California Court of Appeals Ruled that DMV Hearings, as Currently Conducted are Unconstitutional

By Jeffery Rubenstein

The CA Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) determines whether the suspension of a driver’s license is warranted after a driver was arrested for driving with a .08% or more of alcohol in their system. The DMV’s process includes conducting an administrative per se hearing in which a hearing officer, a DMV employee, serves as both the advocate for the DMV and adjudicator (similar to a judge) for the hearing. The hearing officer presents the DMV’s case, listens to, and rules on objections made by the driver (or the driver’s attorney), listens to any evidence presented during the hearing by the driver (or the driver’s attorney), and finally decides whether or not to suspend the driver’s privileges to drive.

During the administrative per se hearing, the Department of Motor Vehicles must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the following 3 facts:

  1. Did law enforcement have reasonable cause to investigate and believe the respondent (driver) was driving a vehicle,
  2. Did law enforcement have probable cause to lawfully arrest the driver, and
  3. Was the person driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher.

If the hearing officer finds that all three facts were proven by a preponderance of the evidence by the DMV, the hearing officer will suspend the driver’s driving privileges.

On April 15, 2022, the California Court of Appeals published a groundbreaking decision in California DUI Lawyers, Association v. California Department of Motor Vehicles (2022) 2022 Cal. App. Lexis 316. The Court of Appeals ruled that having the DMV Hearing Officer serve as the advocate and the adjudicator in an administrative per se proceedings is a violation of the Driver’s Federal and State Due Process Rights. The Court ruled that the DMV is permanently enjoined and restrained from having its hearing officer function as advocates for the position of the DMV in addition to being finders of fact in the same adversarial proceeding.

All DMV Administrative Per Se Hearings are being continued at this time for the DMV to determine how they can comply with the Court’s decision while still conducting Administrative Per Se hearings. The DMV may further appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.

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To read the entire case, please see below:

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