In a San Diego criminal courthouse, the judge cannot also be the prosecutor and vice versa. It would be fundamentally unfair to you if the person presiding “neutrally” over your trial is also trying to put you in jail.
But in a way, that is what the California Department of Motor Vehicles has been doing at its hearings to decide whether to suspend someone’s driver’s license due to an arrest on DUI charges. The California Court of Appeal for the Second District recently ruled that the DMV’s method for deciding if an automatic suspension is proper violates drivers’ due process rights.
Is the process for restoring your driving privileges unfair?
After someone with a California driver’s license is arrested on suspicion of DUI in the state, their license is automatically suspended. The driver has the right to request an administrative hearing at the DMV to try to get the suspension overturned.
The DMV current allows its hearing officers to also act as advocates for the agency at the same time. A group called the California DUI Lawyers Association sued the DMV, saying this violates their clients’ Fourteenth Amendment and California constitution right to due process. Due process means that everyone involved in a criminal or civil court proceeding receives the same, fair procedure.
The appellate court agreed that the administrative hearing is akin to a trial. Given the adversarial nature of the hearing (the driver wants their license back, the DMV wants to take it away), having the advocate for the DMV also be the hearing officer violates due process, the judges ruled.
Fight for your driver’s license
It remains to be seen if the DMV will appeal this ruling or if it will have to adjust its administrative hearing practices. What remains true either way is that after a DUI arrest, you will have to fight to get your license back to at least commute to and from work or school. This is separate from the DUI charges, which are handled in criminal court.