What’s it like to handle a DMV Hearing

Sitting, waiting for an 8:30 a.m. DMV Hearing, at an all-but-empty Huntersville Department of Conditional RestorationTransportation license and tag office, is a bit unusual.

It’s part of what I do as a defense attorney; but, that doesn’t make it any less surreal or interesting.

The early morning hours, sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., are mostly calm before the storm at NCDMV.

Within an hour the well-designed study in ergonomics will turn into a place of confusion and occasionally angst, at least for some licensees and Carolinians seeking titles, plates, and vehicle registration who are not familiar with the NC traffic laws.

Waiting for a restoration hearing, I don’t have to stand in the queue.

We are assigned, ordinarily a month or more in advance, an appointed time for hearings.  Those are normally handled exactly on time with little room for variations or tardiness.

Hearing Officers are generally sticklers for detail, precision, and timeliness.

I’m almost always early, if not really early with plenty of time to spare.  With Charlotte traffic, one can never count on how long it may take to get to Huntersville on either I-485 inner and/or I-77 north.

That’s true for DMV hearings that take place in Iredell County, Rowan County, Gaston County, and Union.  Very little changes in that the same Hearing Officer, like many defense lawyers, travel to the different jurisdictions handling various matters for clients with DMV issues.

The officers may vary between jurisdictions, although some NC Highway Patrol Officers arrest people in multiple jurisdictions.  The Hearing Officer, defense lawyers, and law enforcement officers tend to see each other on a regular basis.

And because of that, I am given the unique opportunity, if not gift, to sit and watch people.

I find myself in a waiting area with a good vantage point of the humanity, within earshot of commentary, that passes through large glass doors at the entrance.

It doesn’t much matter in what DOT/DMV office I sit, there are some central, common narratives.

Waiting in the parking lot can also be entertaining, but I’ll leave that for another post entitled, “How to get yourself arrested at the DMV Office” or something like that.

Who gets a license?

DMV hearings are heard in a private office or formal hearing room.  They are not part of the normal licensure or tag issues associated with DMV.

They are serious affairs held in private and under oath or affirmation.  They are recorded.  A transcript can be reduced to writing, if legally necessary or appropriate.

They are formal, often somber events.  DMV hearings and conditional restoration hearings have consequences both good and bad.

Continued revocation or suspension of a driver license affects clients in very real ways.

It can keep people from working, providing for their family, or even helping loved ones in need of medical care.

Many of the clients I represent have lost their license for a very good reason.  They’ve had multiple DWI convictions and maybe even a failed license restoration hearing in the past – Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Attorney 

They also can be heartbreaking.

We see the very real, difficult consequences of repeated convictions of DWI in North Carolina.

At that point in a client’s life, there is not much artifice or blame-shifting for abusive consumption of alcohol and drugs.

Few clients fault the system for their problems.  Many try to warn others of the dangers of drinking and driving.

They accept the consequences of their actions, hoping to someday be restored to normalcy and a normal life just working, taking care of family, and being able to do so with a valid NCDL all without fear of once again getting arrested for DWLR Impaired Revocation.

No one likes “drunk driving.”

Few people excuse more than one conviction.  Multiple charges and convictions draw little sympathy in the general public.

As it relates to DMV, there is a balancing process that takes place.

The Hearing Officer must consider the danger to the community of reinstatement relative to the chances of a past, repeat offender making good on a promise to never drink and drive again.

Continued consumption of alcohol, in any amount for any reason, can be enough to prevent or otherwise preclude a conditional restoration.

Even when a license is “conditionally restored,” those “conditions for restoration” tend to be long-lasting, substantial, and more than a bit complicated if not onerous.

DMV hearings consider continued, illegal operation of motor vehicles, the hardship, and necessity of restoration, employment, household, and living circumstances, the burden of revocation or suspension, and the likelihood of recidivism.

It can be a complicated, time-consuming process to obtain a license after multiple convictions of DWI.

In some instances, especially in those where the licensee continues to drink and/or drive during a period of suspension, it never happens.

As much as we want to help, there are just some clients who just can’t seem to quit drinking.  Even after some really serious consequences to their lives, they continue to drive despite a revocation or suspension.  That makes success at a DMV hearing difficult if not impossible – Bill Powers 

Jury Duty and Going to DMV

As a defense lawyer in Charlotte, it truly bothers me to hear people openly complain about what is perceived as the “two of the biggest hassles in life,” those being:

  1. Jury duty; and,
  2. Doing about anything at DMV

Both negative reputations are not deserved and expose a fundamental ignorance of how things work in a society bound by the Rule of Law.

People seem to loathe juries, or at least serving as a juror, that is until they face the full force, effect, and power of the State associated with criminal charges.

Then and there the importance of a truly independent, fair jury becomes tantamount to most people.

The rights of the United States Constitution, under the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments, must be afforded at all cost, or so I am reminded by an occasional client who has forgotten they’re preaching to lawyers who have dedicated their careers to advocating for justice.

It’s more than a bit disheartening to see the look on a client’s face when they realize many jurors during voir dire (jury selection) joke about jury service being a burden or hassle.

No one plans on getting arrested for DWI charges.

No one ever dreams they someday may need to rely on those Constitutional rights, privileges, and duties when it comes to their own lives and livelihoods.

With rare exeception would I want almost any of my clients as a juror.  It’s amazing how perspectives change depending upon what chair you’re seated at in the courtroom – Bill Powers, Criminal Attorney 

Complaints about “dealing with DMV”

It’s also pretty common for people to complain about DMV.

That too is unfortunate, because the people wearing the light blue shirts and dark blue trousers at NCDMV are trained professionals who work hard, try to be nice, and frankly deal with a fair number of truly unreasonable members of the general public on a daily basis.

If we all showed up to DMV prepared, with the proper documentation, rather than rolling in with nothing more than a nice smile and creative story, no one would need to stand in line very long.

While it does take some time to fill out paperwork, review documents, and take a picture or two, the vast majority of time wasted standing in line at DMV is due to explaining and re-explaining the NC traffic laws to people who either don’t want to listen to or accept what they’re being told.

But I digress.

DWI license hearings and conditional restoration

One reason defense lawyers have time to watch people before conditional restoration hearings is because, almost without exception, there is very little left to talk about right before the hearing.

Prior to the date even being set for DWI license hearings, a substantial amount of work must be done.

Scheduling a hearing will not even take place until several condition precedents are met, including paying administrative fees to DMV, pulling driving histories, and submitting to formal criminal background check.

Even with that, the hearings are not formulaic.

NCDMV hearing officers possess a tremendous amount of discretion and power in making rulings whether to lift an administrative suspension (revocation) or keep the same in place.

In instances where a convincing case has been made to restore or reinstate an NC driver license, that license restoration is almost always “conditional.”

That’s especially true for license restorations after DWI charges or, as it applies to a DMV conditional restoration, multiple convictions for DWI and impaired driving.

Providing the requisite documentation and materials prior to an DMV DWI restoration is a first step.  Live testimony from three witness, in addition to the licensee, is also required – Bill Powers, Defense Attorney 

One would be remiss in assuming once the materials are submitted, even with no history of additional moving violations, criminal charges, or even minor tickets, DMV is always going to conditionally restore the license.

As defense counsel, we are careful to explain, if not predict, the legal issues concerning the case.  Knowing what to expect, anticipating questions and areas of inquiry by the Hearing Officer, is very much a part of our job as lawyers.

While there is a wide range of questions to consider, the primary points of inquiry for a DWI DMV Hearing involve:

  1. Continued consumption of alcohol
  2. Taking illegal drugs or medications not lawfully prescribed
  3. Operation of any motor vehicle during the period of revocation or suspension

Related Legal Issues

  1. Conditional Restoration Agreement
  2. DMV Restoration Hearing
  3. Conditional Restoration of Driving Privileges
  4. What happens at DMV Restoration Hearings
  5. Driver License Hearing Request Form 





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