Are There Differences between the Hearing at the Driver’s License Division and the Court Hearing?
Interviewer: What are the major differences between a court hearing and a driver’s license division hearing? What are the major points that are different?
The Driver’s License Division Hearing Is Known as an Informal Proceeding
Matthew Nebeker: In hearings at the driver’s license division, and this is kind of frustrating to attorneys, they’re what they call informal proceedings. This means that the rules of evidence don’t necessarily apply. In the informal proceedings process, hearsay, which are statements made by other people, can be considered by the hearing officer.
Hearsay Is Admissible in an Informal Proceeding
Let me give you an example. If I’m driving down the road and someone sees me swerving in and out of my lanes, and that person calls into the highway patrol, the dispatch, and says, “I really think this person’s impaired or something.” And the highway patrol comes and finds me on the freeway, that person that called me in doesn’t have to come to the administrative hearing. The trooper can say, “This person on the road said they’d seen all kinds of lane leaving and other dangerous driving.”
That becomes a little bit frustrating. You’re trying to have a hearing to find out what happened and you’re dealing with these informal rules. It makes it easier for them to take the client’s license, so to speak. A lot of times in the informal hearings, the hearing officers will sometimes ask some leading questions.
If the officer forgets to mention something in his testimony, the hearing officer of the driver’s license division, sometimes they’ll prompt them. They’ll say, “Well, what about this officer? Didn’t you mean to say this or didn’t you mean to check this?” It kind of refreshes their memory.
The Court Hearing Is a Formal Proceeding and the Rules of Evidence Apply
In a court hearing in front of a judge, that’s a formal proceeding. The rules of evidence apply. If the driver’s license division want to use that information from the driver out on the road that called in, that person has to appear in court. They have to take the witness stand, and they have to be subject to cross examination.
That’s the major difference between the informal and formal proceedings. In the driver’s license division hearing, they just say, “Well, we have to substantially comply with due process rights.” Substantially comply. In court, they have to comply. You have to give someone their rights of due process. That’s the big distinction between the two.
Utah’s Hearing Officers
Interviewer: Who are these hearing officers? Do they have any special certifications?
Matthew Nebeker: My experience has been that hearing officers are employees for the state of Utah. They started out at the driver’s license division. They might have started out being the person that helps you fill out your application for a driver’s license. They might have moved up to the person that takes you picture when you get your driver’s license issued. Then eventually one day, they get promoted to be an administrative officer. They don’t have any real legal training.
Hearing Officers Are Employees of the State and Do Not Possess Any Legal Training
They do not possess any formal legal training like an attorney or a judge. The training that they do receive is by the Department of Public Safety. The same people who are out there arresting people. The Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety, driver’s license division are basically the same government entities.
They’re trained basically by highway patrol. They work with them. Their offices are next door to each other. They see each other day in and day out. There’s no real formal, legal education, for these administrators.
Each County in Utah Has at Least One Office That Serves as the Driver’s License Division
Interviewer: How many of them are there? Is there a set number?
Matthew Nebeker: In each county, there’s usually one office of the driver’s license division. When we go to these hearings, they’re held at the driver’s license division, where you go to get your license renewed.
Some of the bigger counties like Salt Lake County will have two or three different driver’s license division offices. There is a minimum of one per county. In each county, there might be one or two hearing officers, depending on how big the county is.
What Approach Will the Attorney Use with the Hearing Officers at the Driver’s License Division?
Interviewer: I can imagine that, as an attorney, you have to work with these people a little bit differently than you do with a judge and a jury?
Matthew Nebeker: Yes, absolutely. As with anyone, you have to treat them with respect. They’re making decisions that could affect the future for your client. There’s not a lot of recourse with them. In my example that I gave where they might be leading the police officer to say the right things, there’s not a whole lot I can do about that at that time.
I can object, but that can offend them. It’s a balance that you have to maintain of advocating for your client and trying to do what’s best for them and trying to get your client due process under these informal rules of the hearing.