License Suspension / Revocation

Definition: Administrative License Revocation or ALR is when a driver’s license is taken away by law enforcement at the time of the offense or stop by police upon the failure or refusal of a chemical test. Judicial or court ordered license revocation, is done post-conviction by a judge.

Executive Summary: Depending on the state, a DUI arrest can result in two kinds of licensing actions. The first is pre-conviction administrative license suspension (ALS) or revocation (ALR), which is carried out by the arresting officer as an administrative action on behalf of the motor vehicle administration. The second is a judicial post-conviction action ordered by the court. A single DUI arrest frequently results in both an ALS/ALR action and a mandatory post-conviction suspension action.

More Detail: State laws for ALR vary, but once the licenses are confiscated, drivers are given a notice of suspension which acts as a temporary permit for up to 45 days. During that time, the suspension can be appealed at a hearing and if it fails, the license is suspended for a determined period of time. Regardless of the appeals hearing, the convicted offender is still subject to a separate criminal process, which can result in additional penalties including judicial licensing actions.

First-time offender suspensions can vary from one week to one year, but most last 90 days. Suspensions for first-time convicted offenders often allow them a restricted license/permit (hardship license) that allows them to drive to and from work and alcohol education/treatment classes. Repeat offenders usually receive longer suspensions and may not be eligible for a hardship license or other restrictions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that ALS/ALR laws impose at least a 90-day suspension or a 30-day suspension followed by 60 days of restricted driving. Some states require the completion of a treatment program or other education prior to allowing driving privileges to be reinstated. Michigan is one state that only allows restricted driving if the offender is in good standing with a DWI Court. Administrative revocations are immediate in nature, and, because of this, ALR has been shown to be an effective way to deter people from driving under the influence of alcohol.

The deterrent effect of such suspensions are only as good as the willingness of offenders to comply with such restrictions and the determination of law enforcement and the courts to act swiftly. In every state there are thousands of individuals who drive despite the fact that a judge/administrator has suspended their license. It is recommended that law enforcement routinely check the status of an operator’s license during traffic encounters.

Plea agreements and diversion programs allow many offenders to keep their licenses. Since the criminal process requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt these programs are likely to err toward leniency. This is unlike the administrative process that requires only that the balance of evidence indicate the sanction is warranted. However, most states do have provisions for court-ordered suspensions, which may or may not run concurrently with ALR/ALS.

Suggested Audience: Enforcement, Prosecutors, Judges

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