DUI Costs: The DOL Suspension
Being charged with DUI is the beginning of a particularly unpleasant process. It’s not that it’s the worst crime you could be charged with, because obviously it’s not. Both Washington and the Feds have plenty of crimes that can result in the death penalty or decades upon decades in prison. The most jail time one faces on a DUI is a year, and realistically you need to have a string of DUIs to be facing those numbers.
But most people don’t conspire to kill a government official or set off a weapon of mass destruction. People commonly drink and people commonly drive too soon after drinking. DUI is quite common, and in the intersection of nasty penalties and likelihood of occurrence, DUI has to top the list.
One of those penalties is the subject of today’s post: the Department of Licensing (DOL) suspension. Read on for a thorough description
though you can read the quick breakdown here.
Most people realize that if they’re convicted of DUI, their driver’s license will be suspended or revoked for some amount of time. The exact length depends on the blood alcohol content, whether the person refused the breath test, and their prior DUI history. You can see the entire DUI penalty grid here. As you can see, the length of license loss quickly escalates (along with costs and mandatory jail time).
But what people don’t realize is that just by virtue of being charged with DUI, your license gets suspended. That’s right, before you were even adjudged guilty in a court of law your license gets yanked. It’s not illegal because driving is a privilege that DOL can withdraw. But it sure seems unfair if the charge later turns out to be bogus.
Now while one’s license to drive is a privilege, it is also what’s known as a property right. That means that before the government, in this case the DOL, can take it away they must afford you Due Process rights, guaranteed by the 5th and 14th Amendments. Due process can be rather complex in the law, but procedurally this translates into Notice of the pending suspension, and Opportunity to be heard to contest it. All that simply means is the DOL has to let you know they’re about to yank your license, and let you know you can contest that decision.
One contests the decision at a DOL hearing, literally a forum to be heard. The privilege of exercising your rights is not without cost though, in this case $200. Another cost in what is unfortunately an expensive process. That cab is looking cheaper and cheaper, no?
So let’s recap. You’re driving home, you’re pulled over, and you’re arrested for/charged with DUI. The police officer is going to send a notice to the DOL saying you committed DUI. That same officer is supposed to tell you your license is going to be suspended 20 days from today unless you file your appeal (and pay the $200).
20 days isn’t much time to evaluate your position, but it’s almost always correct to go for the hearing. First just by filing the intent to set the hearing, the license suspension is delayed until the hearing is decided, which can be months down the road. Presuming you win, you get to save your license for some length of time, maybe permanently depending on the outcome of the case. This can be critical for a person.
The other advantage to the hearing is that you get to subpoena the police and basically examine the hell out of them about the incident. It’s a great opportunity to feel out the case, and make informed decisions down the road. If the officer admits the initial stop was completely improper, not only does the person get to save their license, you can likely get the charge dismissed. Finding that out at the hearing is the fastest way to dispose of the case and save a license.
But there’s a flip side. A lot of the time the police did do things right, or at least right enough to satisfy DOL. Unfortunately the DOL hearings are not presided over by judges, but by DOL employees. One complaint of the process is that the DOL hearing officers are not as fair and impartial as we’d like. The law requires the evidence show by a preponderance the person was actually driving while intoxicated. Unfortunately, hearings can come down to you trying to convincing the hearing officer someone wasn’t drunk, rather than refuting the evidence someone was. In other words, guilty until proven innocent. This is the other half of due process, the appearance of fairness. Speaking with other attorneys, sometimes that appearance is lacking. The full law for the hearing process is contained here.
If you lose at DOL there’s still hope. You can get an Ignition Interlock License (IIL) and continue driving. The IIL requires an Ignition Interlock Device, the machine that you have to blow in to start the car. And, of course, it all costs money. And even when/if DOL is satisfied, you have that pesky criminal case to deal with. But that’s a topic for another time.
So there you go. Being charged with DUI triggers a lot of issues that are expensive and can really affect your life. It’s never worth driving drunk but if you do get charged, get assistance from someone who knows the process.