My Washington, D.C. DUI clients’ second biggest concern, right behind jail, is whether their driver’s license will be suspended as a result of their DUI arrest. When they ask me that question, I give them the same answer I give my kids when they ask me how babies are made: It’s complicated, who wants ice cream? And the reason I can’t give clients a simple answer is because what happens to your driver’s license after a D.C. DUI arrest is not necessarily consistent from case to case. So the best I can do is to educate the client on some of the most likely scenarios.
The first thing you need to know is that the process which determines the fate of your driver’s license is different than your DUI court case. That’s because, while your DUI charge will be adjudicated in the Washington, D.C. Superior Court, it is the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that will determine what happens to your license. This can make for a confusing process and can result in defendants having their licenses suspended before they even walk into a courtroom. In fact, some clients have their license suspended before they even walk into my office.
There is nothing more frustrating in D.C. DUI defense than having to point out to a client that they’ve already missed their opportunity to avoid a license suspension. And here’s how that happens: after a client has been arrested, brought back to the police station, processed, and left to cool their heels while they wait to go home and get some sleep, an officer will hand that person a pink piece of paper. That paper is called the “Official Proposed Notice of Revocation.” Often, this innocuous little form gets folded up with the citation, and shoved into a pocket, to be ignored for a little while as you try to get your head around your DUI arrest. But that’s a mistake. Because if, and only if you give that form a good thorough reading, you will see that it says: “You are entitled to apply for a hearing within ten calendar days (fifteen calendar days if you are not a resident of the District of Columbia) from the date of this notice.” What it goes on to say, is that if you have not applied for a hearing within this time, your license is automatically suspended. If you are an out-of-state driver, only your privilege to drive in D.C. is suspended. This information can come as quite a shock to those who come see me after the time has elapsed. Sadly, if this occurs, there is nothing anyone can do to get that license reinstated, regardless of the outcome of your case.
For those clients who have not yet had their license suspended because of a D.C. DUI, I will schedule a hearing at the DMV and appear on your behalf. At the hearing, several things can occur: 1) the officer doesn’t show up, and you keep your license. For now. 2) An officer shows up, but it isn’t the officer who administered the FSTs, or the breath test, whichever the case may be. In those cases, a decent hearing examiner will find that they lack evidence to suspend your license. 3) The correct officer(s) shows up, testifies, and the examiner makes a determination. More often than not, this final scenario will result in a suspension, mostly because the standard of evidence in these hearings is much lower that the reasonable doubt required in your DUI criminal case. But there is a much better chance that the office simply won’t appear.
While a client whose license is still intact after the DMV hearing has lived to fight another day, she’s not out of the woods yet. That’s because the DMV is still monitoring the DUI court case, and will suspend your license (or privilege to drive in DC) if you are convicted of DUI. There are some silver linings here, however. First, if the DMV hearing examiner had found that a DUI defendant refused to take the breath test, she would suspend your license for 12 months. But if you won the hearing or the officer didn’t appear, then a DUI court conviction only results in a 6 month suspension. And for out-of-state drivers who enter into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DSA), it is very unlikely that your home state will suspend your license at all, even though D.C. may suspend your privilege to drive here.
If this system seems complicated, that’s because it is. If you’re still confused by all of this, then I didn’t do a very good job of writing this blog. But I’m a lawyer, not a writer, so cut me some slack. If you’ve been charged with a DUI in Washington, D.C., contact Jay Mykytiuk Trial Attorney for a case evaluation, and I’ll try to explain all of this better.