DMV administrative hearings are much like criminal court hearings. They take place before a hearing officer—rather than a judge—and involve the presentation of evidence and argument to establish facts. Those facts, when coupled with a review of the law, often result in a decision being made as to what will happen to the defendant.
But establishing fact from fiction isn't a science. One way to level the playing field and maintain a standard that all cases should be held to is requiring a burden of proof be met. Let's take a look at what the burden of proof is and how it applies to DMV administrative hearings.
In order to legally establish that a fact is true, the party trying to prove that fact must meet a burden of proof. In criminal cases, the prosecuting attorney must meet the burden of proof to establish the defendant is guilty. In DMV administrative hearings, the burden of proof must be met by the DMV.
The number of elements the DMV must prove to suspend your license are limited. To meet the burden of proof, the DMV must establish that:
- The police officer had probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence
- You were placed under lawful arrest, and
- You had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more when driving your car (.04% for commercial drivers)
If you refused or did not complete a BAC test, the DMV must also prove that:
- You were told your driving privileges would be suspended for one year or revoked for two to three years when you refused the test, and
- You refused to submit to or complete a chemical test after being asked
These elements are rather simple and can be easily proven given the standards the DMV must meet, which are relatively low. DMV hearings do not have juries, meaning the hearing officer will make the final decision. The burden of proof is somewhat easier to meet in DMV hearings than in criminal court hearings. The burden of proof in criminal court hearings is stricter: beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the evidence must be so convincing that there is no reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. If there is a reasonable doubt, the burden of proof isn't met.
The burden of proof in DMV hearings, however, is less strict. It is by a preponderance of the evidence, which means the evidence establishes it is more likely than not that the defendant is guilty. The DMV can meet this burden of proof even if there is some reasonable doubt.
The scope of the DMV hearing is limited, the burden of proof can be easily met, and the DMV hearing officer makes the final call. In light of these facts, it might seem like the hearing is rigged against you. But many people prevail because of weaknesses in the system and errors on the part of law enforcement or science. For example, probable cause is an issue that is frequently challenged in DMV administrative hearings and criminal court hearings. Regardless of your BAC test results, if the officer did not have probable cause to pull you over or probable cause to arrest you, your case could be dismissed. This is not an uncommon outcome for those who decide to fight their license suspension and criminal charges.
Similarly, BAC test results are notoriously inaccurate due to the stringent standards the test must meet. The sample must be collected by a trained professional, stored properly and accordingly to laboratory regulations, and must be analyzed properly. At any level of the BAC test process, errors and oversights can occur.
If you are facing DUI charges, don't give up without a fight. Request your DMV administrative hearing to exercise your right. Speak with an attorney about your case as soon as you can. You only have ten days in which to request an administrative hearing. After you request your hearing, you should obtain copies of the police report and BAC test results so you know how to prepare. An attorney can help you do this before you appear at the hearing.
If you are in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area and have questions about DMV proceedings, call experienced driving crime defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can help you fight your status and will defend your rights. Attorney Martens has over ten years of criminal defense experience and will fight hard for your rights. Contact our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensL[email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.