License Suspension Hearings

A driver’s license is considered a property interest because in America, we. drive. everywhere. A driver’s license in this country is generally necessary to maintain a job and therefore to earn a living. Depriving someone of their driver’s license therefore is kind of like depriving them of the ability to earn an income, which is property.

Because a driver’s license is so closely tied to earning an income, the government cannot take away this property interest without due process of law. This principle is rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment where it states: “No state shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

So what is “due process of law”? The case law says that due process is satisfied so long as the Department of Licensing sends a letter notifying the intended recipient of their plan to suspend the person’s license. The person need not actually receive any letter, due process is satisfied if the letter was sent to the last known address.

The letter will inform the person that they have a right to a hearing to contest the validity of the suspension. This hearing is the process due, so to speak. The person only has 7 days to respond or they forever waive all their rights to a hearing to contest the suspension.

At the hearing, a hearings examiner will hear telephonic testimony regarding the lawfulness of the license suspension. For example, common hearings involve suspensions for providing a breath test of above 0.08. To determine whether the suspension is lawful, the examiner will first determine whether the traffic stop, DUI arrest, and breath test were all done lawfully.