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Lawsuit Challenges Authority of DMV Employees in DUI Administrative Hearings

An article recently published in the OC Register featured a story of a local Westminster man who was arrested and charged for driving under the influence (DUI). Eventually, an Orange County judge dismissed the man's case, citing that officers had illegally obtained a BAC test. Despite the case being thrown out, the man had his driver's license suspended based on the same evidence.

The DMV employee who issued the decision had the power to do so under California law. In fact, DUI cases in California involve two separate proceedings – a criminal proceeding to determine guilt and criminal penalties and a DMV hearing to determine license penalties. The law creating these two separate proceedings was established nearly 25 years ago, and is now the target of a lawsuit recently filed by the California DUI Lawyers Association.

In the lawsuit, the Association states that allowing DMV employees who oversee the administrative DUI hearings to act as both prosecutor and judge is a violation of a defendant's constitutional rights. The lawsuit further calls into question the lack of evidence DMV employees use to reach decisions – often little more than sworn reports from arresting officers – and pressure from the DMV to decide against drivers rather than make neutral and fair decisions. According to many experts, a DMV employee who can advocate for the DMV's interests and have the authority to make a decision represents a clear conflict of interest.

While DMV officials have not yet commented on the lawsuit, opponents state that swift and tough penalties such as license suspensions have proven effective at reducing high rates of DUI. Still, authors of the lawsuit will continue to argue that the way DMV employees handle suspensions and revocations violates due process. Backers of the lawsuit agree that reducing drunk driving is important, but not at the price of fairness and neutrality.

At the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc., our Orange County DUI lawyers fight tirelessly on behalf of clients, during both criminal proceedings and DMV administrative hearings. If you have questions about your case, DMV hearings and license suspensions, and how our firm can help, contact us today.