California’s DUI laws can be complex and confusing. In this section, our attorneys break down the rules and explain the process.
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At a California DMV hearing, the DMV bears the burden of proving its case “by a preponderance of the evidence.” A preponderance of the evidence means that it is more likely than not that you committed the violation.
By contrast, prosecutors in court must prove that you violated a DUI law “beyond a reasonable doubt” to secure a conviction successfully.
A DMV DUI hearing is an administrative hearing held at a DMV office (not a criminal court). A hearing officer presides over the hearing and determines the sole issue of whether or not your driver’s license will be suspended as a result of having been arrested for DUI.
At a DMV hearing, you can try to retain your license by presenting evidence that:
At a Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) DUI hearing, the DMV hearing officer must find “by a preponderance of the evidence” that you (subject to the hearing) either operated a motor vehicle with an illegal BAC or while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
“A preponderance of the evidence” is evidence that shows that it is more likely than not that a fact is true. “More likely than not” means that it is more than 50 percent likely that a fact is true. 1
In criminal cases, prosecutors have the burden to prove a violation of a DUI law beyond a reasonable doubt. This is much higher than “by a preponderance of the evidence” in DMV hearings.
A hearing officer, and not a judge, presides over a DMV DUI hearing. During the hearing, the officer determines whether or not the DMV shall suspend your driver’s license because of a DUI arrest.2
Hearing officers can decide to suspend your license if they find that:
Note that a DMV hearing is a separate and distinct matter from a court proceeding for an alleged DUI crime.
If you are arrested for DUI in California, you will face two separate legal proceedings:
As stated above, the DMV hearing is held to determine if the Department will suspend your driving privileges.
In court, however, a judge or jury determines whether or not you – arrested for DUI – are actually guilty of the offense. If you are found guilty, then you could be punished with a driver’s license suspension. The court, though, can also impose any of the following penalties (for a first-time misdemeanor DUI):
You can try to win a DMV hearing, and thereby retain your driver’s license, by raising a legal defense.
Some common defenses used in these hearings include showing that:
Any of the above defenses will work if you can prove them by a preponderance of the evidence. You can try to satisfy this standard via witness testimony, physical evidence, or documentary evidence.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.