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Federal lawsuit challenges Florida's DUI license suspension process

As most people are already well aware, Florida has adopted a very unforgiving stance when it comes to driving under the influence. That's because, in addition to the possibility of incarceration and large fines, drivers also face the possibility of a lengthy and automatic license suspension, meaning no hearing to determine whether the arresting officer had probable cause will even be held.

Indeed, the law dictates that first-offense DUIs results in an automatic six-month suspension, second or subsequent DUIs result in an automatic 12-month suspension, first test refusals result in result in an automatic 12-month suspension, and second or subsequent refusals result in an automatic 18-month suspension.

While a person whose license is suspended does have the option of challenging it before a hearing officer employed by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the odds of a ruling against the officer are very slim. As such, many drunk driving suspects are left with no option but to attempt to secure hardship licenses for business or employment purposes, a process that can prove to be costly.

Interestingly enough, a 58-year-old Winter Garden man arrested for drunk driving back in November filed a civil lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida this week challenging the state's administrative license suspension system for DUI suspects.

The lawsuit, which is seeking class action status to cover the nearly 240,000 people who have had their license suspended by the DHSMV over the last four years, argues that the state's failure to have a magistrate or judicially appointed hearing officer hold a probable cause hearing for the license suspension is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

"If a police officer believes they have probable cause to search your house, they can't go search your house," said one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff. "They have to go to a judge, and a judge has to review an affidavit and make a probable cause determination for a search to take place. This is more egregious."

The lawsuit also refers to the process of challenging the license suspension before a DHSMV hearing officer as a "kangaroo court," such that people stand no real chance of ever having a suspension overturned in this biased setting. It also accuses the DHSMV of raking in close to $60 million per year from drunk driving suspects seeking hardship licenses.

It will be fascinating to see what becomes of this federal lawsuit, which will seek close to $50 million if granted class action status. Experts are already predicting that the DHSMV will rely on the argument that driving is not a right, but rather a privilege.

Stay tuned for updates.

If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can get to work protecting your rights and your future as soon as possible.

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