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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The burden of proof at a California DMV hearing is “by a preponderance of the evidence.” A preponderance of the evidence means that it is more likely than not that a person committed the violation. By contrast, prosecutors in court must prove that an accused violated a DUI law “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to successfully secure a conviction.
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 a person’s driver’s license will be suspended as a result of having been arrested for DUI.
A driver subject to a DMV hearing can try to retain his/her 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 the person (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 lower standard applies in DMV hearings because they are only civil proceedings as opposed to criminal proceedings. Therefore, it is possible for a person to lose a DMV hearing but win a DUI criminal trial.
A hearing officer, and not a judge, presides over a DMV DUI hearing. In the course of the hearing, the officer determines whether or not the DMV shall suspend a person’s driver’s license because of a DUI arrest.2
Hearing officers can decide to suspend a motorist’s 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 a person is arrested for DUI in California, the driver will face two separate legal proceedings:
As stated above, the DMV hearing is held to determine if the Department will suspend a person’s driving privileges.
In court, however, a judge or jury determines whether or not the defendant driver, arrested for DUI, is actually guilty of the offense. If a driver is found guilty, then he/she 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):
How Can a Person Win at a DMV hearing?
Drivers can try to win a DMV hearing, and thereby retain their driver’s license, by raising a legal defense.
Some common defenses used in these hearings include people showing that:
Any of the above defenses will work if the driver can prove them by a preponderance of the evidence. Drivers 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.