Georgia DUI License Suspensions Prior To Conviction: Why?
Many people ask me why the State tries to suspend a driver’s license or privilege to drive in Georgia prior to a conviction in their criminal defense case. This question makes sense. After all, if the State cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was impaired by alcohol and/or drugs (DUI Less Safe) or above the legal limit (DUI Per Se), why should they be permitted to suspend a driver’s license? I completely understand the frustration here. Nonetheless, such is the nature of the current system in Georgia, so it is still important to understand what the State’s view and reasoning is here. Understanding their perspective helps us understand the results that just don’t seem to make much practical sense.
WHAT’S THE STATE’S PURPOSE FOR TRYING TO SUSPEND THE DRIVER’S LICENSE PRIOR TO OBTAINING A DUI CONVICTION?
Swain v. State provides the clearest judicial pronouncement of the purpose of the administrative license suspension in Georgia that I know of:
“The purpose of the driver’s license suspension hearing is to provide a quick, informal procedure to remove dangerous drivers from Georgia’s roadways and thereby protect public safety.” Accordingly, the driver must request the hearing within ten days of receiving notice of the right to a hearing, and the Department of Public Safety must hold the hearing within thirty days of the request. The scope of the hearing is confined by statute to six discrete issues, and the hearing officer must issue a decision within five days of the hearing. If the hearing officer sustains the suspension, the driver has the right to seek judicial review of the decision, but there is no procedure for the State to appeal an adverse ruling. 21 Within the framework of this abbreviated procedure, the State has only a limited opportunity to litigate the issues, some of which may prove pivotal in a subsequent Georgia DUI trial.
Swain v. State, 251 Ga. App. 110, 113-14, 552 S.E.2d 880, 883 (2001) (emphasis added).
So, if a Judge is told that their purpose is to conduct “quick, informal” hearings to “remove dangerous drivers from Georgia’s roadways”, can you imagine how willing that Judge will be to actually skeptically consider the State’s evidence? You will frequently hear lawyers say that these hearings cannot be won. Despite my disagreement with that sentiment, I recognize how they’ve arrived at that view given the purpose of the hearings as stated by the Georgia Court of Appeals.
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