DMV's Role in DUI
Laws in most states dictate that the drivers license of a DUI arrestee may be automatically revoked or suspended. Operating on the theory that driving is a privilege, not a right, allows government agencies to impede due process requirements and exercise limitations upon this privilege by revoking or suspending either the license to drive or the privilege to drive.
Actual possession of a valid drivers license at the DUI arrestee’s time of suspension may not protect them from suspension of driving privileges. However, as a result of the judicial nature of our legal system, due process requires a hearing to determine whether sufficient cause exists to revoke or suspend a license to drive.
A trial judge’s authority to prohibit driving privileges stands independent of the DMV’s power to grant, revoke or suspend licenses. Technically, while a trial judge is authorized to prohibit a person convicted of a DUI offense from driving, the court is not authorized to revoke the defendant's license. That is solely the DMV’s power.
In describing DUI penalties, some state statutes blur the distinction for an implied consent violation. They appear to grant authority to the trial judge to suspend licenses, when in fact the court does not have that power. Courts can only prohibit driving and may not actually suspend a license. Regardless of this distinction, once the court orders the defendant not to drive, the defendant is subject to being held in contempt of court if he drives without an approved restricted license.
Due to the confusion created over this issue, it is unclear whether a law enforcement officer may legally seize the license of a DUI offender as the result of a rules-of-the-road violation. Most states have statutes stating that the DMV is authorized to suspend the license of an operator or chauffeur upon sufficient evidence that the licensee has committed an offense for which mandatory revocation of license is required upon conviction. While this may be the case, no municipal law enforcement officer is authorized to seize the license of an operator or chauffeur for a traffic offense in violation of a municipal ordinance or a rules-of-the-road violation.
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