Brown & Little, P.L.C. » MVD Hearings » The Inner Workings of Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division

The Inner Workings of Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division

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.

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4 Responses to "The Inner Workings of Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division"

  1. Leigh Mortensen says:

    I have a story of wonder and amazement….once upon a time in the Valley of Phoenix…lol, there was a young lady with three small children an ex husband and a best friend. The best friend asks the young lady for a favor, okay enough with the story telling, right? ok so my friend asked me to help her get her car back from her soon to be EX boyfriend, I said sure, without getting verification that all her paperwork was in order, ha, so this favor entailed me and her taking her moms car over to the Ex boyfriends house and me getting out with her set of keys to her car, and I drove away and followed her back to her moms, well little snafu in the plan, while following my friend, I was pulled over for a tail light out. (yes I failed as well to check the car was in order) so anyways, I was not worried about being pulled over because I had a Spotless driving record, ( I even bragged that on my resume) I figured a warning, right? well it appears that my friend had not paid her insurance premium since her ex would not give her back her car. So guess who got the driving without insurance ticket ME. so I go to court, still not worried, I got this…well I went in front of a very displeased and unsympathetic female judge at our fine Maricopa County courthouse and explain all the details above, and she appeared to be listening for a second, then tells me go get insurance policy and come back she will reduce the $585+ fine, I reminded her that I actually did not own the car nor any car, I was newly divorced single unemployed mom. she then suggested I “insure myself” so that I am covered driving anyones vehicle, well those options seem fair and reasonable right? yeah I did not think so either, she said sit down and wait for your paperwork, I believe she wanted me set up payment plan for the fine because I had already expressed that her suggested remedies were not going to work for me…so I left the courtroom, my bad, but she apparently immediately suspended my license indefinitely then and there. unaware I got myself a car a few months later, and well the rest of the details you can probably figure out, so fast forward that was 2003, since then I have lost 2 cars impound, 1 car bail bondsman, 4 times being arrested,1 time the day before my little girls 1st birthday, another time while at a child support modification hearing where I was trying to reduce the anmount I WAS PAYING FOR KIDS THAT WERE LIVING WITH ME, I had my son with me and was on my lunch break from work, I got there and my ex husband his new wife and their attorney, smirked at me, and behind them coming at me was a deputy with pink handcuffs for me. my crime was “failure to pay fines on driving on suspended” I spent the next 12 days in jail, lost my job, and the child support was not ever even modified, whoa, ok and that’s not it,,,,,i also have paid in excess of $ 6,352.17 towards fines already and the courts claim I still owe $13,713.16. that is @#$%^ hilarious, huh, well they have also issued again 2 warrants for my arrest and the bond amounts are::$1,280 & $1,320…yet the warrant for a man on the list under me is wanted for assault and his bond is set at $280? and finally, I could go on for everrrrrrrrr…but I willadd just this, I went to court on 12-17-2013 throughthe Veterans court, and was told those warrants were quashed but yep as of yesterday both still active , called court asked them why, they had no answer nor any remedy other that me doing their job and coming to the 3rd floor getting the print out form the clerk computer scree and then taking it myself to the other court who issued the warrants to prove they were quashed. that whole process they suggest I do, involves at least 4 peoples jobs, 4 people at very least are paid everyday to perform that task they want me to do,( 1-)the judges assistant that enters the decision into computer (2)-clerk at court A, (3)- courier, (4) clerk at court B. the nerve of some people right?

  2. Exhausted by the Pursuit of Justice says:

    A Traffic Stop in Scottsdale is similar to an innocent child falling prey to a child molester! Age and race are irrelevant. There does not have to be a reason for the traffic stop. By the time you receive the Police Report you will read it in disbelief as it surely does not describe the traffic stop you were a party too. Ahh! And then there is the DRE that knows that should he be able to provide a report with any “clues” of impairment, it will set him up for an impending “windfall” of overtime pay!!! MMM! There is the famous “Walk and Turn” that even moving a hand away from your side is a clue of impairment!
    Oh! If you are a woman, do not cry! They will say your eyes were watery. Another clue!!!
    No one gets dismissed from the Scottsdale Municipal Court. It is known that the Supervising Prosecutor let’s no one leave without a “cookie cutter plea deal” a fine and a court enhancement fee @84%. Either that or be prepared to spend at least 20K getting your case to trial! DUI is big business in Scottsdale! Every Grant proposal outlines the Revenue aspect of DUI Prosecutions with 46% of the fines going to the State of AZ and 47% going to the City of Scottsdale to pay the officers and court staff arresting and prosecuting the DUI defendants.
    Arizona boasts the toughest DUI Laws in the United States. Scottsdale boasts some of the toughest DUI enforcement and prosecution in Arizona. Really??? Then why are the extreme and super-extreme DUIs consistently pled down to regular DUI’s because blood work from the DPS labs is sometime unreliable? (As told to Laurie Roberts of the AZREPUBLIC by MS CARON CLOSE SCOTTSDALE SUPERVISING PROSECUTOR) Why is fine revenue not being used to improve the blood testing capabilities @ DPS? Why is so much revenue being wasted prosecuting those clearly arrested in error! Why is there no fine revenue allocated to DUI victims and their families????
    It is time to answer these questions and many more!

  3. Jessica says:

    Although it appears this posting is a few months old, I thought I would share my two scents/experiences relating to the issue. Let me start by saying that I feel the AZ MVD thinks and acts like they have more power than god himself- and in a way most certainly do!

    First off, in response to the question of MVD consequences or actions that will/may be imposed..
    It depends on a few factors. I am not a lawyer or MVD employee but have become VERY knowledgeable with all aspects. The MVD website indicates that a person may/ or may not be suspended for driving on a suspended license. It used to be that MVD would (if they so chose) to do what was called a like suspension and impose a sentence the same length as courts. For example if a person was cited for driving on a suspended license and went to court and either plead guilty or entered into plea and was given a fine and 3, 6 or 12 month DL suspension. And it gets forwarded to MVD they would also ADD a additional 1 year suspension to your record..

    However, there have been so very recent law changes that affect this scenario… and MVD no longer has the rights”to impose a like suspension of any kind” after conviction of ARS 28-3840 for any citation issued after january 1st 2011.. Because the changes are so new, and the large number employed by MVD, its possible that not everyone has seen that Memo or at least thats how it seemed to me.
    My case went something like this:

    Jan 25 2011 – While stopped at a light MCSO ran my plate and then pulled me over. Obviously I wasnt speeding..explained that the only outstanding matter I had was out of chandler where I was unable to pay the last of a fine. (I did call the court when I was unable to pay and was advised “due to it being civil traffic, if I wasnt able to pay in full it would remain due and be filed under “failure to pay’ but didnt have any suspensions on dl or registration or warrants) The officer advised me that he ran my plate and it showed that my DL had been suspended. I am the sole owner of my vehicle which is paid for in full and I was able to provide Current registration and current insurance upon request. The officer gave me a citation for driving on a suspended license and IMPOUNDED MY CAR for 30 days under 28-3511 and towed my car from queen creek to tempe and charged me the mileage..
    I am a single mom of two kids and rely on my car and DL very much and not being able to drive would be impossible. I paid the tow fees, impound fees, outstanding court fees, DL reinstatment fees and impound release fees. Just under $2500 later it was time to go to court on the new ticket.
    I was very concerned that I had worked so hard and paid out so much money and could possibly be suspend 2 weeks later. I was very skeptical of the prosecutor that advised me of the law changes and reluctantly signed plea agreement and paid the fine for a reduced ticket and fine.
    But, like i feared MVD sent me a letter stating priveledges were suspended and I could only go to certain places at certain times. I tried to dispute with MVD or courts or anyone that would listen and although it was not easy I did get it reversed based on the changes in laws.
    So then I find myself asking “when did AZ become a state where an officer can impound a car for driving on a suspended” WHAT HAPPENED TO BEING INNCOCENT UNTIL FOUND GUILTY. And why doesnt they impound count as punishment enough when stopped, when standing before judge.
    It amazes me how many things can actually suspend a persons dl privilege, and the number of errors occur at courts. And what happens when you do go before judge and the original charged of driving on a suspended license is amended or reduced and you are technically not found guilty….why should a person not be reimbursed for the cost associated with vehicle impoundment when it was done based on driving on suspension??

    I hope this helps.
    AZ frustrated driver

  4. Tim says:

    Having been on the receiving end, I can tell you that the rules certainly seem capricious and arbitrary; the final paragraph fit my situation exactly.

    I had been convicted (plead guilty, actually, after challenging the stop) of DUI in Scottsdale. One month into the mandatory one year interlock period, I was sent a notice that I was required to take traffic school, and did so, with the MVD confirming that the requirement was fulfilled. Four weeks later, they suspended my license without sending a letter. I drove on that suspended license for the eight remaining months of my sentence. I was informed of all of this the day I went in to have the restriction removed from the license.

    Luckily, I was not pulled over during this time. I consulted my attorney upon discovering this and he explained how lucky I was. At least, I would have had another year’s suspension and a reset of the one-year interlock requirement. It was likely that I’d also serve the nine suspended days of the sentence reinstated.

    What bothers me most about situations like this is the way an administrative punishment can automatically trigger criminal punishment, often without any apparent method for either the appeal or the overturning of the administrative portion.

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