If you drive a commercial vehicle for a living and have been arrested in the Los Angeles Area on charges of DUI, you face stricter standards and potentially more severe sentencing than would an "ordinary" driver. To avoid these consequences and to prevent the permanent loss of your current line of employment, it is imperative that you waste no time in contacting an experienced DUI defense attorney.

At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we long experience at handling not only simple DUI cases but cases involving commercial driver's license suspensions as well. We have a track record of success at securing favorable outcomes to CDL DUI cases and will work tirelessly in your behalf to protect your livelihood.

What Is a Commercial Driver DUI in California?

California Vehicle Code Sections 23152d and 15300 address DUI violations by those operating a commercial vehicle and/or holding a commercial driver's license.

For drivers of commercial vehicles, only a BAC of .04% or higher (instead of the usual .08%) is necessary to constitute a DUI violation. And this standard and other commercial driver penalties still apply even if you were not operating a commercial vehicle at the time of your DUI arrest. The idea is that a person who drives under the influence in one vehicle cannot be trusted to avoid doing so in another.

Also, if your BAC was .08% or higher or if your driving is deemed to have been impaired by drugs or alcohol, your CDL will be suspended for at least one year. This is very different than with non-commercial suspensions, which only have a 6 month minimum suspension and allow the issuing of a restricted license within 30 days.

Another stricter policy for commercial drivers is that a BAC test reading of .04% or higher within 3 hours of being behind the wheel creates a "rebuttable presumption" of DUI guilt. While arguably unfair, this rule essentially reverses the old adage of "innocent until proven guilty." The DUI can still be rebutted, that is, successfully argued against at the DMV hearing and/or in court, however, by a skilled DUI lawyer.

What Is a "Commercial Vehicle?"

Almost anything that requires you to hold a commercial driver's license while driving it can be considered a commercial vehicle for DUI purposes. However, California law goes into much more detail and lists the following classes of vehicles as qualifying as "commercial:"

  • Any vehicle with a GVWR over 26,001 pounds and that can tow a vehicle with a GVWR of over 10,001 pounds.
  • All double trailers.
  • All school buses, along with all vehicles that carry ten or more people.
  • All tank-type trucks.
  • Any vehicle carrying hazardous materials.

Vehicles that one might think would be classed as commercial but that are not, include:

  • Taxis, Uber ride-share vehicles, and limos with a less than 10-person capacity.
  • Recreational vehicles ("RVs" or "campers").
  • Farm vehicles when driven by anyone exempted from needing a California driver's license to operate them.

Possible Penalties

Penalties for a California DUI by a holder of a commercial driver's license tend to be very strict. And these penalties apply regardless of what type of vehicle the driver was operating when issued the DUI. Possible sentencing elements for first through third violations include:

  • A maximum of 12 months in county jail, and informal probation.
  • A fine of from $390 to $1,000.
  • Mandatory attendance at a state-approved DUI class, at your own expense, for anywhere from 3 to 36 months.

The above penalties are for misdemeanor violations and do not take up the issue of license suspension, since that is dealt with in the next section. If an injury or death was caused in an accident related to your DUI, it can be charged as a felony and could result in a long term in state prison. But most DUIs, even commercial DUIs, are charged as misdemeanors.

Will My CDL Be Suspended?

As with other sentencing elements, license suspensions for DUI are generally stricter with those who hold commercial licenses. Here is what to expect:

A first time offense will result in a one-year suspension of your CDL, regardless of what vehicle you were driving during the DUI, and without any possibility of getting a restricted license to use in driving to/from work and to/from your DUI classes. Again, this is much harsher than for ordinary DUIs, where a six-month suspension with the possibility (and even likelihood) of getting a restricted license exists.

And, if you are convicted of a repeat DUI offense, your CDL will be revoked permanently, as in for the rest of your life. Thus, drivers of commercial vehicles are, in effect, punished by having their jobs taken away for at least one year and sometimes for life, if they get a DUI. Whereas, others who commit DUI are given a restricted license so that they need not lose their job.

Many have concluded this system is unfair, while others argue that the larger, more dangerous vehicles often driven with a CDL merit such harshness. But as a defendant, the important thing is not to argue over the fairness of the law but to secure a skilled DUI lawyer who can argue to get your DUI charge dismissed, acquitted, or at least reduced, so as to save your driving privileges and your livelihood.

Common Defense Strategies

At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we know how to form unique defense strategies that fit the exact circumstances of each and every case we take on. However, over the years, we have also seen many similar cases that required much the same defense strategy. Here are some of the most commonly used defenses at our DUI law firm:

  1. Your BAC test results were inaccurate: The reason for a false BAC reading could be any number of things, including: instruments not properly calibrated or used, testing equipment that was not properly maintained and thus not reliable, a still-rising BAC that would thus have been lower while actually driving, the taking of certain medications or even the use of mouth wash, acid reflux and certain other medical conditions, or burping or regurgitating during or just before the breathalyzer test.

  2. The traffic stop or arrest was conducted illegally: If police do not use proper procedure in making a DUI arrest, the evidence they collect can become inadmissible in court. For example, if they stopped you and/or arrested you without probable cause, did not follow California's Title-17 police procedures, or questioned and arrested you without ever reading you your Miranda Rights, your DUI case could be dismissed as a result.

  3. The police report and police testimony are questionable: If the arresting officer can be shown to have given false information about past DUI or other arrestees or to otherwise have a bad character record, his/her testimony can be weakened or rendered ineffective. If the police report was filled out sloppily, incompletely, or in any way falsely, this could also help to win your DUI case.

What About My Non-commercial driver’s license?

Although there really is no way around losing your CDL for a year for a first-time DUI offense and for life for a repeat DUI offense, yet, the question still remains of what will happen to your non-commercial driver’s license. Certainly, it will be suspended as well, for at least as long as a non-CDL DUI, but a good defense lawyer may be able to limit the suspension to that.

You will face the same penalties as non-commercial drivers as far as jail time or probationary periods, fines and court fees, mandatory DUI class, and getting your non-commercial license reinstated after the suspension. To get your commercial driver’s license reinstated after a first offense year-long suspension, the process will be more rigorous but still quite doable (especially with helpful advice from a skilled lawyer.

What About a Non-commercial Restricted License?

You cannot get a restricted commercial driver’s license, but in some cases, a good DUI lawyer may be able to get you a restricted non-commercial license after a CDL DUI offense. There is no guarantee and there are strict requirements, including the following:

  • It would have to be your first DUI offense (in the last 10 years).
  • You cannot have refused the chemical BAC test.
  • You cannot have been under 21 when you got the DUI.
  • Your license cannot be already suspended for a no-DUI reason.
  • You must enroll in and agree to complete a First Offender Program. You need to have a physical copy of a certificate of enrollment from a state-licensed program provider.
  • You will have at least a 30-day suspension of your non-commercial license and pay a $125 license reissue fee.
  • You will need to find an insurer who will approve you and file the SR-22 “proof of financial responsibility” form in your behalf with the state.

If your commercial DUI took place while actually driving a commercial vehicle, as outlined in the section above on that topic, your restricted license (should you be allowed one by the presiding judge) will only allow you to travel to and from your DUI School location during the relevant hours.

If, however, your commercial DUI occurred while driving a non-commercial vehicle, your non-commercial restricted license would allow you to drive to and from your job as well as the DUI School. The hours would still be restricted to help ensure you use the restricted license appropriately. It would count as a separate crime, driving on a suspended license, if you were caught using the restricted license for non-approved purposes.

Your commercial driver’s license would be downgraded to a “Class C” (non-commercial license) and then you would be able to apply for the restricted license if the judge allows. Again, there would still be an initial period where you had no license, and the restricted license would last only 5 months. After it expires, you would have to apply again to get it extended.

Don’t Risk Your Future By Going to Your DMV Hearing or Trial Un- or Under- Represented

Finally, we want to close by reiterating once again the importance of availing yourself of solid legal advice and representation when facing a California commercial license DUI. This is one of the most serious classes of DUI you can face, and there are many special rules, procedures, and requirements that will surprise you if you don’t have a commercial DUI expert to guide you through the process.

Fighting the conviction to begin with is not much different than with an ordinary DUI, but the prosecution will be all the more aggressive, so your defense lawyer had better be too. If you cannot escape conviction entirely, a good lawyer may be able to get the charge reduced to wet or dry reckless in some cases. Or, if a DUI conviction is unavoidable, a good lawyer can still negotiate to reduce elements of your sentence and possibly to get you at least a non-commercial restricted license as soon as possible.

Finally, avoiding or minimizing time spent behind bars in state prison or county jail is huge, and it takes a very experienced DUI lawyer to help you get probation and get into sentence-reducing “jail alternative” programs.

Contact Us Today for Help

Los Angeles DUI Lawyer has deep expertise in fighting commercial driver's license suspensions in the state of California. We know how to build a solid defense and to probe for weaknesses in the prosecution's case against you.

We understand the particularities of California law and local L.A. Area counties and courts when it comes to commercial driving DUIs, and we will leave no stone unturned in fighting for your future and your livelihood.

To learn more or for a free commercial DUI consultation, contact us anytime 24/7 at 310-848-1376.