When a person is arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Florida, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles automatically and immediately suspends that person’s driver’s license. The officer will issue the driver a Temporary Driving Permit, which is only valid for 10 days from the date of the arrest. Thereafter, the person’s license will be suspended, unless granted an extension on the temporary permit for the purposes of attending a Formal Review Hearing or unless the suspension is overturned during a Formal Review Hearing (which is discussed more in depth below.) This “DMV License Suspension” is a civil suspension and is separate from a criminal charge, which may also include its own suspension.
For a first DUI, the DMV license suspension will be 6 months. For a second or subsequent DUI, the DMV suspension will be 1 year. Additionally, a first refusal to submit to a Breath Test (see Breathalyzers) will lead to a 1 year DMV issued license suspension, and a second or subsequent refusal will lead to an 18 month DMV issued license suspension.
Florida Statutes 322.2615 and 322.64 provide the opportunity for a person to challenge a DMV’s license suspension by way of a “formal review hearing” (FRH). The purpose of a Formal Review Hearing is for a hearing officer, who works for the DMV, to make a determination as to whether the person’s civil license suspension should be sustained, amended or invalidated based upon the evidence presented. A person must request a FRH within 10 days of being arrested, or lose the opportunity for the hearing. If a review hearing is requested, the DMV must schedule the hearing within 30 days of the request.
Interestingly, the decisions made during the Formal Review Hearing are not admissible as evidence in court on the criminal DUI action. And, the outcome of the Formal Review Hearing has no bearing on the outcome of the criminal suspension. In other words, a hearing officer during a Formal Review Hearing could invalidate a license suspension and a person could have a valid license while fighting his or her DUI charge in criminal court. If at the end of the criminal case, the judge or jury find the defendant guilty, or if the defendant pleads guilty, the defendant’s driver’s license will be suspended in the criminal case. For a description of the criminal penalties associated with DUI on a first arrest, see DUI Penalties.
During the Formal Review Hearing, the hearing officer will determine 1) Whether the police officer had probable cause to believe that the driver was driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle in this state while under the influence of alcoholic beverages or chemical or controlled substances and 2) Whether the driver had an unlawful blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level of .08 or higher. The hearing officer will determine this by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that if the hearing officer finds it is more likely than not that the driver was under the influence or had a BAC of .08 or higher, the driver’s license suspension will stay in effect.
The police officer will typically testify during the hearing, and the police report will usually be introduced into evidence. All of which the driver is entitled to see. Formal Review Hearings give the driver an opportunity to not only fight the civil license suspension, but also to obtain testimony from the police officers involved in the arrest.
Many times Formal Review Hearings result in the license suspension being sustained. Even in those cases, people often find that they learned valuable information from the police officer’s testimony that they may not have been able to obtain during the criminal case (until the day of trial). That is especially true in Palm Beach County, where depositions of police officers in misdemeanor cases (which DUIs typically are charged as) are not usually permitted.
Anyone who has been arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Palm Beach County should contact a Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer to discuss their options and decide if a formal review hearing should be requested, as time is of the essence.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.