DUI: Criminal Court vs. License Hearing
If you’re charged with a DUI, what most people don’t know is that you’re actually faced with two cases:
- A criminal court case for your DUI charge.
- And a civil case with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) / Department of Licensing (DoL) (you aren’t automatically assigned this hearing, you must request it).
The two cases are almost completely independent of each other because one is controlled by the criminal legal system, while the other is controlled by the administrative/civil legal system. It’s quite common to have your DUI charges dropped, but to still lose your administrative hearing with the DMV/DoL regarding your license suspension.
Burden of proof: criminal vs. civil
This also means that each case is tried under different burdens of proof. The state has a higher burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt that you were intoxicated while driving) to meet in your DUI criminal case because you have a legal right to your life and liberty. However, the state’s burden of proof for your license suspension hearing with the DMV/Department of Licensing is much lower, because driving privileges represent a property interest, not a right. The Department of Licensing only needs to see whether the officer had reasonable grounds to arrest you for driving (or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence) with a BAC concentration of .08 or above. This is why beating the license suspension can be difficult.
First action: request a license hearing
Because most states levy an automatic driver license suspension along with a DUI arrest, the first action you need to take is not with the criminal court, but with your DMV/Department of Licensing. In order to challenge the suspension, you must request a hearing within the proper timeframe according to your state’s laws. The proper timeframe to request a hearing is usually within 10-20 days after arrest, so you shouldn’t procrastinate. If you fail to request a hearing, then the license suspension will hold, even if your DUI charge is later dropped. Engaging the services of a DUI lawyer is advisable for a DUI charge because oftentimes cases can become quite complex regarding deadlines and preparation.