After you get arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in the state of California, two different legal proceedings begin. The one most people are familiar with takes place in the California courts system, and leads to criminal charges, jail time, fines, ignition interlocks, and more.
However, the court system is not in charge of suspending your driver's license. Instead, a separate hearing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles will determine whether you are allowed to keep driving after your arrest.
After you are arrested for DUI, the arresting officer will forward a copy of a license suspension form, as well as your driver's license, to the DMV. You will have ten days from the time of your arrest to request an administrative hearing from the DMV.
You are not required to schedule a hearing, but if you do not, your license will automatically be suspended 30 days after your initial arrest. If your license is suspended with or without a hearing, you will need to pay reinstatement fees, enroll in DUI School, and obtain special insurance documentation.
DMV hearings aren't quite like courtroom trials. They are noticeably less formal, and presided over by a hearing officer instead of a judge. While you are not allowed to have a public defender provided for you at no cost for these hearings, you are allowed to bring a lawyer at your own expense—and you should!
That's because your attorney may be able to help you actually keep your license. If your lawyer can show at the administrative hearing that the arresting officer did not have probable cause to make a stop or in some other way violated the law during your arrest, you may be able to keep your license. Additionally, because of the way these hearings are conducted, with different evidentiary rules, some of the evidence against could get tossed out of the proceeding.
Experienced DUI attorneys know how to fight at DMV hearings. In some cases, the checkpoint that stopped you might not have met legal standards, or you may have been given an improper breath test or bad information by an arresting officer.
Remember that as soon as you are arrested for DUI, the clock starts ticking on your time to request a DMV hearing. Don't wait or hesitate—call a DUI attorney as soon as possible to have the best chance of keeping your license after a DUI arrest in California.