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Out-of-State Drivers and California DUI Arrests

A DUI in California can have serious consequences

If you are arrested in California for driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or greater, the arresting officer will do one of two things, depending on where you live:

  1. If you are a California resident, the officer will confiscate your California driver's license and replace it with a temporary one. The temporary license will expire in 30 days--which is when your license suspension goes into effect.
  2. If you are an out-of-state driver, the officer will give you notice that your privilege to drive in California will be suspended in 30 days.

After the officer either seizes your license or notifies you that your privilege will be suspended, the California DMV is immediately notified. You have 10 days from the date of your arrest to challenge that suspension.

Challenging a California DMV Suspension

In order challenge a California DMV suspension, you or your DUI defense attorney must request a DMV Administrative Hearing.  This right is available to you regardless of where you reside because both out-of-state drivers and California residents who are arrested for a California DUI are handled in the same manner.

Once a hearing is requested, the license (or driving privilege) suspension gets postponed pending the outcome of the hearing--which may not occur until months later.

If you do not request a California DMV hearing within the first 10 days following your DUI arrest, you forfeit the right to do so. In that event, the suspension goes into effect 30 days after your arrest.

California DMV Hearings

If you do request a California DMV hearing within 10 days of your arrest, this postpones your suspension. Your suspension will not go into effect unless and until you do not prevail at this hearing. Your presence at the hearing isn't necessary; your attorney can appear on your behalf, and the hearing can even take place telephonically.

In order to suspend your California driving privilege, the arresting officer needs to prove three facts:

  1. He/she reasonably believed that you were DUI;
  2. You were lawfully arrested; and
  3. Your BAC was at or above 0.08% at the time of driving.

Even though the hearing is less formal than a criminal court proceeding, you still have the right to be represented by an attorney. A skilled California DUI defense attorney knows the most effective way to present your case and often times can prevail at the hearing and avoid the license suspension.

In the event you lose this hearing, your privilege to drive in California will be suspended. The length of the suspension varies depending on how many other DUI convictions you have suffered. Typically, a first-offense California DUI carries a four-month suspension--which can be converted to a restricted license after the first 30 days.  The restricted license allows you to drive to and from work and to and from a DUI education program.

The Interstate Drives License Compact

The fact that your driving privilege in California has been suspended will most likely affect your driver's license in your home state. This is because all but five states (Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, and Wisconsin) belong to the Interstate Drivers License Compact.

The Compact basically creates a structure so that every driver in the country has a single drivers license and a single driving record. States that belong to the Compact report driving arrests (including DUIs) to each other. As a result, your home state will likely take its own action against your driver's license if you suffer a California DUI arrest.

The type and severity of the action will depend on the state in which you live.

  • Some states will take action if the California DMV suspends your license.
  • Other states will only take action if you suffer a criminal conviction.
  • In some states, you will face DMV penalties at home as if you had been convicted of DUI there.
  • In others, you may only be penalized if your home state has the same or similar DUI statutes as California.

California Courts and the Out-of-State DUI Driver

Regardless of whether you win or lose your California DMV Hearing, or even if you don't request a hearing, you will still be involved in a DUI criminal court proceeding. The California superior court takes action that is separate and apart from the DMV.

Unlike a California DMV hearing, these proceedings cannot take place over the phone. However, depending on the circumstances, your California DUI defense attorney may be able to appear on your behalf.

If you are charged with misdemeanor California DUI and choose to have a California DUI lawyer represent you, you can waive your right to be present while he/she:

  1. Obtains evidence,
  2. Negotiates with the prosecuting agency, and
  3. Appears in court on your behalf.

If you choose to take your case to trial, it will be up to the judge to determine whether you must be present.  However, as a matter of strategy, it is recommended that you appear for your trial. A jury is much more likely to convict you if they have not met or seen you.

If you are successful in having your charges reduced or dismissed, your home state might not take any action. But if you are convicted of a California DUI, you will be sentenced here. Your privilege to drive in California will be suspended. And your home state will likely impose the same restrictions on your driver's license once you return home.

If your home state takes action against your driver's license, that action cannot be remedied until you fulfill your California DUI obligations. This means that you must complete all of your probation requirements that were imposed by the court, such as paying fines and completing a California DUI education program.

Once those duties have been carried out and the period of your suspension has lapsed, you (or your California DUI lawyer) must contact the court and DMV to reinstate your California driving privilege. At that point, your home state would also likely lift any restrictions on your driver's license.

It should be noted that if you choose to drive in California while your privilege is suspended, you will face additional criminal charges for Driving on a Suspended License under Vehicle Code section 14601/14602. In California, these violations are priorable, which means that your fines and jail time will automatically increase with each conviction. These convictions will also be reported to your home state under the DLC.

The Driver License Agreement (DLA)

The Compact is being replaced by the Drivers License Agreement.  Once in effect, the Agreement will impose even tougher regulations on its member-states, which, in turn, means even tougher regulations for you as an out-of-state offender.

The biggest difference is that the Agreement will eliminate state-wide differences between offenses. Under the Compact, a state does not have to enforce an out-of-state license suspension/conviction if that state does not have a similar statute.  Under the Agreement, it would.

The bottom line is this -- being arrested for DUI in any state can have a significant impact on your driver's license in your home state. Because of the Compact, and its future successor, the Agreement, it is vital that an out-of-state resident be proactive and aggressively fight a California DUI just like they would as a California resident.

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