In California, the DMV hearing is completely separate from your DUI charge. The two can affect each other, but winning your DMV hearing will not in and of itself help you win at court.
How the DMV Process Works in a California DUI Case
When you are arrested for DUI, the police notify the DMV which immediately starts a process to suspend your license. This is known as Admin Per Se license suspension (APS). This is not a criminal process, but an administrative one. This means they do not wait until you receive a verdict in your court case. You can lose your license to the DMV and go on to be found Not Guilty in court. (If this happens, see our guide to get your license back.)
You have one chance to prevent the APS suspension. You have to request a hearing from the DMV within 10 days of your arrest. If you request the hearing, the suspension will be stayed until the hearing is complete. Since hearings are often scheduled out several months, this may mean you go to court and resolve your case before the hearing ever comes up. But sometimes the opposite happens—you may go to your DMV hearing and win while your court case is not yet resolved.
What happens if I win my DMV hearing?
If you win your DMV hearing, the APS suspension will be put on hold pending the outcome of your trial. You get to keep your license in the meantime, and you can drive legally as long as there is no other reason you are not allowed to drive.
However, winning at the DMV hearing does not influence the court process. It only prevents the suspension of your driver’s license, and only on a temporary basis.
But if the DMV found me innocent, shouldn’t that count in court?
No, because the DMV doesn’t find anyone “innocent” or “guilty.” They will never make a determination as to whether you did or did not drive drunk. That is not the purpose of a DMV hearing.
Instead, the DMV is only interested in whether there is reasonable evidence that you might have driven under the influence. They proactively suspend licenses in any case where it seems like the arrest was valid. Everything else is up to the courts.
Because the DMV views APS suspension this way, the hearing is a double-edged sword:
- It is easier to win at the hearing, because you don’t have to prove you’re not guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. There is not much burden of evidence. Your lawyer can get the hearing to go in your favor simply by showing that (a) there were irregularities in the arrest, (b) your blood alcohol level was close to the legal limit, or (c) there is a reason to question the breath test/blood test or other evidence against you. However,
- The hearing does not carry legal weight. No serious evidence was considered. No judge or jury was present. The outcome was decided by a “hearing officer” who is a DMV employee and has no training in the law.
This is why you cannot use the outcome of a DMV hearing in court as “evidence” that you were sober.
(It’s also why the prosecution can’t hold a failed DMV hearing against you.)
Is requesting a DMV hearing still worth it?
Yes. Requesting a DMV hearing is the first thing you should do after being arrested for DUI. It immediately buys you time and it may mean you never have to deal with APS suspension before your trial. Other benefits include:
- You may end up winning and keeping your license.
- If you win at the hearing, and then also win at court, you won’t have to pay a driver’s license reinstatement fee to get your license back.
- Your lawyer can subpoena the arresting officer to appear at the DMV hearing.
This last one is one way in which the hearing really can help your court case. Normally, the officer only makes two statements: one in their arrest report, and one month later at trial. You don’t get a chance to interrogate them in between. But by calling them to the hearing, your lawyer gets a valuable opportunity to question them before the trial. Police officers often make mistakes, and if your lawyer can spot inconsistencies in the officer’s story this early, it helps build a much stronger case in your defense.
Get Help Keeping Your License—and Fighting Your Case
Both a DMV hearing and the DUI trial are a lot easier if you have a good DUI lawyer at your side. We can connect you with a top Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a consultation for FREE. Don’t wait. Fill out the form to your right or call (310) 862-0199 and get your FREE consultation today.