A conviction in California for driving under the influence (DUI) can have an enormous impact on your life. This is especially true if you hold a Commercial Driver's License. California Vehicle Code § 23152 is the statute that regulates DUI generally. Under a typical DUI, you can be convicted of a misdemeanor if you operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if you drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more.
Section 23152 goes further when it comes to commercial drivers. Operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC as low as .04 can lead to a misdemeanor conviction for DUI under California law. If you have Commercial Drivers License, your liberty and your livelihood may be on the line. If you have been arrested for DUI with a Commercial Driver's License in L.A. County, William S. Kroger Attorney at Law is ready to help.
What Constitutes DUI and Commercial Driver's License in California?
Drivers of commercial vehicles are held to a higher standard under California law. According to California Vehicle Code § 23152 (d):
It is unlawful for a person who has 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a commercial motor vehicle, as defined in Section 15210. In a prosecution under this subdivision, it is a rebuttable presumption that the person had 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of driving the vehicle if the person had 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of the performance of a chemical test within three hours after the driving.
The language relating to a commercial driver's BAC levels is almost identical to the standard DUI law, but with a lower threshold of .04 percent or more. You are presumed to have a BAC of .04 or more at the time you were driving if you have a BAC test that reflects at least .04 within three hours of your arrest. This is a departure from most criminal cases where you are presumed innocent. DUI with a Commercial Driver's License cases are defensible, however, so long as you hire an experienced DUI defense attorney that knows how to approach these cases.
Commercial Motor Vehicles in California
Commercial drivers may be held to a higher standard in most cases, but you will only face the lower BAC limit if you are operating a commercial motor vehicle. But what is a commercial motor vehicle? Section 23152 (d) doesn't specify, but helpfully another California statute does.
According to California Vehicle Code § 15210 (b)(1), a commercial motor vehicle is any vehicle that requires a Class A driver's license, a Class B driver's license, or a Class C driver's license with a commercial endorsement. The California Department of Motor Vehicles defines each class of vehicle as follows:
Commercial Class A License
A Commercial Class A License allows you to operate any legal combination of vehicles, including towing another vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of more than 10,000 pounds. This typically includes tanker trucks and 18-wheelers.
Commercial Class B License
A Commercial Class B License allows you to operate all Class B and class C rated vehicles. You are allowed to operate any legal vehicle that has a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less. This includes most buses, small moving trucks, and farm equipment.
Class C License with a Commercial Endorsement
A Class C License is a standard driver's license. It lets you operate 2-axle vehicles with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds or less or a 3-axle vehicle of 6,000 pounds or less. A Class C commercial endorsement allows you to carry hazardous materials. If you hold a Class C License, you are only liable under California Vehicle Code § 23152 (d) if you have a commercial endorsement on your Class C License.
Examples of Commercial DUIs in California
Because the law applies differently depending on what vehicle you are driving and what type of license you hold, examples can be helpful to illustrate how these laws work:
Example: DUI with a Commercial Drivers License
Dave is a commercial trucker driver. After a night out at the bar, he climbs into the cab of his Class A designated vehicle and drives home. He doesn't feel any effects of the alcohol he consumed, and his ability to drive is in no way impeded. After being pulled over for speeding, the deputy smells alcohol on Dave's breath and eventually arrests him under suspicion of DUI. At the police station, Dave gives a breath sample that registers .06. Dave is arrested for DUI and Commercial Driver's License.
Example: No Crime Committed
This time, commercial truck driver Dave is heading home from a night out at the bar in his personal vehicle. Dave shows no signs of being impaired. After he is stopped for speeding and ultimately arrested for suspicion of DUI, he gives a breath sample that registers .06. Unless police believe he was driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Dave will not be charged with a DUI offense.
It's worth noting that the same conduct resulted in widely different outcomes based only on the vehicle Dave was driving. There is often a fine line between what a criminal offense is and what it is not; an experienced DWI defense attorney can help explain these distinctions to you.
What are the Penalties for a Conviction of DUI and Commercial Driver's License?
The criminal penalties for a DUI with a Commercial Driver's License are the same for a standard DUI under California law. However, Commercial Driver's License drivers face much stiffer restrictions on their driver's license after a DUI conviction. A first, second, or third conviction for commercial DUI is a misdemeanor while a fourth conviction is a felony. Keep in mind that you can technically be charged with commercial DUI even if your Commercial Driver's License is revoked, as the statute applies to anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle.
A first offense for DUI with a Commercial Driver's License carries a maximum jail sentence of 6 months and a fine of up to $1,000. It also includes a suspension of your driver's license for one year, enrollment in a DUI School course, and victim impact panels operated by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This suspension is longer than the 6-month suspension non-Commercial Driver's License drivers face. Another difference is that if you have a Commercial Driver's License, you cannot obtain a restricted Commercial Driver's License that allows you to work during your suspension. While you may be eligible for a restricted driver's license, it can only be used for non-commercial vehicles.
For subsequent DUI with a Commercial Driver's License convictions, the penalties are the same as those for a traditional DUI. You can read more about those penalties here. There is one major caveat, however. A second conviction for DUI with a Commercial Driver's License will lead to a lifetime revocation of your Commercial Driver's License. If you make your living through your Commercial Driver's License, a second conviction for commercial DUI can cost you your livelihood. It is imperative that you speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney immediately to give yourself a fighting chance of holding on to your license.
Other Consequences of a Commercial Driver's License DUI
If that wasn't enough, the hardships you face might continue well after your Commercial Driver's License suspension is lifted. To most trucking companies, a DUI on your record makes you a liability. There are a lot of drivers out there, and many employers may not be willing to take the risk on you if you've been previously convicted of DUI before. It's possible that a first DUI with Commercial Driver's License conviction can be the end of your driving career.
You will also face consequences as it relates to your auto insurance. Premiums for drivers with a DUI on their record typically increase dramatically. These increases can be so steep that it may be financially unfeasible to continue operating as a commercial driver.
Potential Legal Defenses to a Charge of DUI and Commercial Driver's License
Just because you have been charged with a commercial DUI doesn't mean you will automatically be convicted. An experienced DUI defense attorney will review the facts of your case, and if you a viable defense you could find the charges against you dismissed. If the case proceeds to trial, your attorney might be able to show a jury of your peers that you were not guilty. The two most common types of defenses are challenges to your traffic stop and challenges to your BAC test.
Challenges to the stop are an effective defense. If you were stopped illegally, any evidence collected during the stop cannot be used against you. That includes statements as well as breath test results. An officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred to pull you over, and if they did not meet that burden your attorney may be able to have the evidence against you thrown out.
It is also common for defense attorneys to challenge the results of the chemical test. A Commercial DUI only requires a .04 BAC which is a relatively small amount of alcohol. Your attorney may be able to show a jury that it is unreasonable to presume your BAC at the time of driving was above the legal limit.
A California DUI Defense Attorney you can Trust
If you have been charged in L.A. County with DUI and Commercial Driver's License, you need an attorney you can trust to defend your rights and protect your livelihood. William S. Kroger Attorney at Law is a seasoned defense attorney that is prepared to defend your rights. Contact William S. Kroger Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.