Under Maryland law and regulation, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) has the duty to administer the motorist license system and to call motorists in for a “Point System Conference” and send motorists to driver improvement programs or “DIP.” More ominously, the MVA can suspend or even revoke a motorist license for one of a number of reasons authorized by statute.
At three points, a motorist receives a formal warning from the MVA. At five points, the motorist is called to a point system conference. At eight points the license is suspended and at 12 the MVA revokes the license. A motorist does have the right to request that the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) review and modify the proposed suspension or revocation to a lesser sanction. For motorists whose employment or opportunity for employment would be adversely affected by a suspension or revocation, the OAH has jurisdiction to replace a suspension with a reprimand or conditions less than full suspension upon a showing of good cause and reasonably solid evidence. An attorney can often be of great help in such cases.
The length of a point system suspension varies according to how many times the motorist has previously been suspended. In the case of a conviction for driving while impaired or for driving while impaired by drugs or by alcohol and drugs – 8 point offenses which are sufficient to suspend though not by themselves to authorize 12-point revocation – the MVA and OAH may suspend for a longer period of time.
There was a point at which professional drivers – drivers whose job it was to drive such as cab drivers, not merely commuters – could enjoy higher point system maximum before suspension or revocation if they requested an OAH hearing. This provision existed presumably to account for the much larger mileage totals that such motorists would accrue per year; someone who gets, say, a ticket every 20,000 miles is more likely to get suspended with more miles driven, but is not necessarily a good candidate for candidate for a suspension. This provision is no longer law, though such drivers can still request leniency under the general provisions for drivers whose employment would be adversely affected.
The second major category of suspensions comes from administrative sanctions under the Courts article of Maryland’s Code, section 16-205.1 and related sections. This provision governs alcohol-related suspensions relating either to the results of a alcohol breath test at the station or the refusal to submit to such a test. Upon refusing a lawfully-offered test, or upon failing a lawfully-offered and lawfully-administered test, the law enforcement officer will confiscate the motorist’s license card and replace it with a temporary paper license that contains a notice of rights to appeal and an expiration date of 45 days, form DR-15A.
The motorist MUST file an appeal to OAH within 10 days or that suspension will go into effect for at least 45 days for a failure or 120 days for a refusal (or more under some circumstances) at the expiration of the 45-day paper license. A motorist can request an appeal for up to 30 days, but she or her runs a serious risk that his or her license will be suspended pending the scheduling of the hearing, rather than stayed until the hearing date. The details of when a motorist can get leniency or modified suspensions for an alcohol violation are complex and beyond the scope of this article, but there is almost no leniency available in the case of a refusal.
A third major category of Maryland license suspensions comes under Medical Advisory Board (MAB) jurisdiction. Not all bad drivers are bad through culpable neglect; some have medical issues that partially or complete render motoring unsafe, or at least unsafe without specific assurances of treatment or supervision of the conditions. The MVA has the authority to suspend the licenses of motorists who appear to be at risk of meaningful medical harm to themselves or others. Often the suspension may result from the reporting to MVA of a diagnosis or other report of a medical condition such as epilepsy. Under 16-206(a)(ii) of the Transportation article, the MVA has the power to suspend a motorist whom it judges to be unsafe or unfit, and under applicable regulations of the Code of Maryland Regulations the MVA will suspend either after a hearing or in emergency circumstances immediately the motorist’s license to drive pending meaningful assurance that the condition does not represent a threat of a loss of consciousness or other impediment to safe driving.
The OAH is an independent executive branch agency does not depend politically or in its budget process upon any state agency for which it conducts hearings; it also conducts hearings in cases involving the Real Estate Commission, many sub-agencies under the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (though NOT most unemployment hearings) and other agencies, though the MVA provides the lion’s share of the volume at the OAH according to anecdotal reports. Proceedings before the OAH are conducted under relaxed rules of evidence, and the a party dissatisfied with the decision of the OAH can file an appeal to a Circuit Court for judicial review.
In all of these cases, there is a right to due process through an administrative hearing, though the right of review will usually require a written request with a short deadline and a filing fee to the OAH It is most important that any motorist who receives notice of a suspension and who wishes to keep her license NOT ignore the mail, NOT wait but instead to secure the right to an appeal and consult with counsel. Attorney Bruce Godfrey has been assisting motorists and other Marylanders before the OAH since the first months of his career in 1995; motorists with questions about OAH practice can contact the Law Office of Bruce Godfrey at 410-561-6061.