When a California driver is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, his driver's license is immediately confiscated by the police and he is served with the DMV's "Notice of Suspension". This one-page document (fine print on both sides) serves to (1) formally suspend the license, (2) provide a temporary driving privilege for 30 days, and (3) explain some aspects of the applicable law. Buried in this fine print on the back side is the most important legal provision: there is a right to an administrative hearing to contest the suspension and force the DMV to return the license — but only if the individual or his DUI attorney contacts the DMV's local Driver Safety Office (DSO) and formally demands a hearing WITHIN 10 CALENDAR DAYS of the arrest. If the call is not made, on the eleventh day the right to contest the suspension is lost and it will begin 30 days from the arrest regardless of any possible defenses.
This immediate suspension is for either (1) having .08% or higher blood-alcohol (.01% for drivers under 21); (2) providing a blood or urine sample when the officer believes the eventual analysis will be .08% or higher; or (3) refusing to take a chemical test. This is referred to as an administrative suspension (or sometimes "DUI administrative per se license suspension" or "APS" suspension), and is to be distinguished form a license suspension or restriction which may (and probably will) later occur in the criminal courts — in addition to the administrative suspension. Although this may seem to constitute "double jeopardy" or multiple punishment, the courts in their infinite wisdom have decided that the first suspension is only an "administrative sanction", as opposed to the second suspension in court which is a true "punishment".
For a more complete discussion of the administrative license suspension ("APS") resulting from a drunk driving arrest, see the California DMV and Administrative Hearing section on this website. For information about implied consent laws in California, see "Implied Consent".
If the driver is from another state, the officer has no right to seize the license, as that document is the property of another state. Similarly, California has no jurisdiction to suspend a driver's license issued by another state. The officer can and will, however, issue a "Notice of Suspension" identical to that given California license holders; this acts only as a suspension of the right to drive (after 30 days) within the State of California. If there is a conviction, California (as a member of the Interstate Driver's License Compact) will notify the home state of that fact; that state will then usually suspend the license in the same way as if the person had been convicted in the home state.
The following links will provide helpful information about APS license suspensions, as well as applicable portions of the California Vehicle Code. For information about contesting the suspension, see Administrative Hearing.
California License Suspension Procedures (DMV)
A good explanation of the laws and procedures involved in California Department of Motor Vehicles DUI license suspensions, from the DUI lawyer who wrote the leading drunk driving law textbook.
The Statutory DMV License Suspension Laws
The statutory scheme for administrative California DMV license suspensions can become as complicated as the criminal punishment. Basically, a first offender with a blood-alcohol level of .08% will have his license suspended for four months; if there is a refusal to submit to chemical testing, the suspension is for one year. For drivers under 21, "zero tolerance" laws dictate a one-year suspension for blood-alcohol levels over .01%. Second offenders with over-.08% levels receive a one-year suspension (two years if a refusal).
An attorney's closer look at the DMV's license suspension hearing procedures.
Drivers Under 21
California's "Zero Tolerance" license suspension statutes applying to under-21 drivers arrested for DUI.