In my last post, I talked about the difficulty of winning a DMV hearing. I also mentioned that if someone loses their DMV hearing, the only way to have their license suspension set aside is to obtain an acquittal at trial.
Although extremely rare, some creative defense attorneys, along with the extraordinary cooperation of both the judge and the prosecutor, have used the case of Helmandollar v. Department of Motor Vehicles to save licenses. In the case, co-workers went drinking after work. After leaving the bar, they crashed into each other. After officers arrived on the scene, breathalyzers were administered and each defendant blew a 0.12 percent. Officers gave license suspensions to the two defendants pursuant to California Vehicle Code section 13353.2. California Vehicle Code section 13353.2 mandates the suspension when a defendant has a 0.08 percent blood- alcohol content or higher. The defendants were charged with California Vehicle Code section 23152(a), driving under the influence and California Vehicle Code section 23152(b), driving with a 0.08 percent or above. The prosecutor felt the evidence was insufficient to establish that the defendants’ had a 0.08 percent or above. The prosecutor then stipulated that, should the defendants waive jury and submit themselves to a trial by judge, they would agree to allow the judge to find them not guilty (acquittal) on the 23152(b) charge. The defendants pled no contest to a reduced wet reckless charge instead of 23152(a) charge. The DMV refused to reinstate their licenses because they still pled no contest to a wet reckless charge. The defendant’s sued the DMV relying on California Vehicle Code section 13353.2(e), which states in pertinent part, “If a person is acquitted of criminal charges relating to a determination of facts under subdivision (a) [i.e., driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or more], the department shall immediately reinstate the person’s driving privilege to operate a motor vehicle if the department has suspended it administratively pursuant to subdivision (a).” The California Court of Appeals agreed with the defendants and their licenses were reinstated because they were, technically, acquitted of 23152(b), driving with a 0.08 percent, which is all the Vehicle Code requires. This case essentially allows the court, with the agreement of judge, prosecutor and defense attorney, to conduct a quasi-trial for the sole purpose of obtaining an acquittal on the 23152(b) charge so that defendant’s licenses may be reinstated.