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Court Rules DMV Violates Drivers' Rights

Posted by Richard Wagner | Jan 31, 2024

DUI DMV Hearing Attorney

In 2014, the California DUI Lawyers Association (CDLA) sued the DMV.

The lawsuit claimed the system used by the DMV for DMV administrative hearings for DUI arrests is unfair and unconstitutional.

The DMV uses the ‘administrative per se' or ‘APS' system to suspend driving privileges following a DUI arrest.

When a driver is arrested for DUI involving alcohol and the arresting officer believes the driver has a blood-alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit, the cop takes the person's driver's license away and gives the driver a pink piece of paper.

This is a notice of suspension/revocation of his or her driving privileges and also a temporary license. This notice lets you know that the DMV will suspend your license in 30 days. 

It also alerts the driver to his or her right to an APS or DMV hearing, if requested within 10 days.

DMV employees called Hearing Officers preside over DMV administrative hearings. The Hearing Officer is the judge, jury and prosecutor. The lawsuit claimed that,

“[T]he APS system … requires the Hearing Officers to act both as an advocate for the DMV and arbiter/decision maker, creating a … conflict of interest and bias favoring one party over the other … as a result, the APS hearings violate the State and Federal Due Process rights … of license holders by failing to provide a fair, neutral and impartial Hearing Officer.”

In addition,

‘the APS system unconstitutionally allows DMV managers, executives, and/or administrators ex parte communications with the Hearing Officers and direct control over the decision-making process.'

The trial court ruled in favor of the DMV.  However, in what was referred to as CDLA I, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment.

“CDLA argued the DMV can not suspend a driving privilege without due process of law, and the combination of advocate and adjudication roles in a single DMV employee violates due process.”

In its defense,

“The DMV argued CDLA failed to submit any evidence of actual bias on the part of Hearing Officers. The DMV also relied on the DMV Driver Safety Manual's statement that Hearing Officers “must always be fair and impartial to preserve the integrity of the hearing process.”

The trial court ruled in favor of the DMV on CDLA's Section 1983 cause of action, but it ruled in favor of CDLA on its causes of action for violation of due process rights under the California Constitution and illegal expenditure of funds.

Both sides appealed.

About 8 years after the lawsuit was filed, the Court of Appeal issued its landmark decision. It began its opinion citing the California Supreme Court,

“[T]he general rule endorsed by both the United States Supreme Court and this court is that ‘[b]y itself, the combination of investigative, prosecutorial, and adjudicatory functions within a single administrative agency does not create an unacceptable risk of bias and thus does not violate the due process rights of individuals who are subjected to agency prosecutions.'” Today's Fresh Start, Inc. v. Los Angeles County Office of Education, (2013) 57 Cal.4th 197, 221.

The Court of Appeal also noted,

“Our Supreme Court further explained: To prove a due process violation based on overlapping functions thus requires something more than proof that an administrative agency has investigated and accused, and will now adjudicate.” Ibid.

The Court of Appeal then cited three cases to support its position that “procedural fairness requires some internal separation between advocates and decision-makers to preserve neutrality.”

The court then pointed out, 

“Although procedural fairness does not prohibit the combination of the advocacy and adjudicatory functions within a single administrative agency, tasking the same individual with both roles violates the minimum constitutional standards of due process. The irreconcilable conflict between advocating for the agency on one hand, and being an impartial decision maker on the other, presents a “‘particular combination of circumstances creating an unacceptable risk of bias.'” Today's Fresh Start, supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 221, quoting Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (2009) 45 Cal.4th 731, 741.

The Court of Appeal concluded that “combining the roles of advocate and adjudicator in a single person employed by the DMV violates due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and California Constitution Article I, Section 7.”

The Court of Appeal then went on to declare,

“Having concluded an APS hearing officer's dual roles of advocate and adjudicator violates due process, however, we further conclude Vehicle Code section 14112, subdivision (b) is unconstitutional to the extent it permits the DMV to combine the advocacy and adjudicatory roles in a single APS hearing officer.”

Finally, the Court of Appeal addressed the 1983 claim, noting,

“Because the lack of neutral hearing officers at APS hearings violates drivers' federal and state due process rights …, we conclude the trial court erred by denying CDLA's motion for summary adjudication of its section 1983 claim.”

The Court of Appeal

  1. Directed the trial court to enter a new order granting summary judgment in favor of CDLA;
  2. Reversed the judgment that was in favor of the DMV and against CDLA on section 1983 claim; and
  3. Ruled “the DMV is permanently enjoined and restrained from having its APS hearing officers function as advocates for the position of the DMV in addition to being finders of fact in the same adversarial proceeding.”

Finally, the Court of Appeal said “the trial court is also directed to reconsider the amount of fees awarded to CDLA in light of CDLA's additional success on appeal.”

The citation for this opinion is California DUI Lawyers Assn. v. Department of Motor Vehicles, (2022) 77 Cal. App. 5th 517.

A few days after the court issued its decision, the DMV canceled hearings that were set in April and May. It then started to reschedule and began conducting them using two DMV employees: one was called an advocate and the other was called the trier of fact. However, in practice, both employees still functioned as advocates for the DMV.

The DMV has abandoned this new system and reverted back to the old system, where one DMV employee presides over the APS Hearings. This began on September 6, 2022.  

If you have been arrested for DUI, contact The Law Office of Richard Wagner for a FREE consultation at (714) 721-4423

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Richard Wagner

Attorney Profile Defense Lawyer Richard Wagner upholds and defends freedoms and liberties enshrined in our United States and California Constitutions.  “Richard was able to achieve an even better outcome for my case than what we initially thought was possible. I couldn't be more grateful to h...