February 18, 2015

FBI Announces San Diego DMV Hearing Officer Pleads Guilty to Bribery in Federal Court, Part 2

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Last week I wrote a blog post about the former San Diego Safety Officer (DSO, Hearing Officer) pleading guilty to bribery charges in federal court. Also, there was a brief discussion of the environment in which the DMV APS hearing takes place. APS stands for Administrative Per Se- which refers to the .08% BAC DUI license suspension. Because hearing officers are not lawyers, they are not regulated by the state. The appellate review process is extensive and expensive, so there is not a large body of law to guide hearing officers towards the right decision. By default, the right decision is to suspend the driver's license.

From the point of view of the lawyer, it can be very frustrating. In this blog post, some of those frustrations will be discussed.

In a DMV driver license hearing, all the hearing officer needs to prove is that three elements were met: that the driver was “driving” (put behind the wheel); that the driver was found to be greater than .08%; and that there was probable cause to stop the driver. The standard, because it is an administrative hearing, is a mere preponderance of the evidence- which is sometimes equated to 50%.

In a typical new client consultation for a DUI, the license can be their biggest concern. Particularly if a person is a salesperson, executive, single parent, or a number of other unique circumstances. I had one client that was a process server. And everyone, across the entire socio-economic spectrum, gets DUIs. When I tell a client their case can be dismissed and they still get their license taken away, they are crushed. And this can lead to temptation.

DUI hearings are very difficult for the reasons stated above and in the last post. From a lawyering perspective, we are taught the difference between what we know, and what we think. Even if what we “think” is the most likely scenario, it is essentially useless because it is not certain. Certain is what we know. The DMV has little incentive to follow the cold, hard evidentiary rules, as well as common sense differences between know and think, when, from their perspective, they are pulling the license of a drunk driver. In other words, who cares, or why should they care?

So a lawyer defending a driver in a DMV APS hearing can be right, and still lose. A better explanation may be that if the driver's case was a law school exam, he would win- the precise execution of evidentiary rules, and excluding all assumptions, there is no case. But in the real world, in the real DMV world, a driver's license can be suspended with a dare- if you think we're wrong, appeal it.

It falls on the lawyer to tell the bad news to the prospective driver- to be the voice of the system. It may be unfair, but there is societal pressure that supports the system- fair or not. For instance, the Union Tribune articles don't state, “single mother paid DMV employee to keep her license to keep her job and stay off welfare,” or “license suspension avoided so father can keep joint custody of his son.” But these are real world scenarios we see all the time.  Instead, the San Diego Union Tribune perceives the story as a conspiracy to keep DUI drivers on the road.

Which is the lead in to the last and final blog post in this series- how a successful San Diego DUI attorney handles- and wins- DMV APS hearings honestly and ethically.


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The acronyms DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI all refer to the same thing: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most commonly used terms are DUI, an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, and DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired.
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