breath or blood test, and it is your third or subsequent DUI offense within the ten-year period, the DMV will suspend your license for a period of three years.13
If this is your fourth or subsequent DUI within a ten-year period--which elevates it to a felony DUI--the DMV will suspend your license for four years if you lose your DMV DUI hearing. You may be eligible to convert the license suspension to a restriction after one year by adhering to the conditions set forth in Section 5.1 above.14
(Note that these penalties will vary quite a bit for drivers who hold commercial driver's licenses. For information about these restrictions, please see our article on California DUI Law and Commercial Licenses.)
If you are under 21 and drive with even 0.01% BAC, you violate California's zero tolerance law. This type of underage DUI offense is civil in nature. The hearing officer in your underage DUI DMV hearing can sustain the action upon a finding that you drove with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system.15
If you lose your California DMV hearing for an under-21 DUI, your license will be suspended for a period of one year. If you do not yet have a driver's license, your privilege to obtain a driver's license will be postponed for one year.16
And if you refused to submit to a chemical blood or breath test as an underage driver, your license may be suspended for a period of one to three years, depending on how many prior violations you have for this or for any other DUI-related offense.17
If you were arrested for DUI in California, but you do not live in this state, you would schedule your California DMV DUI hearing in the same manner discussed above in Section 1.2. You can have a California DUI attorney appear in-person or by telephone on your behalf.
In the event that you are an out-of-state driver arrested for DUI in California, and you lose your California DMV hearing, your privilege to drive in this state will be suspended just as if you were a resident.
But the fact that your driving privilege has been suspended in California will most likely affect your driver's license in your home state as well. This is because all but five states (Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, and Wisconsin) belong to the interstate Drivers License Compact (DLC).
The DLC revolves around the concept that every driver in the country has a single driver's license and a single driving record. States belonging to the Drivers License Compact report driving arrests (including DUIs) to each other. As a result, your home state will likely take action of its own against your driver's license if you suffer a California DUI arrest and have your license suspended after a California DMV hearing.
This is another reason why it is so important to hire a California DUI defense attorney who knows the most effective ways to convince the DMV hearing officer that your driving privilege should not be suspended or revoked.
If you should have prevailed at your DMV DUI hearing--and the hearing officer simply "got it wrong"--you have the right to appeal the decision. You can ask the DMV itself to conduct a departmental review or file an appeal directly with the California Superior Court.
Instructions and the time frame for appealing the DMV's ruling will be found on the written form notifying you of the department's decision following your DMV DUI hearing. There is a $120 fee for the DMV review.
If you appeal directly to the court, you do so through a writ of mandate, which is a request for the court to review and reverse the final decision of the DMV. Filing a writ on this issue generally costs between $2,500 and $3,500. If you are not satisfied with that decision, you can appeal to the California Court of Appeals.
Both procedures involve specific timeframes and deadlines and operate under a set of strict rules. As a result, it is important to hire an experienced California appeals attorney should you choose to appeal the result of your California DMV DUI hearing.
Contact us for help ...
If you or a loved one is in need of help with a DMV hearing in a California DUI case, and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
Additionally, our Nevada Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions about Nevada's DMV DUI hearings. For more information, we invite you to contact our attorneys locally at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.
Additional Online Resources:
California DMV: DUI Arrest DMV Administrative Hearings vs. Criminal Court Trials
California DMV: Information about Driver Safety Administrative Hearings.
- Our local California DUI defense attorneys have Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices throughout the state conveniently located in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities. We are here to help fight your DUI court case and will represent you in your DUI DMV hearings as well.
- California Vehicle Code 23152 VC - Driving under influence; blood alcohol percentage; presumptions [California's DUI law].
- Ventura DUI defense attorney John Murray is a renowned expert on California DUI law. He represents clients at the Ventura Hall of Justice, the Van Nuys courthouse, the Pasadena courthouse, the Burbank courthouse, the Glendale courthouse, the Lancaster courthouse, the San Fernando courthouse, the Criminal Courts Building and local driver safety DMV offices where DMV DUI hearings are held.
- California Vehicle Code 13352 VC - Conviction for driving under the influence or engaging in speed contests or exhibitions of speed; terms of suspension or revocation of license; eligibility for restricted license; reinstatement conditions [penalty that is at stake in California DMV DUI hearings].
- See same. See also California Vehicle Code 13352.4 VC - Restricted driver's licenses [may be an option if your license is suspended following your DMV DUI hearing].
- See California Vehicle Code 13352 VC - Conviction for driving under the influence or engaging in speed contests or exhibitions of speed; terms of suspension or revocation of license; eligibility for restricted license; reinstatement conditions [penalty that is at stake in California DMV DUI hearings], endnote 4 above, section (a) (2).
- California Vehicle Code 13353 VC - Chemical blood, breath, or urine tests.
- See California Vehicle Code 13352 VC - Conviction for driving under the influence or engaging in speed contests or exhibitions of speed; terms of suspension or revocation of license; eligibility for restricted license; reinstatement conditions [penalty that is at stake in California DMV DUI hearings], endnote 4 above, section (a) (3).
- See same, section (a) (4).
- See Chemical test refusals, endnote 7, section (a) (2).
- See California Vehicle Code 13352 VC - Conviction for driving under the influence or Engaging in speed contests or exhibitions of speed; terms of suspension or revocation of license; eligibility for restricted license; reinstatement conditions [penalty that is at stake in California DMV DUI hearings], endnote 4 above, section (a) (5).
- See same, section (a) (6).
- See Chemical test refusals, endnote 7, section (a) (3).
- See California Vehicle Code 13352 VC - Conviction for driving under the influence or engaging in speed contests or exhibitions of speed; terms of suspension or revocation of license; eligibility for restricted license; reinstatement conditions [penalty that is at stake in California DMV DUI hearings], endnote 4 above, section (a) (7).
- California Vehicle Code 23136 VC - Blood alcohol concentration of .01 or greater; implied consent to testing; failure to complete or submit to testing [zero tolerance policy for DUI by drivers under 21].
- California DMV Facts about California's Zero Tolerance DUI Policy.
- See California's Zero Tolerance Policy, endnote 15, above.