WA DOL Suspension Hearings
Author’s note: This guide is intended to assist first-offense DUI defendants with a non-commercial driver’s license in WA State and does not consider DOL implications associated with a Deferred Prosecution. This guide is not intended to replace legal representation by an attorney, but only to assist an individual charged with a DUI to better understand what implications a DUI will have on a driver’s license. Parts of this guide contain information gathered by personal experience, which may be different from the experience of other attorneys and may not apply to every case. The guide does not give any advice on and does not apply to federal law or law outside Washington State. DUI laws change frequently in Washington and this guide discusses the law as it was on 2/13/13 and does not include laws enacted after that date.
The DOL hearing: after blowing over the legal limit upon arrest for a DUI, the driver has the opportunity to request an administrative hearing to challenge the DOL’s suspension of his or her license. The arresting officer should supply the forms to request the hearing to the driver, but they are also available online. The driver only has 20 days from the date of arrest to make the request. There are no exceptions to the time limit. There is also a fee of $375 that must accompany the form (a waiver of fee is available). If the driver does not submit the request properly or does not submit the request at all, the DOL will send the driver notice that her privilege to drive will be suspended in 60 days. If the request is made on time and properly, the DOL will not suspend the license until after the DOL hearing officer has made his or her decision, which may be months after arrest.
The DOL hearing is completely different from court proceedings. The DOL hearing takes place over the phone and only lasts a few minutes. There is no judge or prosecutor, but only a hearing officer, who conducts the hearing and makes the decision of whether or not to uphold suspension. The arresting police officer can be called to testify by the driver’s attorney if desired. The driver can also be included in the call, but it is not required. Many times it is only the driver’s attorney and the hearing officer who participate.
DOL hearings are notoriously hard to win; in WA only 24% are actually successful. It almost literally comes down to whether the police officer crossed their “T"s and dotted their “I"s in their police report, yet for that reason the hearing can be won by something as simple as the officer forgetting to check a required box. However, police officers know that they have to be detailed in their reports and usually do not make errors that can get a license suspension canceled. Generally, the only evidence used in the hearing against the driver, is the police report and a statement from the State Toxicologist stating that the breath test machine is certified and accurate. The officer must include all the information in the report that is needed to show, beyond a “preponderance of the evidence" or more likely than not (as opposed to “beyond a reasonable doubt," which is what the prosecutor must show in a criminal case), that there was a valid arrest and that there was a valid result of the certified BAC machine, which showed that the driver had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit or that the driver knowingly and voluntarily refused the test.
The hearing officer considers the law only; not the driver’s need to have a license for work, school, children, etc so mitigating evidence like that is not useful for a DOL hearing. Remember, driving is a privilege, not a right.
After the DOL hearing, the hearing officer privately considers all the evidence presented, conducts his or her own research, reviews the lawyer’s arguments, and then mails his or her decision to the lawyer and the driver within a few weeks. If the driver has lost the DOL hearing, which is most common, the notice mailed will also include the date the suspension goes into effect. If the hearing officer has made a decision that is clearly against what the law states, an appeal can be filed to challenge the hearing officer’s decision. Note again that the court does not receive notice of the suspension, nor does it care. Losing the DOL hearing does not effect the criminal case.
If the driver has won the hearing, the DOL will not suspend the driver’s license for the DUI arrest (aka blowing over the limit or refusing), however, this does not prevent the driver’s license from being suspended upon conviction for a DUI or reckless driving, so winning the DOL hearing is a good thing, but does not necessarily mean that the driver’s license is not going to be suspended for the DUI; it just will not be suspended initially. Also note, that errors in the police report that may have resulted in a ‘win’ with the DOL, may not have the same effect on Court proceedings. Likewise evidence that was suppressed or “thrown out" of the DOL hearing may be included in the Court proceedings.