Empowering California Drivers

To Maintain Their Driving Privilege

DMV Denial or Revocation of a Special Certificate

What is the Procedure Followed at a Special Certificate Hearing at the DMV?

 In California, the privilege of driving special classes of motor vehicle is reserved for those persons who can demonstrate and maintain the highest level of training, experience and personal conduct.  The California Department of Motor Vehicles issues the highly valuable Special Certificate to qualified drivers in three categories:

  • School Bus Drivers
  • Ambulance Drivers
  • Tow-Truck Drivers

Because of the great level of public trust placed in each of these professional drivers, the motoring public expects them to be held to the highest standards of any driver on the road.  Applying for a Special Certificate first requires that an individual driver qualify for either a Class “A” of Class “B” driver license.  This in itself requires a higher degree of knowledge and skill than is required of the everyday driver.  Once the holder of a Class “A” or Class “B” driver license applies for a Special Certificate, they must then be able to pass a background check conducted by the FBI and the California Department of Justice.  The DMV will also scrutinize the person’s driving history for signs of negligent operation.  No other class of driver is subject to this type of vetting.

Once the DMV issues a Special Certificate to an individual driver, there is no guarantee it will never be revoked.  Throughout the person’s professional driving career, the DMV monitors their driving record as well as issues of personal and private conduct to ensure the highest standards are maintained.  Again, no other class of driver is held to such high levels of personal and professional conduct as the holder of a Special Certificate.

If the DMV receives information from ANY source that an individual driver may not meet the high standards necessary to maintain a Special Certificate, the department will immediately refuse to issue a certificate to an applicant or will immediately work to revoke an already existing certificate.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is “hard-wired” into the very fabric of our society and can receive negative information regarding a Special Certificate holder’s fitness to drive from a variety of sources:

  • The DMV’s Commercial Driver License Unit.
  • The California Highway Patrol.
  • Local, State and Federal Law Enforcement agencies.
  • California Department of Justice or the FBI (Criminal History Reports).
  • Physicians and other medical professionals.
  • Insurance Companies.
  • Friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors.
  • Media Reports.
  • Anonymous tipsters.

In this chapter, we will discuss the basic procedures followed in scheduling and conducting a Special Certificate Hearing.

  • DMV Issues an Order of Denial, Suspension or Revocation of a Special Certificate:

If the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) receives information from ANY source that the applicant or current holder of a Special Certificate does not qualify for its issuance or maintenance, the department will conduct a brief “review” of the information to determine if there is any cause for concern.

California Vehicle Code Section 13800, determines….

The department may conduct an investigation to determine whether the  privilege of any person to operate a motor vehicle should be suspended or revoked…..”

California Vehicle Code Sections 13369, 13370 and 13371, specifically outlines the power granted to the DMV to deny, suspend or revoke a School Bus Special Certificate.

California Vehicle Code Sections 13372, 13373 and 13374, specifically outlines the power granted to the DMV to deny, suspend or revoke an Ambulance Drivers Special Certificate.

California Vehicle Code Section 13377, specifically outlines the power granted to the DMV to deny, suspend or revoke a Tow-Truck Drivers Special Certificate.

In some cases a professional driver may anticipate such action by the DMV but in many instances, the driver has no idea an action is pending against their Special Certificate until they go to their mail box and find an “Order of Denial/Suspension/Revocation” addressed to them.

The order will specifically outline very important details.  The driver will be advised that the DMV has already begun the process to deny, suspend or revoke the Special Certificate.  The driver will be told the reason for the action and the effective date of the action.  Finally, the order will advise the driver they have a right to an Administrative Hearing to contest the action.

  • Driver Requests a Special Certificate Hearing:

In nearly all instances where a Special Certificate applicant or holder is in jeopardy of losing their Special Certificate, the law mandates they be entitled to Procedural Due Process by being granted an Administrative Hearing.  Only in rare instances is a driver denied a right to hearing through what is called “Mandatory Action.”

If the applicant or holder of a Special Certificate receives an order denying, suspending or revoking their Special Certificate; they must react very quickly.  California Law mandates that the affected driver make contact with the Special Certificates Unit in Sacramento to request a Special Certificate Hearing.  The request must be made in writing and must be made within 14 days of the date the order was signed.  Fourteen days passes very quickly and if a driver were to fail to make their request in a timely manner, the DMV will consider that a forfeiture of the hearing and the denial, suspension or revocation will proceed unhindered.  Don’t let this happen.

Additionally, great consideration must be given to making a formal request to postpone the action until after a final decision is rendered.  Known as a “Stay of Suspension or Revocation,” this permits the driver to maintain their Special Certificate and to continue driving specialized vehicles until the hearing and review are concluded.  It has been the policy of the DMV to deny requests for a “Stay of Suspension or Revocation” so great care must be exercised when making the request.  The driver must establish that the continued use and possession of the Special Certificate does not endanger pupils, patients or customers.

If the Special Certificates Unit in Sacramento receives a timely request for a Special Certificate Hearing, and if the action is not covered by mandatory action, a hearing must be granted.  The Special Certificates Unit will then forward the driver’s file to the Driver Safety Office closest to the driver’s home.  The individual Driver Safety Office will then schedule a hearing.

  • Preparing for a Special Certificate Hearing:

Once the driver’s file has been transferred to a local Driver Safety Office and a Special Certificate Hearing has been scheduled, the driver must work to collect all of the Discovery (evidence) in their case from the DMV.  Once received, the Discovery must be carefully scrutinized and decisions must be made about the issuance of subpoenas for additional evidence or to arrange for the testimony of witnesses.

Because a Special Certificate Hearing is run like a mini-trial, the accused driver must become knowledgeable of the rules of evidence, and the regulations outlined in the Vehicle Code, California Code of Regulations and the Administrative Procedures Act.  The DMV will be playing by these rules and they will do nothing to assist the accused driver in understanding the process.  Because few California drivers have this type of training or experience, you may consider engaging the assistance of a DMV Defense Expert to assist in fighting the DMV.  Known as Administrative Advocates, these professionals are highly trained and experienced and have a commanding knowledge of the DMV hearing process. The likelihood of winning your hearing is greatly increased with the assistance of a defense expert.

Once all evidence has been collected and evaluated, the accused driver must devise a defense strategy designed to either disprove the allegation against them or to mitigate it to the point their Special Certificate can be protected.    There is no question that preparation is the key to success in these matters.

  • Conducting a Special Certificate Hearing:

The driver’s Special Certificate Hearing will convene in the private office of a DMV employee known as a hearing officer.  In the world of the DMV, the hearing officer is the equivalent of a Superior Court Judge.  They act as the Judge, Jury and Executioner.

In those instances where a Law Enforcement Officer was involved in the action being investigated, the DMV will normally request the Law Enforcement Officer to be present and normally that person is in the room from the very beginning.

All hearings are audio recorded and all testimony is taken under oath so the driver will be “sworn in.”

At this point, the DMV hearing officer will introduce the evidence that establishes the department’s case.  Documentary evidence, Scientific Evidence, Witness Testimony and the testimony of Law Enforcement Officers is all considered fair game by the DMV.  The accused driver will have the opportunity to object to the introduction of each item of evidence in an attempt to exclude it from consideration.

Once the DMV hearing officer rests his or her case the accused driver is permitted to present their case.  Similarly, the driver can present their own evidence and witnesses and similarly the hearing officer can object to the introduction of irrelevant, untimely, or speculative evidence.

Once all evidence and testimony has been introduced the driver is permitted to make their argument for why the Special Certificate should not be denied, suspended or revoked.  At that point, the hearing officer will close the hearing.

  • Hearing Officer’s Recommendation to Review Board:

In nearly all administrative hearings, the assigned hearing officer has the final word in the outcome.  In the Special Certificate Hearing that is not the case.  At the conclusion of a Special Certificate Hearing, the assigned hearing officer will review all of the evidence and testimony presented.  At that point, he or she will then prepare a “recommendation” to a review board in Sacramento.

Known as the Certificate Action Review Board (CARB), this is a group of people who meet once per month to review recommendations from hearing officers and to render final decisions in Special Certificate cases.  When the CARB reaches a final decision, the driver is notified in writing as to what the Board decided.

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