You got pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence. Now, you face criminal charges. But that’s not all. You’ve also had your driver’s license taken away and been put on notice that your driving privileges are going to be suspended in 45-days, even though you haven’t been convicted of a DUI (at least, not yet) and your DUI case probably won’t be over by then. Now what?
In Georgia, you can seek to challenge the suspension of your driver’s license at an “administrative” proceeding known as a “DMV hearing.” DMV hearings are not criminal trials. That is totally separate. But, DMV hearings do address the facts and circumstances of how you ended up with a DUI charge. So, having an experienced Georgia DUI lawyer represent you at a DMV hearing is critical.
Do not request a DMV hearing without first speaking with an experienced Georgia DUI lawyer. You may have other options for regaining your driving privileges.
The Purpose of a DMV Hearing
The purpose of a DMV hearing is very narrow. It only addresses whether there are reasons to find that the Georgia law automatically suspending your license after a DUI arrest should apply in your case. At a DMV hearing, the “hearing officer” (kind of like a judge, but not an actual judge) only examines:
- Whether the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe that you drove under the influence;
- Whether the arresting officer informed you of your rights when pulled over on suspicion of DUI;
- Whether you refused to take a blood or breath test;
- Whether the arresting officer administered the tests correctly;
- Whether your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.08 percent or higher (for adults), 0.02 percent or higher (for drivers under 21) or 0.04 percent or higher (for commercial drivers);
- How well you performed on other field sobriety tests;
- Whether the arresting officer followed proper legal procedures; and
- Whether someone was injured or died in an accident relating to your DUI arrest.
What Happens at a DMV Hearing?
A DMV hearing resembles a trial, but is a lot less formal. Technically, you do not have to have a lawyer represent you. But you have the right to bring a lawyer if you want to, and you always should.
The arresting officer gets notice of the hearing, so that he or she can testify about what led to your DUI arrest. Your lawyer will then have the right to question the officer.
Sometimes the officer does not show up for the hearing. If that happens, the hearing officer may dismiss your license suspension because there is no other evidence available to show that your arrest and BAC testing were legal and proper. But don’t get too excited. You can still lose your license if later convicted on the DUI charge you face. As we said, the DMV hearing is not a criminal trial.
The occasion of the hearing might also let your attorney negotiate for the restoration of your driving privileges on a restricted basis. For example, you may have the right to agree to install an ignition interlock device in your car, in which case you can receive a restricted driver’s license.
Within five days of the hearing, the hearing officer sends out a decision that does one of three things: uphold, modify, or set aside the license suspension.
What Happens if I Do Not Attend a DMV Hearing?
Since a DMV hearing is something that happens only at your request, don’t expect any favors if you fail to show up for it. The hearing officer will almost certainly uphold your license suspension.
Other Options for Seeking a Provisional License
Under Georgia law, if you lose your license for a first offense DUI, you can apply for a provisional license that will allow you to continue to operate your vehicle under limited circumstances if you install an “ignition interlock” device in your vehicle, which is essentially a breathalyzer that you have to pass before your car will even start. Modern ignition interlock devices not only need a negative breath test to allow you to start the vehicle, they may conduct rolling checks while the vehicle remains in motion, requiring you to take another breath test to keep the vehicle moving.
Georgia provisional licenses may allow you to operate your vehicle at specific times and for specific reasons. Sometimes, your provisional license may restrict the streets you can travel on or the times of day you can drive. A provisional license may give you the ability to drive yourself to work or school, to take children to work or school, or to handle appointments or pick up medication for yourself or for family members who cannot drive themselves. A provisional license can also allow you to transport yourself to community service events or to attend other court-mandated appointments, including your future DUI hearing.
Remember when we said don’t request a DMV hearing without speaking with an attorney? The same applies for asking for a provisional license with an ignition interlock device. Asking for an ignition interlock provisional license means giving up your right to a DMV hearing. Don’t choose either option before talking to a Georgia DUI lawyer.
Do I Really Need an Attorney for a DMV Hearing?
Yes, you do. You absolutely, positively do.
DMV hearings aren’t criminal trials, but the testimony that comes out at a DMV hearing could affect your rights in the criminal DUI process, both positively and negatively. On the positive side, your lawyer could expose the weakness of the government’s case at the DMV hearing, resulting in your DUI case being dropped. On the negative side, trying to navigate a DMV hearing without a lawyer could result in you making admissions about your conduct that make proving a DUI charge against you a slam dunk.
Do not risk missing a golden opportunity to win your DUI criminal case before it even gets going, or falling into the trap of making a DUI conviction inevitable, by trying to represent yourself at a DMV hearing. Retain an experienced Georgia DUI lawyer instead.