A driver who is arrested for or charged with DWI in Louisiana will nearly always face suspension of their driver’s license. For some, the suspension of their driving privileges poses the most burdensome aspect of the DWI charge. It is hard to imagine a person in our society that does not rely on their license in some way to make a living, care for themselves, etc. The same lack of reliable and convenient public transportation in most parts of Louisiana that makes it difficult for citizens to find alternative transportation when they are drinking make it equally difficult for citizens to live with a suspended license. In order to avoid having their license suspended, a defendant must weave through the complex statutes that govern Louisiana license suspensions and the administrative procedures that enforce them. Most onerous, these administrative proceedings will be held independent of the criminal proceeding; therefore, the DWI defendant will face the dual burden of the criminal and administrative proceedings.
The administrative hearing is unlike the criminal proceeding in several important ways. First, the hearing is much more informal than criminal court proceedings. Second, the administrative hearing is usually not held in a courtroom, but may be held at the Louisiana State Police headquarters or conducted by phone hearing. Third, the opposing party which is the Louisiana Department of Public Safety, will not make an in person appearance. Rather, they will make a written motion and submit documents regarding the suspension. They will not be there to call any witnesses or make any arguments; therefore, the only witnesses to be called will be on behalf of the person who requested the hearing. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the issues at the hearing are limited to a few issues which are:
- whether a law enforcement officer had reasonable grounds to believe the person, regardless of age, had been driving or was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle upon the public highways of this state, or had been driving or was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle (or watercraft) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- whether the person was placed under arrest;
- whether the person was advised of their rights under 32:661;
- whether the person voluntarily submitted to an approved chemical test and the test;
- was at or above .08 percent by weight or was .02 percent by weight if the person was under the age of 21;
- whether the person refused to submit to the test upon the request of the officer;
- such additional matters as may relate to the legal rights of the person, including compliance with regulations by the DPS and rights afforded by law or jurisprudence, all as outlined in Louisiana Revised Statute 32:668.
Due to the limited challenges available to avoid suspension of the driver’s license and the technical nature of the driver’s license suspension laws, it is very important that anyone facing suspension of their license seek the assistance of a lawyer who will methodically review all the evidence against them, subpoena videos and witnesses, and challenge the state’s suspension. Even if the administrative hearing is unsuccessful and the suspension is upheld, an experienced DWI lawyer may appeal the decision of the administrative law judge or have the license reinstated through certain tactics involved in the criminal prosecution of the DWI charge.
Note: Due to a recent change in the law, law enforcement officers can no longer be subpoenaed to testify at the Administrative Hearing. This eliminates one of the most effective challenges to a license suspension. However, appealing an administrative hearing to district court will give the licensee and opportunity to cross examine the officer and challenge the allegations of the officer’s report.