A DMV fatality hearing occurs when a motorist is suspected of causing an accident that leads to someone’s death or serious injury. The hearing is a legal proceeding to determine whether the DMV will suspend the driving privileges of the person at fault for the accident.
These administrative hearings take place at a DMV office and are conducted by a DMV hearing officer. During the hearing, the officer presents evidence that supports the suspension of a driver’s license. The motorist then has the chance to support evidence that challenges suspension.
If the DMV decides to suspend a person’s license, it can do so for one year or more.
A driver can request a DMV hearing to:
- challenge this decision, and
- get a driver’s license revocation set aside.
Some of the best ways to prepare for a fatality hearing are to:
- seek the help of an experienced DMV hearing lawyer, and
- organize and review any evidence that rebuts license suspension.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. What is a DMV fatality hearing?
- 2. What happens if a driver does not attend a fatality hearing?
- 3. What happens during a DMV fatality hearing?
- 4. Can a person challenge a decision at these hearings?
- 5. How should a person prepare?
1. What is a DMV fatality hearing?
A fatality hearing is a legal proceeding conducted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The DMV hearing takes place after the DMV labels a driver a negligent operator because:
- the driver caused or contributed to a traffic accident, and
- a person died or was seriously injured in that accident.1
The Department holds the hearing to determine if it should:
- suspend the motorist’s driving privileges, and
- do so because of the accident.2
Both the DMV and the subject driver can introduce evidence during the hearing.
The Department presents evidence to support a license suspension. Some evidence that may show this includes:
- an accident report,
- medical reports of injured parties,
- the motorist’s driving record, and
- witness testimony, such as by law enforcement.
The driver can then present evidence to challenge a suspension. Evidence of this nature includes:
- the motorist’s driving record (to show a history of safe driving),
- the accident report (to show that the driver did not cause it),
- medical reports of injured parties (to show no death or serious injury), and
- witness testimony (to support any of the above claims).
Note that the DMV can subject a driver to a fatality hearing even if the motorist was not the sole cause of the accident. The Department can hold a hearing if a driver:
- caused the accident, or
- contributed to it in any way.
2. What happens if a driver does not attend a fatality hearing?
The DMV sends a driver a “Notice of Suspension” after labeling the person a negligent operator.
If a driver ignores this notice, or does not attend a hearing, the DMV will:
- suspend or revoke the motorist’s driving privileges, and
- do so for one year.3
The one-year period may be even greater if the driver has a poor driving history.
After the suspension period is over, the motorist has to reinstate his or her license. This requires:
- paying fees, and
- filing an SR-22 Insurance Form.4
Note that the latter causes a substantial increase in the person’s auto insurance.
3. What happens during a DMV fatality hearing?
A hearing takes place at a DMV Driver Safety Office. It is conducted by a DMV hearing officer.
An officer is a Department employee and is not:
- a lawyer, or
- a judge.
The hearing officer begins the hearing by introducing the Department’s case. This means presenting evidence that supports license suspension.
The subject driver then has the chance to present evidence that challenges suspension. The motorist wants to show that:
- he or she did not contribute to or cause,
- a traffic collision that caused a death or serious injury.
Note that a driver has the right to an attorney throughout the hearing process to help accomplish this aim.
If the DMV decides to suspend a person’s license, it can do so for one year or more.5
4. Can a person challenge a decision at these hearings?
A driver can request a DMV hearing to:
- challenge the Department’s decision, and
- get a driver’s license suspension set aside.6
A hearing officer may decide the following after a hearing:
- a license suspension gets set aside.
- the motorist gets placed on negligent operator probation. This means a suspension does not go into effect. It will though if the driver commits a violation or an accident.
- the driver gets a suspension but is granted a restricted license, or
- a license gets suspended.7
5. How should a person prepare?
A motorist can do many things to prepare for a fatality hearing. Some of the best are:
- contact an experienced DMV attorney for help at the hearing,
- collect, organize, and review any evidence that challenges a license suspension,
- contact persons who can testify at the hearing about safe driving history.
The subject driver should also contact the DMV and get a copy of his/her driving history. If it is clean, the motorist can use this as evidence. The history will show that:
- despite the accident in question,
- the driver is a skilled and safe driver and another car accident is not likely to occur.
For additional help…
Accused of causing a serious or fatal accident? To discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
- California DMV website – Negligent Operator Hearings, Guidelines and Actions.
- See same. See also California Vehicle Code 13800a VC.
- California DMV website – Financial Responsibility (Insurance) Requirements for Vehicle Registration (FFVR 18).
- California Vehicle Code 14100.
- California Vehicle Code 12813.