Facing a charge for driving under the influence (DUI) in California is stressful. However, it can also be confusing, as well. Many people who are facing DUI charges find there are more hearings than they had expected, while those who are familiar with the criminal justice system – maybe from watching episodes of Law & Order – find that a DUI case does not seem to go through the same progression from arrest to trial.
The source of the confusion is that DUI cases involve two different parts of the government, each of which is trying to take something away from you after your arrest for DUI. Worse, they both work at the same time. Understanding how this happens can reduce the stress and uncertainty that you face while defending against an allegation of DUI.
The Administrative Process
The first part of the DUI process is the administrative one, not the criminal one. In this part of the ordeal, it is you versus the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV drags you through an administrative process to review your case and potentially take away your driving privileges by suspending your drivers' license or putting other limitations or requirements on your right to drive.
To do this, though, the DMV does not need to go through California's court system. Instead, it can deal directly with you at a DMV hearing, without a neutral referee like a judge, because it gave you your drivers' license and what the DMV gives, the DMV can take away. This is why this administrative process does not involve a courtroom and is far less formal than you might expect. However, it is also why the only thing at stake during the DMV hearing is your driving right – not whether you were guilty or innocent of DUI.
The Criminal Process
The other part of the DUI process is the criminal one. This one pits you against the State of California, whose prosecutors drag you through the legal system to convict you for the crime of DUI. This part of the DUI process is more similar to courtroom dramas on TV: The arrest is made, charges are filed, lawyers gather evidence, plea deals are offered and, if no deal is made, there is a trial that ends with a verdict.
Sacramento DUI-Defense Attorney John Campanella
The confusing part about this two-part process is that they both happen at the same time, and are somewhat interrelated. The administrative portion is quicker and frequently wraps up within a month's time. The criminal process, however, can take up to a year or more. The evidence presented at the DMV hearing and at trial, however, is very similar. Because of the different rules of evidence in the hearing and in court they are not precisely the same, but they are similar enough that the outcome at the DMV hearing can be indicative of how the criminal process will turn out.