How is a DMV Hearing Different From a Regular DUI Criminal Trial?

Criminal Court

If you’ve acquired a ticket for driving under the influence in Nevada and the arrest involved the taking of a breathalyzer test, you have seven days from that date forward to request a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is a civil proceeding during which you will fight for the right to retain your driver’s license. We advise our clients to take advantage of this opportunity. If you fail to do so, the license suspension will occur automatically.

The purpose of the DMV hearing is more to protect the public from the possible consequences of having you continue driving under the influence than it is to punish you for having already done so. However, there is no question but that the loss of your license will feel like a punishment to you, so it is to your benefit to seek this opportunity.

A DMV hearing will normally take place in a small room. Members of the public will be welcome to attend, and every witness to the case will testify under oath. A judge will preside over the proceedings, and lawyers for both sides can question witnesses, present evidence and conduct cross-examinations. Your attorney will have the opportunity to subject the arresting officers to questioning in the hopes of catching them in discrepancies or having them admit that they may have made some errors in their investigation.

In addition, an audio recording will be available at the hearing’s conclusion. We have found that this recorded transcript of the testimony can prove invaluable later when litigating the DUI case in criminal court.

During an administrative DMV hearing, three issues will arise. The judge will want to know:

  • Whether you agreed to take an evidentiary test at the time of your arrest.
  • Whether the test, if you took it, showed your blood alcohol level, or BAC, to be at or above the legal limit.
  • Whether the officer who ordered that test had good reason to believe that you were driving or otherwise had physical control of a moving vehicle while you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If you happen to have taken and failed a breathalyzer test at the time of your arrest, the officer is likely to have pulled your license on the spot, offering instead a temporary license due to expire seven days in the future. If instead you took a blood test, the officer will return your license temporarily pending the results.

Because Nevada considers the administrative DMV hearing to be civil and not criminal in nature, no attempt will be made to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proving your innocence will instead fall directly upon the shoulders of your attorney and yourself.

The good news is that it is often possible to win a DMV hearing by default. This normally happens when the arresting officer fails to appear at the hearing, in which case the judge will dismiss the case immediately, and you will not lose your license.

A DUI Trial in Nevada

A DUI trial in the state of Nevada takes place in several stages. These are:

  • The arraignment at which you hear the formal charges against you and enter a plea. Your lawyer can attend the arraignment on your behalf.
  • The negotiating phase. This is where your attorney and the prosecutor attempt to come to an agreement in the hopes of avoiding trial either through a plea bargain or a dismissal of the charges.
  • The pre-trial motion. This extended negotiating period can last several months for a misdemeanor DUI and even longer for a felony.
  • The trial itself. This will consist of a bench trial for misdemeanor DUI or a jury trial for felony DUI. Witness examination, cross-examination and evidence presentation will take place as in a DMV hearing. The biggest difference is that with a court trial, the prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Although it may seem less onerous than a court trial on its face, a DMV hearing can be harder to win. That’s because in a hearing, it will take no more than a preponderance of evidence in the hearing to find you at fault. Furthermore, success in a DMV hearing for DUI does not guarantee that you will retain the use of your driver’s license. If the criminal court judge should find you guilty of DUI, you can still face a license suspension despite having aced your DMV hearing.

Because DUI cases can be complicated, we recommend that no one try to fight these charges without the assistance of private legal counsel. A public defender may have difficulty in giving your case the personal attention it deserves, but the lawyers at Gregory & Waldo will take the time to fully understand and expertly fight your case. Don’t try to do this on your own. For a free consultation, call our offices today.