Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Administrative Suspension Hearings

When you're first charged with an OUI, a lot of questions will be running through your mind? What will I tell my family? Am I going to lose my job? Will the State take my license? Am I going to jail? Should I hire a lawyer? These questions and many more can be answered with a phone call to our Office.

The biggest question for most of my clients is: "am I going to lose my license?" Well, that depends on a lot of different factors. First of all, your license will be suspended administratively by the Secretary of State. You have a right to a hearing only if you request it within ten (10) days of the date of suspension. If you make a timely request and it is a first offense OUI w/a breath test, your suspension will be stayed until a hearings officer makes a determination following a full and fair hearing on the following issues:

1. Whether or not there was probable cause to believe that you were operating a motor vehicle with an excessive blood-alcohol level;

2. You in fact operated a motor vehicle with an excessive blood-alcohol level.

If this is a case of a suspension for failing to submit to a chemical test, your license will be suspended immediately, irregardless of whether or not you request a hearing. The suspension will only be lifted in the event that your attorney prevails on one of the following issues at hearing:

1. There was probable cause to believe that you were operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants;

2. You were informed of the consequences of failing to submit to a test;

3. You failed to submit to a test.

Unfortunately, on most cases your license will be suspended. The evidentiary standard is so low (proof by a preponderance of the evidence) that the Administrative Hearings Officer will invariably suspend the license if the Officer can competently and credibly make the faintest of showing of compliance on the aforementioned issues.

So why you ask, should you hire an attorney if the suspension is a forgone conclusion? Because while the deck is stacked against you, a skilled and knowledgeable OUI defense attorney can tip the evidence in your favor. Furthermore, even if your license is suspended (and in many cases you can obtain a work or school restricted permit within a few days after the suspension), your attorney can glean valuable information about your case that isn't contained within the police report. IE, all of the exculpatory information that's missing.  Since the officer is testifying under oath, you can obtain a recording of the hearing, have it transcribed and use it to cross-examine the police officer with at a later criminal proceeding.

Recently, I had a hearing on an administrative suspension for an OUI Refusal. I successfully argued to the hearings examiner that there was no probable cause to believe my client was operating a motor vehicle under the influence. The hearings officer informed me that statistically speaking, only about 1 in 500 OUI Refusal Administrative hearings are actually won on the merits. This ended up being one of those highly unusual circumstances where the facts of the case were favorable. Of course it helps that I'm knowledgeable about the relevant and controlling case law on that issue and was able to distinguish those facts from the ones in my client's case.

If you're still wondering why you should hire an attorney, re-read this post. While I can't guarantee that I will prevail during an administrative hearing, I will guarantee that I will show up prepared to cross-examine the police officer, argue the relevant case law and if nothing else, walk away from that hearing with a lot of new and helpful information that you were unaware of before hiring me. If you or a loved one has been accused of OUI in the State of Maine, please call our Office and ask to speak with me about your case.

William T. Bly, Esq.
Maine OUI Lawyer