Want a DMV Hearing? Soon, You’ll Have To Pay in Advance.

Published for NC Criminal Law on September 13, 2017.

On Monday, I spoke to a group of DMV hearing officers about administrative order writing. These are the officials who hold hearings to determine whether a person’s driver’s license is subject to revocation or reinstatement. The bases for hearing officer action run the gamut. They exercise discretion in determining whether a person’s license is revoked for accumulating too many driver’s license points or for excessive speeding. They evaluate and weigh evidence to determine whether a person charged with an implied consent offense did, in fact, willfully refuse chemical testing. They hold hearings to determine whether a person whose license has been restored following a DWI has violated a condition of the reinstatement. They also determine whether to conditionally restore the licenses of people convicted of impaired driving before the end of the statutory revocation period.

I can’t say whether the hearing officers learned much from me. But, as is always the case when I interact with a room full of public servants, I learned something from them on Monday. Beginning in January 2018, DMV plans to assess fees for these types of hearings. Some of them are as high as $450.

The backstory. Three years ago, the General Assembly directed DMV to develop a proposed schedule of fees to recover the costs of administrative hearings. See S.L. 2014-100, Section 34.9.  At that time, the legislature instructed that the fee schedule be implemented by January 1, 2016.  The next year, the legislature extended the fee schedule implementation deadline to July 1, 2017. See S.L. 2015-241, Section 29.30A.

In 2017, the General Assembly again returned to the issue of DMV fee schedules. This year’s  state budget act enacted new G.S. 20-4.03, which authorizes DMV to charge a fee to individuals who request an administrative hearing. See S.L. 2017-57, Section 34.32. The new statute, which becomes effective January 1, 2018, requires that any request for an administrative hearing before DMV be in writing and be accompanied by the total applicable administrative hearing fee. If the request for a hearing does not meet these requirements, the hearing will not be granted and the pending revocation will not be stayed.

The 2017 budget act also requires DMV to adopt temporary rules to implement hearing fees.

The new rules.  DMV published its proposed temporary rules on September 1.  You can find them here.

The rules provide that DMV will not accept a request for hearing that does not include the applicable hearing fee, subject to certain exceptions.  DMV will hold hearings without payment of a fee to (1) review compliance with ignition interlock by a person whose license has been conditionally restored; (2) determine a person’s compliance with DMV probation or a conditional restoration agreement; (3) consider alleged violations of an alcohol concentration restriction reported by an ignition interlock provider; and (4) consider the status of a previously issued motor vehicle dealer license or sales representative license. For these types of hearings, no hearing fee is charged if DMV takes no adverse action.  If it does take adverse action, the person must pay the fee within 30 calendar days after the hearing or the issuance of the decision, whichever is later. Amounts that remain unpaid are collected pursuant to the statewide accounts receivable program.

Waiver for indigency. The rules permit DMV to waive the administrative hearing fee for an indigent applicant, defined as an applicant with income below 150 percent of the federal poverty level as set forth in the current federal guidelines. Under these standards, an applicant from a family of four with a combined annual income of less than $36,900 would qualify for a fee waiver.

The fee schedule. I promised big numbers at the outset of this post, so now it is time to deliver.

Fees range from $40 for a conference to determine whether a driver is eligible to attend a driver improvement clinic under G.S. 20-16 to $450 for hearings regarding violations of alcohol concentration restrictions, ignition interlock restrictions or refusal to submit to a chemical analysis. The fee for applicants seeking the early restoration of their driver’s licenses following a DWI conviction is $425. The schedule also imposes a $225 fee for an interview held before a license restoration hearing in situations involving alcohol-related convictions, suspensions, or revocations.

Have thoughts about the new rules? A public hearing on the proposed temporary rules will be held on September 25, 2017 at the John Chavis Media Center, 505 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Raleigh, NC.  Comments about the rules may be sent to Helen Landi, hlandi@ncdot.gov.  The comment period ends October 2, 2017.

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