Considering how Arizona is pretty much designed and built around the automobile and how the MVD has a remarkable amount of power to alter and even strip residents of their so-called “privilege” to drive, you’d think that its policies and procedures would be transparent, consistent, and easy to understand. Surprise, surprise, you’d be wrong. The MVD works in truly mysterious ways.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re a criminal defense lawyer and you want to know the effect of a certain type of conviction on a client’s driver’s license. Specifically, you’re trying to figure out the MVD consequences of a conviction for driving in violation of a license restriction, A.R.S. 28-3480. I am personally quite familiar with the charge, though I didn’t have to worry about the consequences of a conviction because the case was obviously ridiculous and the prosecutor dismissed it. Sadly, everyone isn’t charged in a jurisdiction where prosecutors care about doing what’s right. Some people are cited in Scottsdale, after all, and it’s important to be able to tell a client what’s going to happen to his or her license. What do you do then?
Sometimes, you can figure out what’s going to happen by looking through the Arizona Revised Statutes or Arizona Administrative Code. More often than not, you won’t find any answers there. The Arizona Driver License Manual and MVD and Courts Training Manual don’t help most of the time either. When you can’t figure it out on your own, your best bet is to call the MVD. That’s probably what you’ll need to do for a violation of A.R.S. 28-3480, though you may be disappointed by the amount of help they’re able to provide.
To its credit, the MVD has several employees who are willing assist attorneys in just such a situation. They’re actually quite friendly and eager to help, obviously a great alternative to spending hours on hold after calling the main MVD number. Unless you want to satisfy some kind of sick longing for bad muzak, calling the main MVD number is rarely advisable.
If the helpful MVD liaisons were in charge, everything would probably be simple. No one would have to speculate about whether there are going to be serious consequences to a person’s license after a conviction for driving in violation of a restriction. They’d be able to quickly and easily tell a defense lawyer just what happens when a person is convicted of A.R.S. 28-3480. Unfortunately, they aren’t in charge. In reality, the MVD’s actions in response to certain convictions appear to be determined in one of two ways.
First, I suspect there may be a strange, hermit-like wizard lurking somewhere beneath MVD headquarters. When a court reports a conviction, it is delivered to him by a blindfolded MVD courier, and the wizard secretively decides the driver’s fate somewhere deep inside his lair. After the wizard has made up his mind, he sends up colored smoke to signify his decision. MVD employees carefully watch for the smoke, and when they see it, they immediately send out a letter telling the driver what’s going to happen to his license. White smoke? No action. Blue smoke? A one-year continued restriction.
If there isn’t an MVD wizard, the most plausible alternative is that the MVD has Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey stashed away someplace. When a conviction comes in, it goes directly to Hal and he decides accordingly. It’s far too complex a decision for a human to understand, so the MVD leaves Hal to decide based on some unknown evil super computer methodology and simply reports the outcome to the driver. Of course, there’s also the distinct third possibility that the Family Guy Idea Ball Manatees are currently on loan to the MVD, but that just seems ridiculous.
My theories about the inner workings of the MVD are based on highly competent MVD employees’ inability to say with any certainty just what will happen to someone convicted of A.R.S. 28-3480. After extensive research and several calls, all I knew for sure was that the court should report the conviction to the MVD. I was also able to determine relatively early on in the process that, if the driver has not yet obtained a new license without the restriction and goes and gets such a new license after the MVD has already acted on the previous violation of the restriction, the MVD will definitely not apply any restriction triggered by a previous violation of the same restriction to the new, unrestricted license. If the conviction for the violation of the restriction occurs after the driver has gotten the new license, however, things become awfully confusing. Apparently, nobody knew for sure what would actually happen.
For over a week, the best answer I got from the MVD was that “the system may spit out a letter imposing an additional year of the restriction.” No one could tell me what rule required a continued restriction in the first place. No one could tell me why it would have to last a full year either. They couldn’t point to any specific governing provision or even any list of factors they consider. Most amazingly, no one could tell me who actually decides what happens. Is it any surprise I’m speculating about wizards and manatees?
How does the MVD “spit out” a letter? Does a computer write it? Does a person? When they say “they,” who do they mean? Aren’t they “they”? The questions for the MVD liaisons are endless, but they didn’t get me anywhere. The liaisons are just unusually nice people trying to do their job. They aren’t the ones who created this beast of a division inside a bigger beast of a department inside our enormous state government. They aren’t in charge of anything.
In the end, I finally got a voicemail from one liaison saying, “don’t worry about the additional restriction, your client won’t be getting a letter.” I think he’s right. I couldn’t find any authority for the MVD to continue the restriction, and I’ve never gotten more than anecdotal evidence that it’s happened from the defense lawyers who claim it will.
As much as I appreciate the fact the liaison actually followed through with what he said he would do, I’m worried that a government agency could be so big and powerful and opaque and that people fairly high up in the system wouldn’t even know how it works. The liaison who gave me an answer did eventually figure it out, but I was lucky he bothered. I was lucky to have his number in the first place. Most people are stuck guessing after listening to hours of muzak and being treated like crap by a customer service representative.
Imagine you’re convicted of driving in violation of a 60-day restriction requiring you only drive to or from work or school after the 60 days are over and you’ve already gotten your new, unrestricted license. How comforting is it to only know that the MVD may send you a letter telling you the restriction that’s already been lifted is back in place and will last an entire year? The fact that experts at the MVD couldn’t initially say for sure what would happen or even give me some general guidelines about what to expect is pretty amazing. Unfortunately, when it comes to licensing agencies, it’s also pretty common.