U.S Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Examining the Effectiveness of Utah's Law Allowing for
Telephonic Testimony at ALR Hearings

Program Description


            The State of Utah is approximately 82,168 square miles in size.  The capital is Salt Lake City, located along the banks of the Great Salt Lake, in the northern part of the State.  Utah's main urban areas are located along the Wasatch Mountain Range on the eastern edge of the Salt Lake Valley.  The majority of Utah's population is concentrated on this strip of land, which is less than 100 miles long, stretching from Ogden to Provo.  The four counties in the Wasatch Front – Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, and Utah – contain more than three-quarters of the State's population.

            The U.S. Census Bureau reports a 29.6% population growth rate in Utah from 1990-2000, with the largest increases occurring during the latter part of the decade.  The 1990 Census listed the population of Utah at approximately 1,722,850 persons; the 2000 Census lists the Utah population at 2,233,169.  The 1996 per capita income for Utah citizens was approximately $16,100. 


            The administrative driver license sanction, resulting from the arrest of an individual for a DUI-related offense, “allows a peace officer to confiscate your Utah driver license upon arrest for driving under the influence and allows the Division to suspend your license for 90 days or one year on the 30th day after the arrest.”[6]

            Section 53-3-222 of the Utah Public Safety Code (see Appendix A) states the purpose of license suspension or revocation for driving under the influence is to protect individuals on the highways by quickly removing persons who have shown they are safety hazards.  At the time of arrest for DUI, the individual is provided with a copy of the DUI Summons and Citation (see copy in Appendix B).  This form includes a notice of intent to deny, suspend, revoke or disqualify that individual's driving privilege.  The right to a hearing is printed on the form and states that, in order to retain driving privileges, the defendant must “prevail both before the court and the Driver License Division (DLD) separately.”   The instructions explain that the Driver License Division must receive a written request for a hearing within ten calendar days of arrest.  The numbers of individuals requesting a hearing from the DLD as a result of a DUI arrest have increased steadily since 1995 to a current level of approximately 20% of DUI arrestees.

            The Driver License Division, by statute, has 30 days from the date of a DUI-related arrest to comply with a driver's request for a hearing.  Hearings are conducted in the jurisdiction where the arrest was made.  There are 22 hearing officers and managers, employed by the Utah Driver License Division, situated throughout the state who handle driver license related hearings resulting from all types of offenses.  However, the alleged DUI offense is the only offense that has time stipulations attached to the hearing request.  These hearings are given priority by the hearing officers.           


            As with many other states, the Department of Public Safety in Utah has faced problems with fulfilling the intent of the ALR law, that is, to remove hazardous drivers from the State's roadways.  Officials in Utah have demonstrated a willingness to actively confront problems with ALR implementation.  This project has allowed staff an opportunity to track, evaluate and work with the site to document the problems encountered and solutions devised so that we may provide information to other states that may encounter similar problems when implementing ALR.  The problems identified during the project, along with the solutions, are discussed below.

Lack of Awareness – Right to an ALR Hearing

            Individuals arrested for DWI-related offenses had complained they were not aware of the right to an ALR hearing, even though notice of that right is printed on the Summons and Citation form (see Appendix B).  As a result, new DUI Summons and Citation forms were printed with the “Right To Hearing” title printed in red ink.  In addition, the arresting officers have been instructed to verbally inform the driver of the right to a hearing and to note on the DUI Summons and Citation form that this task was completed.

ALR Hearings Used as Discovery Tool

            During our work over the years with law enforcement officers from across the United States, we have often heard complaints that defense attorneys inappropriately ask unrelated, discovery type questions at ALR hearings as a means of preparation for the separate judiciary proceedings.  Reportedly, this has also been a problem at ALR hearings held in Utah.  Most DUI-related cases in Utah are adjudicated in Justice Court, which means there are no preliminary hearings.  Therefore it is the complaint of law enforcement officers, as well as some hearing officers, that defense attorneys attempt to use the Driver License Division hearing as a discovery tool.  (However, as one law enforcement officer pointed out, this can also work to assure the demise of a challenge if the video or the officer's statement shows an extremely strong case.) 

            While this complaint will probably always be a problem, especially when defense attorneys are present, hearing officers in Utah receive training on how to handle inappropriate questions that are asked during a hearing session.  This type of training is complicated, because some questions that might be considered discovery in nature are appropriate at an ALR hearing.  Performance evaluations of the hearing officers are continual, as all hearings are audio taped and a manager randomly reviews these tapes to detect potential problems.  When there is a formal complaint made, the manager always reviews the referenced hearing.  If necessary, a hearing officer may receive additional training to enable that officer to effectively handle difficult situations surrounding inappropriate discovery type questions. 

Closing Statements at an ALR Hearing

            Initially, defense attorneys had the last opportunity to sway the decision of the hearing officer because they could make closing statements.  The law enforcement officer, whose role in an ALR hearing is that of a witness, was not allowed to make closing statements.  Some law enforcement officers believed they, too, should be able to make closing remarks.  The result is that now the arresting officers are permitted to make brief closing statements to the hearing officer, although it is not clear that all hearing officers ask LEA officers in all sessions if they wish to make any closing remarks.  There is an ongoing evaluation process in place, as a manager is randomly reviewing the audiotapes, but data is not being collected on how many law enforcement officers choose to make closing statements.

Law Enforcement Officers - Costs to Appear

            The individual law enforcement agencies (LEAs) must absorb the costs of officers appearing at ALR hearings.  For example, depending upon the agency, this might require payment of overtime, or time taken from other scheduled duties.  Reportedly, this has caused a problem in the past so that some agencies were not encouraging the arresting officers to attend the ALR hearings.  Currently, a nominal fee is paid from a special fund to law enforcement agencies to assist in defraying appearance costs.  The Driver License Division reimburses each LEA in the amount of $18.25 for each ALR hearing an officer attends.  However, the fee does not completely cover the costs, and there is speculation that some law enforcement authorities, probably due to personnel time and cost constraints, actually discourage officers from appearing at ALR hearings. 

Law Enforcement Officers – Failure to Appear

            Due to detailed record keeping, state officials were able to determine that a significant number of law enforcement officers were not appearing at ALR hearings.  As a result, those drivers who had been arrested for DUI-related offenses were allowed to keep their driving privileges pending court actions.  The intent of the ALR law, to remove unsafe drivers from public roadways, was being thwarted.

            Arresting officers might not appear at a hearing for a variety of reasons.  Conflicts could arise with LEA-related training schedules, work-related duties such as a crash taking priority, and personal reasons such as a hearing scheduled during the officer's vacation or off-duty hours when other commitments intervened.  (An example given was that officers working the night shift often had spouses working during the day, which meant child care responsibilities for the off-duty officers.)  Also, as stated above, there were indications that in some LEAs, command officers do not encourage the arresting officers to attend hearings because their Department must pay most of the costs for the officers' time.

            During the year 2000 General Session, Utah state legislators voted to enact Section 53-3-223.5 of the Utah Code to allow telephonic or live audio-visual testimony at hearings.  The law states, “In any division hearing authorized under this chapter or Title 41, Chapter 6, Article 5, Driving While Intoxicated and Reckless Driving, the division may permit a party or witness to attend or to testify by telephone or live audio-visual means.”  While a few unofficial telephonic hearings were held during the summer months of 2000, the actual implementation began in September of that year, with telephonic capabilities increasing throughout the following months.

            Though several ALR issues are discussed above, the adoption of the option of telephonic testimony was selected as the specific measure to be the subject of this evaluation study.

[6] Utah Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division. (1999.) Utah Driver Handbook. Salt Lake City, Utah: State of Utah, Department of Public Safety.