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 issue regarding the difference between a DMV suspension and a court suspension arises in DUI cases. In these types of matters, a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can initiate the administrative suspension of a driver’s license following a DUI arrest. In addition, a court can order that a motorist’s license be suspended following a conviction for DUI. The two types of suspensions involve separate proceedings from one another.
Note that a driver can attempt to challenge a DMV suspension by requesting a DMV hearing. Most states allow a driver 10 days from the day of his/her arrest to request the hearing. If a request is not timely made, then the Department can initiate the suspension process.
If a driver faces criminal charges for a DUI, he/she can challenge them with a legal defense. This typically means the driver pleads not guilty to the charges and tries to prove his/her innocence during a criminal trial.
If at trial the jury finds the motorist guilty, then the court may order the suspension of the defendant’s license.
A DMV suspension is when a state’s DMV suspends a person’s driving privileges following an arrest for DUI/DWI.
Most state DMVs suspend a person’s driving privileges after he/she is arrested for a DUI and either:
This type of suspension is often referred to as an “administrative per se” suspension.
Note that this suspension is a separate matter from when a judge orders a license suspension in a DUI criminal case.
The DMV initiates the suspension and it usually goes into effect 30 days after the arrest date. Further, the DMV will initiate a suspension even if no criminal charges for the DUI get filed in state court.
A driver does have the right to challenge the suspension. He/she can do so by requesting a DMV license hearing. Most jurisdictions say that a driver must request a hearing within 10 days from the date of his/her arrest or the party’s license is automatically suspended.
If a DMV hearing takes place, the meeting is conducted at a DMV office and is run by a “hearing officer.” This officer is a DMV employee that typically has no legal background.
The hearing is far less formal than a trial in state court. But, as with a trial, a motorist at a hearing has the rights to:
At a DMV hearing, the Department can go ahead and suspend a person’s license if it proves that:
Unlike at a trial for a DUI, the Department does not have to prove these issues “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The standard of proof at these hearings is a lesser standard known as “by a preponderance of the evidence.” The DMV satisfies this standard if it shows that the above issues are more likely than not to be true.
A court suspension takes place when a judge orders that a motorist’s driving privileges be suspended after finding the person guilty of DUI.
Note that a criminal case for DUI usually gets initiated much slower when compared to the DMV suspension process. A case does not start until a prosecutor files criminal charges in court and this can often take some time to occur.
If charges are filed, then the driver can either:
If a guilty plea, then a judge may enter a court suspension as part of his/her punishment.
If a driver pleads not guilty, then his/her case advances to trial. At trial, the motorist has the same rights as within a DMV hearing, including the right to counsel.
However, a criminal court trial is more formal than a DMV hearing and a judge (and not a hearing officer) oversees and runs it. A jury is present that decides the outcome of the case.
The state has the burden of proof at a DUI trial. But unlike a DMV hearing, the state must prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a more difficult standard to meet than “by a preponderance of the evidence.”
Further, to prove that a driver was guilty, the state must show that:
If a jury finds the driver guilty, then the court may suspend his/her license.
Note that if the DMV suspended a person’s license prior to a court suspension, then most states say that the suspensions can overlap. This means that the time for the DMV suspension can count towards the court suspension.
California law generally follows the rules and procedures outlined above.
As to DMV suspensions, a driver has 10 days following an arrest for DUI to request a hearing with the California DMV. If a request is not made during this time, the DMV will initiate its license suspension processes.
If a request is made, then two outcomes can take place:
In addition to a DMV hearing, a driver arrested for DUI may face criminal charges regarding the offense. If charges are brought, then the court can suspend the defendant’s driving privileges if either:
Note that a driver in California can be charged with DUI under either:
VC 23152a makes it illegal for a person to drive under the influence of alcohol.1 This law applies when a motorist’s physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that he/she can no longer drive as safely as a cautious sober person.2
VC 23152b makes it illegal to drive with a BAC of .08% or greater.3
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.