DMV Process for Handling DUI Cases Deemed Unconstitutional

Posted by Phillip CrawfordMay 06, 2022

A recent California Court of Appeal decision has vindicated the rights of people accused of driving under the influence.

In California, when you are arrested for a DUI, you have two cases to worry about: (1) the criminal case in the Superior Court and (2) the Administrative Per Se (APS) case with the DMV. Both of these cases are very different.

A DUI is treated like any other criminal case in the criminal court. You are presumed to be innocent until the government proves you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the right for your case to be decided by a jury of your peers. The rules of evidence apply to keep nonsense out of the courtroom.

The APS case at DMV is the polar opposite of the criminal case. The DMV is allowed to rely on hearsay, unsworn statements, and other evidence that would be totally inadmissible in the criminal case. There are various presumptions that work against you. The standard of proof is a much lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Most importantly, the APS hearing is conducted by a “Hearing Officer” (DMV employee) who is supposed to act as both the advocate for DMV and the decision maker. The Hearing Officer is both the judge and prosecutor – an obvious conflict of interest. Any California DUI attorney will tell you that the DMV APS hearing is harder to win than the criminal case because of the inherently unfair nature of the APS process.

Fortunately, a recent Court of Appeal decision found that the DMV APS process is unconstitutional. In California DUI Lawyers Association v. California Department of Motor Vehicles, the Second District Court of Appeal found that the DMV APS process violated fundamental Due Process. The court's primary concern was the “dual roles” assumed by the Hearing Officer as both the advocate and decision maker. There was also a concern that the DMV Hearing Officers were having secret discussions with their supervisors without the consent or knowledge of the driver; the DMV supervisors would often intervene in cases and tell the Hearing Officers how to decide their cases, often to the detriment of the driver. This has been a clear violation of drivers' Due Process rights that the court agreed was unconstitutional.

This case (CDLA v. DMV) was the result of a long-fought effort by the California DUI Lawyers Association (CDLA). CDLA filed this lawsuit in 2014. The Court of Appeal decision was issued on April 15, 2022.  Phillip Crawford is Vice President of the Board of Directors of CDLA and applauds its efforts in vindicating the rights of the accused. This ruling is monumental because it establishes that for decades, DMV has been using an unconstitutional process to take people's licenses.

Since this decision has just been issued, it is unclear how the DMV process is going to change over time. However, it is clear that DMV needs to make drastic changes to its procedures. Thousands of these APS hearings happen every year. We expect there to be multiple changes happening over time.

As of this writing, the DMV has decided that it will proceed with two different employees in every APS case – one as the advocate and one as the decision maker. It is unclear how this will affect the outcome of future DMV hearings. Also, it's not clear that this new system will be considered constitutional either. It seems highly unlikely that the “decision maker” would ever rule against the “advocate”, who is their co-worker; imagine ruling against your co-worker! Although the court in CDLA v. DMV took issue with the same person having dual roles, it seems inherently unfair to have those two roles split between co-workers in the same organization/entity. The appellate court in CDLA v. DMV has returned the case to a lower court for enforcement of their decision. That means that the lower court will have some degree of supervision over the new system implemented by DMV.

Read the opinion here: CDLA v. DMV

If you have been arrested for a DUI, do not sleep on your rights! Call Phillip Crawford for a free consultation (831) 204-0773.