The DMV Giveth and the DMV Taketh Away
HandelontheLaw.com Staff Writer
The DMV giveth and the DMV taketh away. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the state agency controlling licensing and registration of drivers and vehicles/vessels. While the DMV controls through a number of functions, licensing is most closely associated with DMV hearings. As the DMV will happily tell you, a driver’s license is a privilege; not a right. If you meet the requirements imposed by statute and by DMV administrative rules/regulations, the DMV may “giveth” you a driver’s license. However, at a later point, the DMV may decide to “taketh away” some or all of your driving privileges by restricting, suspending or revoking your driver’s license. (A court can also restrict, suspend or revoke your driving privileges but that is different from the DMV’s administrative action.) The DMV’s decision to restrict, suspend or revoke a driver’s license can be triggered by one of several factors, including but not limited to: a mental or physical condition affecting your driving ability (sometimes associated with advanced age, sometimes not); your refusal to take a breathalyzer test or blood test; your failure to complete a breathalyzer test or blood test; your DUI arrest; or your accumulation of violation points pegging you as a “negligent operator.”
When the DMV decides to restrict, suspend or revoke your license, you’ll probably know about it in one of two ways: a police officer will take your driver’s license and give you a notice of suspension or revocation; or the DMV will mail a notice to you. Whether you receive the notice from the officer or the DMV, the notice will advise you of your right to request a DMV hearing and will tell you how many days you have to request a DMV hearing. In California, for example, you typically have 10 days from the time the notice is personally served or 14 days from the mailing date. You do not automatically receive a DMV hearing; you must request it. If you do not request the DMV hearing within the noted time period, you will forfeit your right to that hearing. The notice will also tell you what the DMV intends to do to your driving privileges and why the DMV intends to take those actions. This information shows the limits of the DMV hearing: only the issues in the notice can be addressed at the hearing. You cannot successfully request a restricted license at the DMV hearing, for example, because that’s not the purpose of the hearing; the hearing can address only what the notice says.
After the DMV receives your request for a DMV hearing, it will mail a notice telling you the hearing’s date, time and place. This second notice will give you a great deal of information that you can use for your hearing. The notice will tell you how to request a “continuance” to another hearing date if the scheduled date/time/place are inconvenient for you. The notice will also tell you how to request a copy of the DMV’s evidence against you and how to subpoena documents and witnesses for your DMV hearing. The notice will also tell you how to request an interpreter for sign language or a foreign language for your hearing. Given all the information contained in this second notice, you should read and follow it carefully. You should also prepare for the DMV hearing by gathering and keeping documents, making copies of any documents you will submit to the hearing officer (because the DMV will keep those copies), reviewing the DMV evidence against you, preparing for your testimony and lining up your witnesses for the hearing.
The DMV hearing is your opportunity to convince the DMV that it should not do whatever the first notice says it will do (such as restricting, suspending or revoking your license). The DMV hearing is held whether or not you attend. It is not a court hearing; rather, it is a more relaxed administrative hearing at which you have certain rights, including but not limited to: being represented by a lawyer or other representative (though it’s at your own expense); reviewing the evidence against you and cross examining DMV witnesses; testifying; subpoenaing witnesses/documents; and submitting evidence. The hearing is held before a hearing officer who will consider all the evidence and issue a written decision. The written decision is mailed to you and the timing of that decision depends on the issues and the evidence. If the decision is in your favor, congratulations! If the decision is against you, you can request an administrative review and/or pursue an appeal in court, depending on the information received in the decision. The Decision will tell you your options and deadlines. Given the importance of a driver’s license in modern life, consulting/hiring a lawyer who specializes in DMV hearings is well worth his/her fees and costs.
DO’S AND DON’TS
DON’T be intimidated by the process or the people.
DO consult/retain a lawyer specializing in DMV hearings if you receive a notice of suspension/revocation from a police officer or the DMV.
DO request a DMV hearing.
DO carefully review and follow the instructions in the notice about your rights, limitations and deadlines.
DO review the DMV’s second notice indicating the hearing date/time/place.
DO request a continuance according to the notice’s instructions if the hearing date/time/place is inconvenient.
DO request and review a copy of the DMV’s evidence against you.
DO subpoena documents and witnesses in your behalf.
DO request an interpreter for sign language or foreign language if needed.
DO gather and keep documents important to your hearing.
DO copy any documents you will submit to the hearing officer (because the DMV will keep those copies).
DO prepare your own testimony for the hearing.
DO line up your witnesses and ensure that they attend the hearing.
DO be on time for your DMV hearing and remember to bring all your documentation.
DO request an administrative review or pursue a court appeal if the hearing officer’s decision is against you.
DO be sure to comply with the rights, limitation and deadlines outlined in the hearing officer’s written decision.
By Kathy Catanzarite
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
DMV HEARINGS DOS AND DON'TS