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Our Defense at a DMV Financial Responsibility Hearing

Why does the DMV suspend a driver license for Financial Responsibility?  Since the earliest days of the automobile there have been accidents. The inevitable truth of operating motor vehicles is that sometimes there will be crashes. Frequently people will be hurt or even killed; and property may be damaged when a traffic collision occurs. In the beginning of automobile development, only the rich were able to afford to drive motor vehicles and so if a crash occurred, they were often able to compensate those people who suffered losses. As the automobile industry grew however; people with few financial resources were able to purchase vehicles, but were often not able to pay for injuries or damages they caused in crashes. As a result, many people were not compensated for their pain and suffering.

In a state as vast as California, the numbers of people injured or killed in traffic collisions was on the rise. The instance of people’s property being damaged was becoming staggering; and for many victims, there was no compensation to make them whole.

In an effort to stem the tide of these staggering losses, the California Legislature passed California’s Compulsory Auto Insurance Law in 1974. The intent of the law was clear. If a person chose to either own or operate a motor vehicle in the State of California, they must be ensure that any person suffering injury, death, or property damage would be sufficiently compensated.

The Legislature quickly realized that the only way to properly enforce the insurance laws was to strip a driver of their driving privilege if they did not comply. So, the law was written to be compulsory not discretionary. If you wish to drive a motor vehicle in California, you MUST be able to prove Financial Responsibility; otherwise the State will relieve you of your driver license…. Period!

As California drivers, we all recognize the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as the state agency we all must deal with to register our vehicles or to qualify for a driver license. For many Californians this is the only contact they will ever have with the DMV.

Few Californians realize that within the DMV there is an enormously powerful branch known as the Division of Driver Safety. Essentially, this is the enforcement arm of the DMV which possess the absolute power to deny, suspend or revoke a driver license for a variety of reasons.

In this chapter, we focus on those instances where the California DMV seeks to deny, suspend or revoke a driver license because they believe the involved party owned or operated a motor vehicle that was not covered by Financial Responsibility.

If the DMV has focused upon you and is seeking to deny, suspend or revoke your driver license because of an allegation of Financial Responsibility, there is only one way to protect yourself. You must schedule, conduct and win an Administrative Hearing before the Driver Safety Office. Known as a Financial Responsibility Hearing this is conducted before a DMV Hearing Officer at your nearest Driver Safety Office.

The standard of proof at a Financial Responsibility is quite low. The DMV only need to prove the following:

  • That a reportable traffic collision occurred where any person was injured or killed or that any property was damaged with a monetary value greater than $750.
  • That the involved driver did not have proof of financial responsibility at the time of the collision.

That’s it. That is the only burden the DMV carries in these cases. As hopeless as this may sound, however, these hearings can be won.

Our Defense at a Fraudulent Activity Hearing?

 Scheduling, conducting and winning a Financial Responsibility Hearing before the California DMV can be enormously complicated and frustrating. There is no school one can attend to receive training in this area of defense. This is truly a field where “on the job” training and experience are the only path success.

Conducting a Financial Responsibility Hearing is much, much more than just having a chat with the DMV Hearing Officer. Exhibits are presented, evidence is entered, witnesses and law enforcement officers may testify and legal arguments are filed. This is a full-blown legal proceeding that is run similar to a mini-trial.

The DMV’s case will often be based upon conjecture and presumption. The department will often only have a traffic collision report and perhaps unverified invoices for property repairs to establish their point of view.

Fortunately, California Law does permit an accused driver to be represented at such a hearing by a representative of their choosing. Essentially, this means you can be represented by an Attorney, an Advocate or a friend. Because the DMV process is set up to presume your guilt, the cards are stacked against you. Because most attorneys are not experienced in this field and because a friend probably has no clue about DMV procedure, your best opportunity for victory comes by enlisting the assistance of a DMV Defense Expert from California Drivers Advocates.   We are not attorneys. We are a group of Administrative Law Advocates made up of former police officers, former DMV Hearing Officers, licensed investigators and scientists. We are exclusively devoted to representing California Drivers at all forms of Administrative Hearings before the California DMV and we excel at Financial Responsibility Hearings.

After years of honing our skills at Administrative Hearings, we have developed a four-step approach to hearings. In preparing our defense at a Financial Responsibility Hearing, we are thorough in our:

  • Investigation
  • Preparation
  • Presentation
  • Follow-Thru

This four-step process is a proven approach to winning a Financial Responsibility Hearing. All four steps are independent but rely upon one another to be complete. By adamantly sticking to our “game plan,” we cover every base and provide you with the best opportunity to win your Financial Responsibility Hearing. Because Administrative Law is so heavily weighted in favor of the DMV and because the standard of proof is so small, we cannot promise that we can win your Financial Responsibility Hearing—No one can make such a representation; however, our process works. We have won many Financial Responsibility Hearings for our clients. Don’t let the DMV steal your driving privilege without a fight. Call CDA today.

What Happens During the Investigation Stage?

The first line of defense is the timely and proper contact with the DMV to protect your rights and to schedule your Financial Responsibility Hearing. Because the development and handling of a Financial Responsibility Hearing can take months, we act immediately to stop the suspension/revocation of your driver license. Known as a “Stay of Suspension,” this permits you to continue driving until the outcome of the hearing. This permits you to continue driving, working and living your life while we prepare and present your defense.

Once we have scheduled your Financial Responsibility Hearing and have secured your driving privilege, we enter step one of our process……….. The Investigation Stage.

The “investigation” begins with a thorough and comprehensive interview of you. It is critical that we know all we can about you and how you came to be in this predicament. Known as our “intake interview” this process can be anywhere from 1 to 3 hours and covers your driving history, criminal history, work history, insurance history and any other pertinent facts. Details regarding your traffic collision and the events occurring after the fact are critical. Ultimately, we seek to focus on the event which brought you onto the DMV’s radar. This is a critical element of your case as we simply must know what happened.

Once we have documented your side of the story, we then go about the business of collecting any evidence the DMV intends to present to prove their case against you. Known as “Discovery,” the DMV’s evidence often includes investigative reports, traffic collision reports, photographs, invoices and estimates for repair, insurance documents, and statements of witnesses.   Anything the DMV intends to use against you must be revealed to us prior to your hearing.

The “investigation stage” is critical as it reveals just what the DMV thinks you did and how they think they can prove the allegation. The need for a thorough investigation cannot be overstated as your DMV Defense cannot afford to be surprised in the hearing. If you are caught off-guard or unprepared for an item of evidence that you didn’t evaluate, it can spell disaster. CDA will not allow this to happen.

What Happens During the Preparation Stage?

Although each stage of our process is important, the “Preparation Stage” is the most critical of all the four stages. The preparation of your Financial Responsibility Hearing will literally make the difference between winning and losing. Your DMV Defense Expert from CDA will draw on many years of experience to evaluate all of the evidence, both positive and negative. Your CDA representative will anticipate the DMV’s direction and the presentation of their case.

In many instances, the DMV does not possess sufficient evidence to justify a suspension action against the driver. There may be insufficient or inconclusive evidence to prove that anyone was hurt or the actual monetary value of damaged property. As your DMV Defense Experts, we must be prepared for everything and be ready to counter the DMV’s moves.

In some instances, large insurance companies will seek to deny a claim that they really are responsible to pay.

The preparation of your case may include:

  • A formal “Request for Discovery” to the DMV which forces the department to release copies of any and all evidence they intend to present to prove their case. Many times, the DMV will drag their feet and cause delays in the production of evidence. We are ready for that and realize that “the squeaky wheel gets oil.” This means that we will send repeated requests to the DMV for the production of evidence and will make telephone calls to the hearing officer to drive that home.
  • Many times the DMV’s case is based upon inaccurate or incorrect information. Many times their evidence is lacking, but remember the department is permitted to presume that you violated the Financial Responsibility Law. Based on this, we will often issue subpoenas for the production of evidence from law enforcement agencies, ambulance companies, tow truck companies, and auto repair centers.
  • We may interview family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, insurance agents, passengers, or anyone who may possess relevant information regarding your case.
  • We will often prepare and serve the DMV with a “Notice of Affirmative Evidence” in accordance with the Government Code to ensure that our evidence is admitted into the Financial Responsibility Hearing and given its proper weight in deciding your case. The collection of evidence is pointless if it is not admitted into your hearing.
  • We will frequently prepare and file “Legal Briefs” with the Hearing Officer which present our argument in a proper legal format that is backed up by case law.
  • In some instances, your best defense at a Financial Responsibility Hearing may include your testimony. It can be important for you to explain why the DMV’s evidence is not accurate or how the DMV’s presumption is incorrect. If the decision is made for you to testify, it is critical that you be fully prepared for examination and cross-examination so that you can testify honestly and with great credibility. In some instances, however, the best defense is to not allow you to be present or to testify. Knowing the difference comes with experience. That is why you hire a DMV Defense Expert.

As stated above, preparation is truly the key to victory. If your representative is not fully prepared and if he/she is not capable of adapting and adjusting to sudden developments, your case can go very badly. Preparation allows us to be ready to counter the DMV’s evidence and to present our own. If you leave any stone un-turned, that is the one stone the DMV will use to clobber you. Preparation is key!

What Happens at the Presentation Stage?

By the time we enter your Financial Responsibility Hearing; we have collected and evaluated all of the DMV’s evidence against you. We have collected, evaluated and alerted the DMV as to any affirmative evidence or testimony that we intend to present. We have studied and researched the case and any applicable case law. We have thought through and anticipated the DMV’s approach from every angle. We are ready to object to the DMV’s evidence, ready to introduce our own evidence and ready to introduce your testimony if it is appropriate.

In short, when we enter your hearing, we are 100% ready to fight for you.

The presentation stage is where all our investigation and preparation come together in a focused and comprehensive attack on the DMV’s case. This is where our years of experience are revealed and you realize the value of our devotion to you. You will recognize that the DMV Hearing Officer knows and respects us. This type of professional recognition and respect only comes from years of experience and hundreds of hearings with the individual hearing officers.

The Financial Responsibility Hearing is conducted in the private office of the assigned DMV Hearing Officer. These hearings are conducted in a private and confidential setting. Only those persons who play a legitimate role in the proceeding are present. The hearing is not conducted in an open courtroom with dozens of people sitting in witness. Usually, the only people present at a Financial Responsibility Hearing are the DMV Hearing Officer, the DMV Defense Expert and the accused driver. In some instances, police officers, investigators or other witnesses may testify.

All hearings are audio recorded and all testimony is taken under oath. Based on this, the Financial Responsibility Hearing begins with the Hearing Officer activating an audio recording device. The DMV Defense Experts from California Drivers Advocates always make an independent audio recording as well. The hearing officer opens the hearing by introducing all persons present and then identifies the issues to be decided in the hearing.   At this point, the DMV Hearing Officer will introduce their exhibits and witnesses. This is essentially where the DMV presents its case.

Once the DMV’s case has been introduced, it is time for your DMV Defense Expert to step forward and begin the attack. Where appropriate, we object to the DMV’s introduction of evidence. This can include objections through the Evidence Code, the Administrative Procedures Act, the California Code of Civil Procedures and the Government Code. Your DMV Defense Expert is doing all he can to minimize or eliminate the evidence against you. With that accomplished, we now step up to introduce our case.

We introduce any affirmative evidence or testimony designed to disprove or “rebut” the DMV’s belief that you knowingly and intentionally operated a motor vehicle that was not properly insured or covered by another form of Financial Responsibility. You may be called upon to authenticate or “verify” items of evidence. If the decision has been made to introduce your testimony, your DMV Defense Expert will directly examine you first. With direct examination complete, however, you are then subject to cross-examination by the DMV Hearing Officer. This can be quite dangerous to your case unless you are properly prepared.

In most instances, the DMV only allows one-hour for a hearing to be conducted. If the introduction of extensive evidence or testimony requires more time, the hearing officer will stop the hearing after one-hour and “reconvene” the matter to conclude at a later date.

When all evidence has been introduced and all testimony has ended, it is then time for your DMV Defense Expert to make the closing argument. This is where your representative brings the numerous items of evidence and testimony into focus and clarifies your defense. This is where we drive home the point of your defense and why your license should not be suspended.

Finally, your DMV Defense Expert will wrap up his argument and submit the case to the hearing officer for his or her decision.

What Happens During the Follow-Thru Stage?

When a Financial Responsibility Hearing concludes, it is rare for a hearing officer to render a decision immediately. In almost all cases, the hearing officer will take the matter under submission. Because these hearings can include the introduction of many items of evidence and extensive testimony, the hearing officer will often take the time to review the entire case before making a decision. Normally, the hearing officer will publish a written decision within 10 to 15 days following the conclusion of the hearing. Known as the “Notice of Findings and Decision” this is the hearing officer’s final word on the case. This is where we learn if your hearing was won or lost.

The hearing officer will mail the written decision both to you and your DMV Defense Expert. Once the hearing officer’s decision is received, our obligation to you is far from over. We will remain vigilant and assist you through any “post hearing” issues that may arise.

If the decision is favorable, we will assist you to ensure an immediate termination of any further suspension action by the DMV. On the other hand, if the DMV’s decision is negative, we will assist you in the steps necessary to work through the required period of suspension. In many instances, a driver who has lost a Financial Responsibility Hearing is immediately eligible for an upgrade to a “restricted” driver license.   This may require several steps, including the purchase of a “high-risk” form of insurance known as an SR-22 Form. We can assist you in finding the best agency to issue the SR-22.

Finally, if you have questions for weeks or even months following the end of your hearing, we will be there for you. Our representation does not end until you have completely fallen off the DMV’s radar and have moved on with your life.

Call CDA Now to Win Your Financial Responsibility Hearing

If the California DMV believes you were involved in a reportable traffic collision and that you did not possess proof of Financial Responsibility at the time, it is likely that the department will begin an action to suspend your driver license. All is not lost. With proper guidance and representation, you can move through this action and come out “okay” on the other side. The most critical first step is to react immediately and correctly. The representative you choose as your champion will hold your driving future in his or her hands. There are very few attorneys or representatives in California who fully understand the process or the ramifications of a Financial Responsibility allegation at the DMV.

California Drivers Advocates is a group of Administrative Law Specialists with specific experience in Financial Responsibility Hearings. We earned our experience and training by getting it done; by actually conducting the hearings, not by sitting in a classroom. This is a perfect example of trial by fire.

The DMV Defense Experts from California Drivers Advocates have conducted literally hundreds of Administrative Hearings throughout the State of California. Whether your hearing is in San Francisco, San Bernardino or San Diego, we have represented clients in all of the Driver Safety Offices in the state. We win Financial Responsibility Hearings because we adhere to our four-step process and because we are completely devoted to quality representation. Call CDA now……… We’re ready to fight for you.

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