DUI / DWI convictions in California carry a host of penalties, including fines, jail sentences, mandatory alcohol education classes, and driver’s license suspensions. Because the penalties for drunk driving can be so severe, it’s important to be represented by an experienced California attorney who focuses on driving under the influence defense.
In the past, the driver’s license could be ordered suspended by one of two entities – the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the court. However, California passed new legislation that removed the court’s authority to suspend or revoke licenses on cases that occurred on or after Sept. 20, 2005. The authority to suspend California driver’s licenses now rests solely with the DMV.
To make things even more complex, Department of Motor Vehicles can suspend a license based on the outcome of two separate events – a DMV administrative per se (APS) hearing or a criminal conviction.
After a drunk driving arrest, the DMV hearing is undoubtedly the most pressing concern as far as the driver’s license is concerned. A driver has only 10 days from the date of arrest, including weekends and holidays, to request an APS hearing. If the driver doesn’t request a hearing before the deadline passes, it’s very unlikely that one will be granted.
DMV hearings are unusual in that the DMV employee who presents the evidence (the “prosecutor”) and the DMV employee who weighs the evidence (the “judge”) are the same person. The hearing administrator, who isn’t even a judge or a lawyer, decides the case based on a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower standard of proof than employed in a criminal trial. If the administrator concludes after looking at a police report and a chemical test result that a motorist was driving under the influence of alcohol, the license is suspended. That’s why it’s imperative to be represented by a qualified drunk driving defense lawyer at the APS hearing.
The new legislation brought changes to the way license suspensions are handled after a drunk driving criminal conviction. Under the new law, if the DMV receives notice that a driver has been convicted of a first-time DUI / DWI, it immediately suspends his or her license for six months. Previously, the court could order the license suspended, but only the DMV could actually restrict an individual’s driving privileges. Now the court has no authority over license suspensions.
As in other aspects of a DUI criminal case, there is a 10-year “washout” period for drinking and driving, meaning that any subsequent drunk driving arrests within 10 years of a first arrest are treated as multiple offenses with enhanced penalties. However, if 10 years pass after a first arrest, and the driver is again arrested on a drinking and driving crime, the later arrest is treated as a first-time DUI.
In the past, a driver whose license was suspended because of a first-time DUI / DWI conviction had to wait for one month to apply for a restricted license to drive to work and alcohol education classes. Under the new law, a first-offense DUI offender whose license is suspended by the DMV because of a drunk driving conviction can apply for a restricted license immediately.
For a second-offense DUI conviction, the DMV will suspend the driver’s license for two years, with the possibility of obtaining a restricted license after one year if the driver is enrolled in the appropriate alcohol education classes. Third- and fourth-offense drunk driving convictions will result in a three-year suspension, with the possibility of a restricted license after 18 months with enrollment in alcohol education classes.
A DUI / DWI with injury is charged as a felony and will result in longer license suspensions. A first-time DUI with injury will prompt the DMV to suspend the driver’s license for one year, with no opportunity for a restricted license. A second-offense DUI with injury will bring a three-year license suspension, with an opportunity for a restricted license after 18 months if the driver has completed an 18-month alcohol program.
One quirky aspect of California’s new drunk driving legislation affects individuals with commercial driver’s licenses – anyone convicted of DUI / DWI while driving a commercial vehicle whose non-commercial license suspended is not eligible for any type of restricted license. Additionally, any commercial driver convicted of a first-offense DUI loses his or her commercial license for one year. After a second offense, the commercial license will be revoked for life.
Because a DUI / DWI conviction can imperil an individual’s driving privileges, it’s essential to contact an attorney experienced in drunk driving defense who can fight against license suspensions and other consequences of drinking and driving convictions.