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Administrative License Suspension

Administrative License Suspension Within 10 Days of Arrest

Starting more than 25 years ago, the federal government ‘encouraged’ the states to pass new laws to punish drivers suspected of DUI/DWI for merely taking the state’s DUI breath test and having a test result that exceeded the state’s ‘legal BAC limit’.  All states had already passed statutes calling for loss of license if the person REFUSED to submit to the state’s blood test, breath or urine test, where an officer SUSPECTED that the driver was drunk or drugged.

Some states call their form of immediate license snatching an “administrative license suspension.”  Others call it a ‘revocation’.  Lawyers who practice in this area of law often use the appropriate acronym [either ‘ALR’ or ‘ALS’], rather than say ‘administrative license revocation’ or ‘administrative license suspension’.  In Georgia, it is called a suspension.  In Texas, it is a revocation.  For all practical purposes, the legal effect is about the same all over the USA, due to federal highway funding being tied to every state’s compliance with this type of law.

This ‘administrative’ punishment for taking the test and rendering a test score over the state’s limit was designed to be in addition to all the punishments that traditionally follow a DUI/DWI criminal conviction, such as license suspension, jail time, probation, community service hours, possible ignition interlock, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, etc.  These ADMINISTRATIVE penalties are basically an IMMEDIATE taking of the driver’s license, subject to some sort of due process rights in the form of a hearing to try to get the immediate suspension/revocation set aside (rescinded, dismissed, etc.).   This means that a DUI/DWI arrest triggers not only a CRIMINAL case, but also triggers and ADMINISTRATIVE case against the driver.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s legal challenges were mounted by defense attorneys across America arguing that this was DOUBLE punishment for a single offense.  Courts around the USA brushed aside these challenges, holding that driving is not a RIGHT, but a  PRIVILEGE.  Therefore, the state that issues a license can determine the rules whereby the license can be snatched away from drivers in that state.  The courts found an important and logical reason for wanting to remove a drunk driver’s license and shrugged off a multitude of challenges, such as violation of due process, double jeopardy, equal protection and other similar challenges.

When an attorney undertakes to represent a person accused of drunk driving, the administrative hearing can be a very important step in the overall effort to ‘win’ your case.  The statutes that set up these ‘license snatch’ laws also have VERY SHORT time periods in which to file an APPEAL or a MOTION TO RESCIND the existing administrative license suspension/revocation.  The time periods run from as short as 5 days to as long as 30 days after the arrest.  Typically, once this ‘appeal period’ has expired, you cannot get a hearing at all.  Your license suspension/revocation must run its course, and you may be burdened with many time-consuming and costly steps to re-establish driving privileges.  Your best advice:  contact a lawyer who practices in this field immediately, if arrested for DUI/DWI.

Be aware that the burden of proof for these administrative license hearings is a CIVIL burden of proof.  This is a far easier standard for the state than ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ in a criminal trial.  Hence, the officer is at a distinct advantage in trying to keep your license revoked/suspended.  Don’t fault your attorney if the required proof is extremely easy to establish, since many states have passed laws to make it this way.  However, these hearings can often expose weaknesses in the officer’s criminal case, which will be heard later.  Your lawyer may use transcripts from these sworn ALR/ALS hearings to impeach or contradict the officer’s testimony at a later hearing or trial.  Certainly, keeping a DUI/DWI conviction off your driving history may be the ultimate goal for you.

Each state also determines if and when ANY type of limited (work) permit can be obtained for a driver suspended or revoked for an ALS or ALR license snatching.  Some states are more favorable to drivers who take the state blood, breath or urine tests and score over the legal limit, than for those who refuse all testing.  Others have shorter license suspension/revocation periods for refusal than if you are convicted at the criminal DUI/DWI trial.  The rules may also change for REPEAT offenders, who are routinely denied all driving privileges if a second or subsequent arrest and illegal BAC test are obtained.  You should consult with a knowledgeable attorney who specializes in this type of practice, to be able to determine what you should do if ever confronted by an officer who suspects that you are a drunk or drugged driver.  Several states have now approved FORCIBLE taking of blood or urine, so refusals no longer exist in a handful of states.  In these states, only ALS or ALR penalties are at issue, not ‘refusal’, suspensions or revocations.