There are few people in the State of Utah who are unfamiliar with the Utah Driver License Division. Entrusted with managing one of the most fundamental aspects of daily life in the modern world – the operation of motor vehicles – the DLD remains an essential and powerful agency in the state. Perhaps more often than one might expect, this agency comes into direct contact with all Utah drivers: the entitlement – or privilege to, as the agency so often asserts – the propensity to operate a vehicle throughout the state.
In fact, one of the most conspicuous measures the DLD employs in monitoring this “privilege” of driving in Utah is the handling of cases of driving under the influence, be it alcohol or otherwise. To be blunt, the DLD has almost unmitigated authority to deprive any individual of the legal authority to operate a motor vehicle, and those individuals charged – and even simply suspected – of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, are at risk of losing access to their license and their privilege of driving. So what is to be expected from the DLD, if one is so charged?
1) Imminent License Suspension
As a rule, the Utah Driver License Division will enact an impending suspension of a driver license; that is, they will – in concert with law enforcement agencies – impart a 30 day, temporary license permit, accommodating the legal limitations for determining the legality of a DUI stop by police officers. Upon the 30 day marker, a driver license will be suspended for a period of time (determined by the crime, offense rate, willingness to submit to tests, etc.), after which the accused driver will not be able to legally operate a motor vehicle, in Utah or otherwise. While appeals against this suspension are possible, there are numerous obstacles anyone accused of a DUI might come up against, and moreover, there are numerous bureaucratic obstacles which may prove unassailable – specifically deadlines, as discussed below.
2) The “Administrative Hearing”
In Utah, individuals accused of a DUI are permitted by law what is referred to by the bureaucracy as an “Administrative Hearing,” intended to determine whether or not an accused’s license should be suspended. This hearing – regularly arbitrated by individuals with no more education in the law than the accused – often revolves around two factors. First, whether or not the police officer is present at the hearing (the absence of an officer is usually a de facto win for the accused, barring the second factor); and second, whether or not the accused acquiesced to or declined a chemical blood test, via either a certified breathalyzer or a blood sampling.
In the latter case, the DLD can suspend the driver license of the accused: Utah law permits the agency to deprive an accused of their driver license if they refuse the chemical test – be it by breathalyzer or blood – almost by default (though constitutional concerns may on occasion avert this suspension). However, this test is not to be confused with the regularly operated, in the field breathalyzers. While certified breathalyzers can appear in the field which might qualify, breathalyzers used as a part of a the typical DUI field sobriety test are insufficient to meet the legal requirements of an immediate suspension and are often only part of the regular indicator routine. Before an individual can be subjected to the more thorough, damning chemical test, they are required by law to be informed of the immediate suspension factor; this should be kept in mind whenever asked to take such a test.
Presuming that an accused does not refuse the chemical test and has the good fortune of an officer failing to appear at the administrative hearing, their odds of maintaining their “privilege” of a driver license improves immensely. In such circumstances, administrative hearings often result in a simple refutation of the temporary suspension and a reinstatement of one’s license, along with a reimbursement of any extant vehicle impound fees. Conversely, if the hearing is not requested within the legally allotted time (generally within 10 days of the incident), the suspension of a driver license can be generally expected to go through, though appeals and court decisions can occasionally have some deciding impact, down the road.
3) The Court Case
In Utah, the in-court criminal case can have more of an effect on a DLD ruling than one might think. At best, the outcome of the case can result in the reinstatement of a suspended license in a DUI case; at worst, it can result in a suspension of the license by the DLD, depending on the conviction. The details are intricate, and it is important to have a criminal defense attorney review the case for this very reason. Success in any case of a DUI cannot ever be guaranteed, but because a driver license suspension can have such a dramatic impact on an accused’s livelihood, no expenses should be spared.
In the end, one can usually expect the predictable response from the DLD in the case of a DUI stop: the right to a driver license will be suspended, sometimes for a very much protracted period of time. However, with a skilled criminal defense attorney – along with a bit of luck – it is possible to not only retain one’s driver license, but even to regain it if it has already been suspended, assuming your attorney is skilled enough. Given the potential consequences of losing a driver license, it is always worth the effort to defend oneself and look for any possible means and defenses to keep it.
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