Whether you know it or not, when you are arrested and charged with a DUI in California, there are now two separate cases against you.
The first and most important case, the court case, is the case in which you face going to jail and a large fine. The second case against you is the case in the DMV system, and in that case what is at stake is whether you lose your driver’s license and if so, for how long.
These two cases have little overlap. Theoretically, it is possible to get your court case dismissed but still lose your driver’s license with the DMV. Or, your driver’s license could be restored but you could still be sent away to jail at the conclusion of the court case.
To keep your chances of prevailing in the DMV case alive, you should have your attorney send a notice to the DMV within 10 days of your arrest to the DMV that requests a stay on any driver’s license suspension, and requests a DMV hearing on the legality of your arrest and the validity to the drunk driving charge against you.
Meeting this 10-day deadline preserves your rights in the DMV part of your case. The “10 days” is actually 10 calendar days, and the first day is the day you were arrested.
As for the DMV hearing in your case, many of the same issues can arise that arise in a typical court trial in a DUI case. However, many times a DMV case will be won because of the paperwork that police officers are required to fill out and submit in DUI cases. Because these forms are so complicated and may overlap, it is possible for a skilled attorney to point out to the DMV paperwork inconsistencies, and the defendant’s driver’s license could be restored on paperwork problems alone.
It all starts with getting an attorney to file the notice with the DMV within 10 days of your arrest. And keep in mind that the DMV considers the day of the arrest as “day 1,” so this makes the deadline really 9 days after your DUI arrest.
Even if an attorney is not successful in a DMV hearing, all hope is not lost. If there were no prior DUI convictions, in many cases a defendant can get a restricted driver’s license thirty-one days after a suspension begins. This would allow the defendant to still drive to and from their job, and in the course of their employment. This means that if, for example, the defendant drives to work and their boss requires that the defendant drive somewhere to pick up some supplies, that driving is also legal.
However, many times the restricted driver’s license comes with a catch. Having a restricted driver’s license may add to the length of time before the full driver’s license is restored.
Things are different if the defendant has one or more DUI convictions within the previous 10 years. In such a situation, the periods a defendant goes without a driver’s license are longer.
Whenever a defendant loses their driver’s license with the DMV, depending on the facts of their case, restoring the driving privilege with usually involve submitting to the DMV several documents. These documents include: an “SR-22 form” from your car insurance company, which is your promise to be legally insured for three years, proof of completion of a DUI class that is appropriate for your case (this is known as the DMV’s DL 101 form) or longer) and a reinstatement fee, which is $125 – $150.
SR-22’s are not always expensive. The DMV itself promotes a low-cost auto insurance provider at a link here and the DMV even gives a phone number, which is 866-602-8861. We have heard good things about the inexpensive auto insurance companies Breathe Easy and SR-22 Insurance California, but there are many inexpensive car insurance companies out there. (Of course, you could always post a $35,000 cash bond with the DMV, or post a surety bond with a company that handles surety bonds, but this option is not available for non-wealthy people.)
The DMV has a phone number to call to ask when you can get your driver’s license back, either in full license or restricted, and what documents the DMV will need in order to do this. Those phone numbers are 916-657-6525 and 916-657-7790. This office is called the DMV Mandatory Actions Unit. It is best to call these phone numbers early in the morning.
In all of the examples discussed here, your case may be different, so it is important to discuss all of your specific options with an attorney.
Here is a more complicated issue with the DMV: point counts. The DMV keeps track of “points” on your driver’s license. This is under California Vehicle Code, section 12810.5. The DMV has a good discussion of their treatment of point counts at this link here.
The way it works is like this: after four points in a twelve-month period, you lose your driver’s license for having too many points. For twenty-four months, the point count maximum is six points, and for thirty-six months, the point count maximum is eight points.
“Points” in the world of the DMV are convictions for moving violations. Generally, most minor moving violations are a single point. Running a red light, rolling through a stop sign, and speeding are each considered one point. DUI and driving on a suspended driver’s license (Vehicle Code, section 14601) are each considered two points. Parking tickets, because they are not “moving” violations, do not count as DMV points.
You can see how this adds up pretty quickly. If, for example, someone has a speeding ticket, then a DUI conviction, then runs a red light, all in a twelve-month period, that person could lose their driver’s license for having too many points in a twelve-month period.
It is for this reason that we advise our clients to always opt for traffic school for minor traffic violations, like speeding, if this option is available. Going through traffic school keeps the point off the defendant’s DMV record. The DMV keeps a list of DMV-approved traffic school at this link here.