What You Need to Know for Your DoL HearingJonathan Rands
When arrested for a DUI, not only do you have the stress of being booked into jail and mounting a DUI defense, but you also need to combat the Department of Licensing's (DoL) action against your driver's license, which is a daunting task and difficult experience for both drivers and defense lawyers alike.
Note: This blog post is several years old and may contain out-of-date information. To see the current procedures, please see Keep Control of Your License
The odds are stacked against us, the procedure is unfair, and the hearing officer's ruling on your license range from sort of fair to the extremely unfair. The hearing officers who have the knowledge and integrity to dismiss actions are not only rare, but they have the added step of having to justify their ruling to their supervisors. It is within this setting that the fate of your license is determined.
There are other systemic issues, but it is largely because of this that most hearings are not won. Statewide, the DoL prevails and suspends or revokes a DUI arrested driver’s license over 70% of the time. With a $375.00 hearing fee and 30% odds of winning, many arrested drivers question why they would bother to pay to lose. After all, unless you were driving on a suspended license at the time of the arrest, you can drive during the suspension/revocation period, so why not get the suspension/revocation started sooner than later?
That does still leave a 30% chance, however, and despite the unfairness, these hearings are winnable with the right circumstances, knowledge, and creativity. And even if the hearing is not won, the process of the hearing can provide fertile ground to create, expose, and contribute to the defense of the adjacent criminal charge being advanced in the criminal procedure.
Timing is Everything: The DoL Procedure
To begin the hearing process, a request needs to be made. Once requested, the DoL must follow the rules set forth in RCW 46.20.308:
- The hearing must be set within 60 days from the time of the arrest or the action is dismissed;
- Both the driver and their attorney must be provided with at least 10 days notice prior to the hearing date.
Aside from the timeline that must be followed, the police reports must be filled out correctly, filed and submitted to both the DoL and to the DUI attorney, and the "four corners" of the police report must establish the foundation to justify the stop, detention, and arrest. Failure to satisfy these numerous aspects happen frequently enough, making the $375.00 fee worth it.
The Presentation of Evidence
While there are rigorous rules of evidence used in a criminal trial, the standard used to prove a case in a DoL hearing is very low considering such an important property interest is at stake for being suspending or revoked for at least 90 days / at least one year / at least two years. In addition to the police report, evidence in this one hour hearing may consist of witness testimony, pictures, maps, text messages - essentially anything relevant to the arrest, including the breath test, if properly presented. The hearing officer needs only a preponderance of the evidence, meaning just enough to make it more likely than not, or 50.1%, the claims against you are true.
The Length of Suspension or Revocation
The length of the license suspension/revocation is entirely dependent on prior DoL action taken due to prior DUI arrests, how many DUI arrests have occurred within a 7 year period from arrest date to arrest date, and whether there was a breath/blood sample provided.
- A first time DUI arrest with a breath sample over 0.02, or any THC present in the blood and under the age of 21;
- A first time DUI arrest with a breath sample over 0.08 or a THC concentration of 5ng or more in the blood and age 21 or over.
- Any person who refuses a breath or blood test, regardless of age. This is called a revocation because it is at least one year.
- A second DUI arrest within a seven year period regardless of whether it is for alcohol or marijuana, or if the first action was when under age 21.
On top of losing their license, for commercial drivers holding a CDL endorsement, there is also a one year disqualification if the action is proven/sustained. This is true even if a driver was nowhere near a commercial vehicle at the time of arrest. The stakes are high for the average driver, but can be career-ending for others.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
As a reminder, the DoL hearing is a separate event from the criminal procedure, where consequences can be just as severe, or even longer with respect to suffering the loss of a driver's license. Though, in the criminal procedure, you will have the benefit of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, rather than the exceptionally low standard of preponderance.
The decision to request the hearing and force the process to work is an easy choice from the lawyer's side of the equation because of what can be achieved under a global approach and understanding to your DUI case. It should not cost you any more to have your lawyer handle this hearing for you or with you. If there is a price increase don’t hesitate to look around and find someone who handles the criminal charge and the DoL action under a single retainer.
There is a 20 day deadline from the date of arrest in which you must request a hearing. If you miss that deadline, or fail to appear when scheduled, your case will not be won and your license will be revoked or suspended. Not only will you be without your license for 90 days / one year / two years, but there is extra insurance in the form of SR22 that must be maintained for three years starting from the date the license is reinstated. Even if you are not sure which course of action to take, meet with an experienced and knowledgable DUI attorney and make an informed decision together.