Frequently, a driver in California gets a letter from the DMV informing them their license is facing suspension for having too many points. One frequent scenario is for someone who recently received a conviction for a DUI or for driving over 100mph (or any 2-pointers). This person may have also in the past year gotten a speeding ticket and perhaps another regular ol’ traffic ticket. This person may have elected not to do traffic school on either of the previous tickets, and simply just paid the fines. However, when a two point violation comes up, such as a DUI or driving over 100mph, there is no choice to do traffic school to get rid of one of the points. This driver will most likely be faced with a negligent operator hearing by the DMV. (Don’t confuse this with the DMV APS hearing that comes with a DUI, although the points stemming from a DUI usually sets off a negligent operator issue.) This is where the mess comes in.
The DMV will send a warning letter if a driver receives 2 points in a year, 4 points in 2 years, or 6 points in 3 years. Remember, doing traffic school will “erase” one of the points, so it is not a matter of how many tickets you got, but how many points you have. The DMV will send a Notice of Intent to Suspend if there is 3 points in a year, 5 points in 2 years, or 7 points in 3 years. These letters can also be sent if there is a major collision. It is important to note that negligent operator points are considered upon receipt of conviction notices (or of collision reports).
Where most people call me is when they get a letter of suspension. This is most common when the driver receives 4 points within a year (like the scenario I described above), 6 points within 2 years, or 8 points within 3 years. When this happens I immediately request for a Negligent Operator Hearing (NOTS hearing). NOTS (Negligent Operator Treatment System) hearing is where the DMV officer takes testimony of the driver and considers any additional evidence to determine the driver’s negligent operator status. Once the driver gets this letter, the suspension is effective 34 days from when the letter is mailed, so time is definitely of the essence. It is important to get the hearing early to get the entire process rolling, otherwise the driver is stuck with a license suspension in the interim while they wait for the officer’s decision in the mail. And that is assuming he/she can get a hearing date in time!
A Negligent Operator hearing is held by a hearing officer at the Driver Safety office. I usually appear in person with my client. Sometimes I elect to do the hearing by phone if my client cannot appear in person (usually because their license is suspended already at that point). However, I prefer to have the hearing in person. I like to get the full record at the office if I need to do so, and it is easier to present evidence or supporting documents than through a phone hearing in my opinion. These hearings are like mini court proceedings. The officer places the driver (respondent) under oath and asks a series of questions. If there is an attorney, the attorney may lead the questioning, or re-direct after the officer asks their questions. I may do this if I feel the officer asks a series of leading questions that confuses my client or doesn’t elicit any information that may be helpful to my client’s defense. I also prepare my client to produce evidence in mitigation of his/her driving record, or evidence in support of some middle ground, such as probation or restrictions on the license.
Like all administrative proceedings, these hearings are appealable if the respondent does not agree with the decision and has grounds to appeal. However, appealing administrative proceedings is a lengthy and costly process, and one that you definitely cannot do without an attorney with substantial administrative law experience. Therefore, I always advise to be over-prepared at the original hearing, and prepare a good defense, to avoid having to go through administrative appeals.