Every driver in California needs to understand what can happen to your driver’s license if you are charged with driving under the influence in this state. If you’re charged with DUI in California, there are two separate ways that your driver’s license can be suspended: by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or by the courts.

If you’re charged with DUI in Southern California, contact an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer at once. Your attorney will work to defend your license from suspension or revocation by either the DMV or the court.

Drivers in California should know that a criminal conviction for driving under the influence – even for a first offense – includes an automatic six-month driver’s license suspension, along with other penalties.

However, after a DUI arrest, your criminal DUI case actually is not your most immediate concern. Your immediate concern is the California DMV, which can suspend your driver’s license in an “administrative” procedure entirely apart from your criminal DUI case.

HOW DOES THE DMV SUSPEND SOMEONE’S DRIVER’S LICENSE?

You have only ten days from a DUI arrest to request an administrative hearing with the California DMV. To have any chance of retaining your driver’s license, you must have your attorney make that request and represent you at that hearing.

After a DUI arrest in California, unless you request an administrative hearing within ten days, the DMV will automatically suspend your driver’s license for four months. If you prevail at the administrative hearing, no driver’s license suspension will be imposed by the DMV.

Most DUI attorneys in Southern California will request the DMV hearing on your behalf and represent you there. With only ten days to act, you must contact your lawyer as swiftly as possible after a DUI arrest.

Entirely apart from your DUI charge and the criminal court procedure which that charge triggers, the DMV independently determines if you were driving while intoxicated – that is, driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at 0.08 percent or above – or if you declined to be tested for DUI after being formally arrested.

If the Department of Motor Vehicles receives no request from you or from your attorney for a hearing, the Department moves forward with the automatic suspension of your driver’s license. However, if you were charged with driving under the influence but you were not tested, or if your BAC level measured below 0.08 percent, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not suspend your driver’s license administratively. But when a DUI suspect has refused to be tested, the DMV will usually suspend that individual’s driver’s license for one year.

WHAT IS THE PENALTY FOR A DUI CONVICTION?

For a first-offense, misdemeanor DUI conviction in California, you can be fined up to $1,000, with up to $2,600 in additional “penalty assessments.” You could be sentenced to serve up to six months in jail and three to five years on probation. Upon conviction, you’ll also be ordered to pay for and attend DUI classes, and your driver’s license will be suspended for six months.

However, if the DUI charge is reduced to wet reckless – or changed to any offense other than DUI – your driver’s license will not be suspended by the court. If your DUI case goes to trial and results in a hung jury, a mistrial, or an acquittal, your driver’s license will not be suspended.

After a driving under the influence arrest, it’s important to understand that the DMV hearing and the criminal trial are entirely independent of one another. The Department of Motor Vehicles is only concerned with your driving privilege and your BAC level at the time of your arrest. A criminal court determines whether or not you are guilty of committing a crime, and if so, it determines the penalties for that crime.

It’s also important to understand that winning (or for that matter, losing) your hearing before the Department of Motor Vehicles will have no impact whatsoever on your criminal DUI case, and that having a driving under the influence charge reduced to wet reckless by the criminal court will have no impact on the DMV administrative process or the suspension of your driver’s license by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Sometimes, however, when a driver is acquitted of driving under the influence or the charge is dismissed by the criminal court, a driver’s license suspension by the DMV can be reversed if the driver was specifically acquitted on the charge of driving with a BAC level at 0.08 or higher.

If you fail to keep your driver’s license at your initial DMV hearing but the criminal court dismisses the DUI charge against you or finds you not guilty, or if the prosecutor never actually filed or followed through with the charge against you, you have a right to a second DMV hearing within one year of the initial hearing.

CAN YOU GET A RESTRICTED LICENSE AFTER A LICENSE SUSPENSION?

For most California drivers whose licenses are suspended, a restricted license is available solely for the purposes of travel to and from work, school, and court-ordered obligations. If your driver’s license is suspended by the court as part of your criminal sentence for a DUI conviction, you may apply for a restricted driver’s license immediately.

If your driver’s license is administratively suspended by the DMV, you must wait thirty days from the first day of the suspension period before you may apply for a restricted license. However, if you refused to be tested, no restricted license will be available to you during the one-year suspension period.

When the suspension period concludes, in order to have your driver’s license reinstated, you must submit an SR-22 insurance form to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This entails contacting your auto insurance company and informing the company about your license suspension. An SR-22 form proves that you have liability coverage and restores your license after the suspension.

If you are arrested for driving under the influence in southern California, it is imperative to contact an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer immediately. If your attorney can “get ahead of the case,” request a DMV hearing, and negotiate for a dismissal or reduction of the charge, it’s possible that you can avoid a driver’s license suspension and a DUI conviction.

Of course, there’s an even better way to avoid those consequences, and that’s by adhering to the same basic advice you’ve heard before. Don’t Drink and Drive. It really is the best strategy.