DMV Hearing vs Court: Two Major DUI Hurdles

There are two major hurdles you have to face as a consequence of your DUI arrest in Los Angeles County:

  1. DMV Hearing:

    You must request, then attend, a DMV Hearing. A Stay and a Hearing buy you more time to drive and a chance at avoiding a license suspension.

  2. Court Hearing:

    You must go to court to face criminal charges for DUI or drunk driving.

 These are two separate events, in separate institutions, with separate and independent powers to suspend your license!

The terrible thing about a DUI is that the court and DMV have separate and independent powers over your driver’s license. This can be very confusing; so be aware of this fact in determining what can happen to your license.

DMV Hearing vs Court

How is the DMV Hearing different from your Court Hearing for DUI? 

The DMV Hearing:-

  • The DMV hearing is an administrative proceeding regarding your driving privilege and the circumstances surrounding your arrest.
  • The DMV hearing is optional
  • It is held at a DMV office
  • The DMV hearing is independent of the Court hearing

Your Court Hearing:-

  • The court hearing deals with whether you are innocent or guilty of a criminal act.
  • The court hearing is mandatory.
  • At your court hearing you appear in front of a judge.

Learn more from the DMV website about DMV Administrative Hearings vs Criminal Court Trials.

Hurdle #1 – the DMV

Try to save your license with a DMV Hearing

Get a Stay and a Hearing

request dmv hearing dui

Request a DMV Hearing within 10 days of your DUI arrest to obtain a Stay and a Hearing – otherwise your license is subject to automatic suspension 30 days after your DUI arrest date.

How to Win a DMV Hearing

win a dmv hearing

In order to win your DMV Hearing, and have the DMV not take any action against your license, you must prevail on one of three legal issues. Unfortunately your need to drive for work is not considered. 

Who attends your DMV Hearing

Your DMV Hearing is an administrative hearing with the DMV, not a court hearing. Your case is assigned to a DMV Hearing Officer.  You can go by yourself or optionally with your attorney.  A Public Defender is not available for DMV Hearings. Normally the arresting police officer will not come to the DMV hearing unless you or the DMV subpoena him.

Your Police Report

The DMV Hearing Officer will presume you are guilty and will usually rely exclusively on your police report at the hearing.  If you requested a copy of your police report when you asked for a DMV Hearing, you should receive the report about 10 days before the Hearing.

Your DMV Hearing is usually 1-3 months after your arrest.

Useful Links (


Hurdle #2 – Your Court Case

Plea Bargain vs Jury Trial


You can choose to plead guilty and accept a Plea Bargain from the Prosecutor or plead innocent and go to trial with a jury. Both choices have advantages and disadvantages.

DUI Courts in LA County

la courts

Learn who will prosecute your case and how the ‘personality’ of the each courthouse in Los Angeles County can affect your DUI case. Some courts are tougher than others.

What to expect at your first appearance in court

Your first appearance in court is called an arraignment where you are brought before a criminal court judge.   The address of the court and your court appearance date are listed on your ticket.

Who can help

If you have an attorney, he or she may be able to appear in court on your behalf.  Some courts will let you speak with a public defender for assistance at arraignment.

Your options

At your arraignment (your first appearance in court), you have four options:

  1. You can request a Public Defender to represent you. If you do this the judge may ask you about your financial situation.
  2. You can ask for an extension of time, called a  Continuance of the arraignment. People often do this for additional time to hire an attorney or investigate their options.
  3. You may enter a “Not Guilty” Plea.  This means that you will take your case to trial and select a jury to decide your guilt or innocence. The court will give you a future date, called a pre-trial.
  4. Or you may resolve the case with a Plea of “Guilty” or “No Contest”. The prosecutor may give you a favourable plea bargain early in the process to clear his or her caseload.

See how to choose between plea bargain or jury trial.

Your charges

At your arraignment, you should be given a criminal complaint which lists the charges against you. A typical first time DUI will have a complaint that lists two charges:-

  1. Vehicle Code 23152(a) The first charge is driving while impaired. The Prosecutor will have to prove that you drove while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and will rely primarily on the arresting police officer’s observations, as well as any other witnesses.
  2. Vehicle Code 23152(b) The second charge is driving with an alcohol level of .08% or higher. This charge is usually based primarily on the results of the chemical tests – your breath or blood tests taken at the police station after your arrest.

Your Police Report

You should receive a copy of your police report at your arraignment if you did not already get it from the DMV.  Review this carefully for any inaccuracies or exaggerations.

Read more about what happens at your Arraignment and how you should plead (guilty or not guilty).

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