The Los Angeles DUI Law Blog

DIY DUI: Defending Yourself at the DMV Hearing

After Californians have been charged with a DUI, they must face an administrative hearing at the DMV (everyone's favorite place) to see if they will have their license suspended. It can be done with or without an attorney.

Going it alone is a bad idea. Plain and simple, it is better to hire an attorney. However, if you are broke or determined to do this on your own, here is some information that may be helpful.

To begin with, the burden of proof is not the familiar "beyond a reasonable doubt" of criminal trials and Law and Order reruns. Instead, the standard is somewhere around "more likely than not." Essentially, drivers face a real up-hill climb and may well have their license suspended.

Before defense strategies are even considered, the hearing must be scheduled. There are only ten days from the time of the arrest to schedule a hearing. Otherwise, the license is suspended automatically. There are instructions for scheduling the hearing on the paper temporary license that the nice man with a badge handed out upon release.

There are a few arguments that some people have used to try and beat the DMV hearing, loosely based on what the DMV is required to prove. First, some have argued that they were not drunk. If their blood alcohol level came out to less than the legal limit (BAC of 0.08), then an argument could be made that the driver was unimpaired or sober enough to drive at the time.

Second, there is an argument that the body could have digested the stomach contents after the driver was pulled over, which caused a barely illegal BAC when tested. In the past, anyone trying this argument when their BAC was twice or three times the legal limit was quite unsuccessful. In other words, the DMV officer might even laugh.

The third argument that has been tried is to show that the officer did not have probable cause to pull the driver over or suspect him of DUI in the first place. This is usually a difficult argument to make, as officers will make a good case for probable cause when filling out the police report.

However, as a last resort, some have tried it if the officer's only reason for pulling the car over was something less convincing like "erratic driving" or "weaving". Some have used this opportunity to show that if there was roadwork in the area at the time, they were weaving to avoid debris.

Then again, Angelinos might get really lucky and get this guy as the arresting officer, in which case one can possibly argue that the arrest was made due to race.

In the end, defending a DMV hearing without the help of an attorney is a bad idea. Attorneys know how the hearings work. They know what strategies to take. They stay cool under pressure. And DMV hearing officers may be more likely to believe them, as they speak from a position of experience.

That said, if you really cannot afford a DUI attorney, be prepared for the hearing. Review the materials from the prosecutor in advance. These usually include the blood or breath test results, police report, etc.

The worst case scenario is the standard license suspension or restricted license to and from work and school. Remember, these hearings are informal, done by non-lawyers evaluating legal arguments, and have low burdens of proof. The success rate, even with an attorney, is extremely low.

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