For many first-time offenders, the most significant consequence of a DUI arrest is not spending a few days in jail. Instead, it is the prospect of losing their driver’s license. Even first-time offenders risk a suspension period of six months to a year in many states. This time is lengthened for repeat offenders. The DMV hearing determines whether the license will be suspended and for how long.
Importance of a Driver’s License
For many people, having a driver’s license is equivalent to freedom. They need a license in order to get to their job, school, children’s activities, medical appointments and other obligations and recreational activities. Losing a driver’s license can mean losing a job if driving is a necessary component of the job or if the individual cannot make it to work. A person’s social life may also be impacted if he or she is constantly asking for rides or unable to participate in recreational activities.
A person may be stopped at a field sobriety checkpoint as a general measure to guard against drunk driving or at a traffic stop after being suspected of drunk driving. Some signs that law enforcement officers rely on to conduct a traffic stop include observing the driver speed up and slow down, switch lanes without signaling, weave between lanes or suddenly brake or speed up.
After the law enforcement officer stops the driver, he or she may proceed to ask questions of the driver and the occupants. Standard questions include asking where the driver is coming from and where he or she is going. Basic identification may be requested. During this brief encounter, the law enforcement officer may be looking for additional signs of impairment, such as slurred speech, a smell of alcohol, a visual of open containers or watery eyes.
If the law enforcement officer believes that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he or she may request a test. A law enforcement officer may ask for a portable breathalyzer test, blood test or urine test, depending on protocol and state law. State law may prohibit the person from refusing as a condition of being licensed in the state.
A law enforcement officer may also ask for a field sobriety test in addition to or before other tests. Field sobriety tests measure the defendant’s ability to follow instructions, maintain balance and involuntary eye movements as standard practice. However, they require careful attention to detail and training in order to be accurate.
If the law enforcement officer places the driver under arrest, he or she usually confiscates the driver’s license at that time. In some states, the law enforcement officer will provide a temporary license to the driver that he or she can use until the DMV hearing.
Timing of DMV Hearings
A defendant may only have a limited time to request a hearing. In some states, this is as little as ten days. If the driver wants to keep his or her driving privileges, this is the only way to attempt that result. DMV hearings are not mandatory and only occur upon the defendant’s request. However, if he or she does not request the hearing, all driving privileges may be automatically lost.
What the DMV Hearing Is
The DMV hearing is the administrative proceeding related to the potential suspension or revocation of a driver’s license. No actual criminal penalties are imposed at this hearing. Instead, the case is based solely on the ability for the defendant to retain driving privileges. Defendants are afforded the right to due process of the law, which includes notice that the state plans to take action against a person’s privilege to drive there. Due process also provides the defendant to be heard and to challenge this taking through a formal hearing.
At the DMV hearing, the hearing officer investigates the circumstances surrounding the DUI arrest. He or she hears limited information that is strictly used to determine whether or not to suspend or revoke the license. Limited questions include whether the police officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop based on suspicion that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whether the defendant was placed under arrest and whether the driver had a BAC above the legal limit. In most states, this BAC limit is at .08 percent or higher.