Understanding a DUI Driver's License Suspension

While many criminal or financial penalties for a DUI require every person arrested for a DUI be found guilty at trial, when it comes to a DUI license suspension the law is not as gracious. For a DUI arrest, or for refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test, you are punished before trial by an immediate administrative driver's license suspension. If you are arrested for a DUI, you should consult a DUI attorney as soon as possible to understand the various consequences it can have on your driver’s license and how to alleviate the impact of a DUI license suspension.

DUI License Suspension

How and when your license is suspended for a DUI arrest will depend on the DUI laws in your state. While many states will suspend your driver’s license when you are just arrested for a DUI offense, some states will hold off suspending your license until your second or third DUI arrest. Other states do not issue a driver's license suspension for the DUI arrest itself, but rather how you act during the offense. For example, if you refuse to give evidence against yourself in the form of field sobriety tests or breath tests, some states will suspend your driver’s license for the refusal instead of the DUI arrest.  

In addition to a post-arrest driver’s license suspension, many states will also suspend your license a second time if you are eventually convicted of or plead guilty to your DUI charge. You do not get credit for the time your license was suspended after your initial DUI arrest. Most states make post-conviction or post-arrest driver’s license suspensions automatic. Regardless of how sympathetic the judge is to your situation, he or she may have no choice but to order a DUI license suspension.

Out-of-State Driver's License Laws

If you are arrested outside of your home state for drunk driving, your driver’s license suspension will probably follow you back to your home state. Many states have adopted or agreed to the Interstate Driver’s License Compact. This means they will honor another state’s DUI license suspension laws, even though you did not commit the DUI offense in your home state. If your license is suspended under the Interstate Driver’s License Compact, you may have appeal remedies set out in your state’s laws. Your home state may offer you more appeal rights than the state that is seeking to suspend your license. In these cases, you will probably need two attorneys to help with your DUI arrest. You will need an attorney licensed in your home state to help you appeal the suspension of your driver’s license; and a second attorney licensed in the state where your DUI arrests took place to help you defend the actual allegations of driving while intoxicated.

Getting Your Driver’s License Back after a DUI License Suspension 

If your driver’s license is suspended because of a post-conviction or post-arrest DUI charge, you may still be able to get your driving privileges reinstated. You can petition the court in a separate civil proceeding to grant you a hardship license or occupational driver’s license. Basically, you are requesting the court to allow you to drive while your case is pending under limited circumstances. For example, if your work hours are 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, the court will allow you to drive for a short period before and after your usual work hours in order to maintain your employment.

Other circumstances or situations may also qualify. These situations could include taking your kids to school, seeking medical attention, and being a caregiver to a family member who is disabled. This process begins with the filing of a petition and paying a fee to the clerk of the court. Filing the petition alone will not get your driving rights restored, you must request a hearing and provide the prosecutor notice of the hearing. At the hearing, you have the burden of proving that you should be granted a hardship or occupational license, this will involve proving that your children, medical needs or employment, or other circumstance, require that you drive.

Driver’s License Suspension and DUI Arrests

If your driver’s license suspension is related only to a DUI arrest, not a conviction, you may also be able to file an administrative appeal, since most states treat the suspension as an administrative procedure. When you receive notice of your driver’s license suspension, most notices will come with an explanation of how to appeal your suspension. Similar to the request for an occupational license, you file a petition with the court or agency that handles administrative appeals in your jurisdiction. The focus at this hearing is on whether or not the officer that arrested you for the DUI had the authority or evidence to do so. 

If the administrative judge finds that the officer conducted an illegal stop, for example, the administrative judge can rule in your favor and reinstate your driver’s license. Do not confuse this administrative hearing with a hearing on the merits of your DUI charge. That part comes later. Even if an administrative judge rules in your favor, the criminal court judge may not be so lenient and is not usually required to accept the administrative judge’s findings or decisions.

The remedies for a driver’s license suspension discussed above are for post-arrest or post-conviction DUIs. Keep in mind that a judge may also impose bond conditions that restrict your driving privileges. This is separate from a driver’s license suspension because your license is not suspended. The court is simply telling you that if you drive, it will revoke your bond and throw you back in jail until your case is resolved. 

Steps to Take After Receiving Formal Notice of DUI License Suspension

When you receive a formal notice in the mail that your license has been officially suspended because of a DUI arrest or conviction, keep the document so that you can access it later for contact information. The notice of your DUI license suspension will provide information and deadlines regarding the appeal process that you should follow closely. If your appeal is not successful, at some point your suspension will end. However, most states will require you to take steps to get your driver's license reinstated. Some states will require you to contact the department of public safety and pay a reinstatement fee; until this fee is paid, your license will continue to be suspended.

Getting Legal Help with DUI License Suspension

A suspended driver’s license can affect your ability to get to work or take care of your children, and is generally inconvenient. When facing a DUI license suspension you will undoubtedly want to get the privileges reinstated as soon as possible, but be careful to proceed only under advice of legal counsel. If you attend an appeal hearing without proper representation, you may accidentally make statements or admissions that can and will be used against you later at your DUI trial. If you are arrested for a DUI, consult with an experienced DUI attorney that can handle the criminal issues related to your DUI arrest, as well as any issues related to your driver’s license suspension.

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