Drunk-driving laws in California are strict on commercial drivers who drive while intoxicated with alcohol, drugs, or both. Unlike non-commercial drivers, commercial drivers can get charged with DUI if they are arrested, and their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.04% or above. Among the many penalties that will result from this arrest is your commercial driver’s license (CDL) suspension. What is even more stressful is that the license gets permanently suspended if you are convicted for a second or subsequent offense.
The good news is that you still can fight the charges against you to prevent the license suspension. However, for this, you must seek the help of an expert DUI defense lawyer. If you are in Van Nuys and the surrounding areas, attorneys from Leah Legal are at your disposal to help. Using their knowledge and understanding of the California DUI laws, these attorneys may build a strong defense that could get you the best possible results for your case.
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An Overview of California Commercial DUI Laws
California’s commercial drunk-driving law is defined under Vehicle Code (VC) 23152 d. This statute prohibits one from operating a commercial automobile while they have a 0.04% BAC or more. This BAC limit only applies when a motorist is operating a commercial motor vehicle. If the vehicle being driven is non-commercial, for instance, a car or motorcycle, the standard 0.08% BAC limit applies.
The 0.04% and 0.08% BAC levels are strict limits. This means they apply irrespective of whether the respective driver is impaired or not. To add on CDL suspension, commercial DUI can also subject you to other punishments like fines, probation, alcohol/drug education program, and a jail term.
What is a Commercial Vehicle?
Commercial vehicles in California are classified into two main types. They are:
- Those that are driven by drivers who hold Class B driver’s licenses, and
- Those that are driven by motorists who hold standard Class C licenses with a commercial endorsement
Smaller Commercial Automobiles
Drivers with standard Class C licenses can operate various small commercial vehicles. However, motorists who drive these kinds of vehicles must get an endorsement for commercial driving. Smaller commercial automobiles include:
- School buses
- Passenger motor vehicles that can carry ten or more passengers, the driver included
- Vehicles that move perilous materials and must have placards
- In particular scenarios, farm vehicles
- Tank vehicles
- Double trailers
Big commercial automobiles that are operated by drivers holding Class B licenses include:
- Any truck that has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of over 26,000 pounds
- A 3-axle truck that weighs more than 6,000 pounds
Vehicles categorized in the classes mentioned below are not commercial:
- Agricultural automobiles that are driven by California drivers who don’t need to have a license to drive
- Recreational vehicles
California statutes further identify three kinds of CDLs, namely Class A, B & C. Each specific type of license allows a commercial motorist to operate a given sort of commercial automobile.
If you hold a Class A commercial driver’s license, you will be able to operate large trucks that weigh 26,000lbs or more. The towed automobile should weigh 10000lbs or more. On the other hand, if you hold a Class B CDL, you can drive motor vehicles that weigh 26,000lbs or more, but the automobile to be towed has to weigh 10,000lbs or less. And if you have a Class C CDL, you can drive any commercial vehicle apart from those classified under class A & B. Class C vehicles are mainly the smaller Commercial motor vehicles.
Generally, Class A license holders will operate a combination of trucks, truck-trailers, or tankers. Those who have Class B licenses will drive city-operating buses, construction vehicles, or delivery trucks. Class C holders will drive school buses, PSVs, or Hazmat vehicles.
How a Commercial Motorist Can be Cited for Drunk-Driving
Commercial drivers are subject to severe punishment if convicted of any drunk-driving. Scenarios that can cause DUI consequences for commercial motorists are as follows:
When the Motorist is Intoxicated with an Alcoholic Drink
A commercial driver is deemed to be intoxicated when his/her physical or mental abilities are so impaired that he/she can’t drive with the same caution as a sober driver would do.
When the Driver’s BAC Limit is more than the Standard Legal Limit
A driver’s BAC limit is considered to be past the legal limit when he/she operates a commercial motor vehicle when he/she has a BAC of .04% or more. Or it can also be when the driver operates any other automobile when he/she has a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more.
This kind of DUI is referred to as per se DUI, meaning DUI of itself. If you have the standard blood alcohol level limit at the time of the arrest, you will be considered to be under the influence. It doesn’t matter whether you are impaired or not. On this note, when proving drunk-driving charges, the prosecutor doesn’t need to show you were indeed so impaired that you could not drive safely.
When the Motorist is Intoxicated with Drugs (with/without alcohol)
A motorist commits a drunk-driving offense when/she drives while intoxicated with any drug (DUID) or is intoxicated with both alcohol and drugs.
CDL Suspension and DUI
In California, DUI laws penalize CDL holders severely when they are put under arrest for DUI. Precisely, their CDLs will be revoked or suspended. DUI charges do not only originate from the actual drinking of alcohol but also other crimes associated with alcohol.
The DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) is the agency that issues or suspends driver’s licenses in California. Once you are arrested for drunk-driving, the arresting officer forwards your case to this agency. Also, your driver's license is seized and sent to the DMV. You are then issued with a temporary license, which will enable you to continue driving. The temporary license expires in thirty days.
The DMV will then give you only ten days within which you have to request a DMV hearing. The purpose of the hearing is for you to try and prevent the DMV from suspending your CDL. Failure to demand this hearing in the stipulated time, your CDL will automatically be suspended for a year. The suspension takes effect after the temporary driver’s license expires. If the DMV hearing takes place, and the outcome doesn’t favor you, your CDL will also be suspended.
Criminal Court Suspension
Remember that as your case is taken to the DMV, criminal charges will also be filed against you. This means that your case will be taken to court where criminal proceedings will take place. Here, the prosecuting attorney relies on witnesses and arresting officer’s account of events. Other proof to indicate that you were drunk or impaired includes the field sobriety test results. In case you are found guilty, the court will suspend your CDL for a year. Note that the court suspension is separate from the DMV’s suspension.
Other Offenses that Could Lead to CDL Suspension
Apart from impairment and being under the influence, various situations/offenses can also lead to the suspension of your CDL. These cases are as follows:
Refusing to Take Chemical Tests
According to the California implied consent law, a driver is allowed to refuse or agree to chemical testing. However, declining to take the chemical tests after a legal DUI arrest can subject you to severe legal punishment. You can’t be prosecuted for refusing to submit to a PAS test, except if you are on probation or if you are below 21 years. However, this is different when it comes to blood or breath test after an arrest.
If you decline to take chemical tests after a legal commercial DUI arrest, your CDL may automatically be suspended. In case after the refusal you are convicted of commercial drunk-driving, your punishment will be increased. Just like in any DUI offense, you have only ten days from the day you are charged with a chemical test refusal offense to demand a DMV hearing. In this hearing, you are supposed to challenge the DMV’s move to suspend your license.
Driving on a Suspended License
If at a certain point, you drive a commercial vehicle when your CDL is revoked or suspended, you may be subjected to severe consequences. As per VC 23152 d, a commercial driver cannot apply for a restricted license once his/her CDL is suspended. Thus, operating a commercial motor vehicle at the time your license is suspended is a crime. If convicted of driving on a revoked/suspended license, the period for the suspension may be enhanced. In this case, the additional suspension period will be equivalent to the initial suspension. The added period of suspension will start after the initial suspension period expires.
Accumulation of Points
If you commit a traffic violation, you will earn points on your criminal record. The total number of points you accumulate on your record depends on the severity and type of violation you commit. However, it’s critical to know that if you hold a CDL, you earn 1.5 points if you commit an offense that would earn an ordinary driver 1 point. If you accumulate a given total number of points in a span of a given period, your CDL will be suspended or revoked. Here are the circumstances under which your CDL can be suspended:
- Earning four points at the minimum to your criminal record within a year
- Getting six points in two years
- Receiving eight points or more in three years
Other situations that could lead to your CDL suspension include:
- Leaving the scene of the accident without first identifying yourself
- DUI of drugs
- Recklessly driving in that it increases the chances of causing a fatal accident. Reckless driving includes speeding or swaying between the lanes
- Using the commercial vehicle in committing a felony offense which involves manufacturing or distributing controlled substances
Generally, the standard period for a CDL suspension is a year. But, various situations can lead to the extension of the suspension period. For example, let’s say that in the commission of your DUI offense, you were transporting hazardous materials. In this case, if you get convicted, you will face a CDL suspension of three years.
Also, commercial drivers who get convicted of DUI causing an injury are subject to prolonged periods of license suspension. DUI causing harm is a wobbler offense. A felony or misdemeanor conviction carries its period of suspension. A misdemeanor conviction will subject you to a CDL suspension period of one and three years. On the other hand, a conviction of a felony will have you facing a CDL suspension of five years.
It is worth noting that a CDL suspension takes place even if you were driving a non-commercial vehicle during the commission of your offense. The DMV imposes harsh rules and regulations on CDL holders when operating non-commercial automobiles. The reason for this is that the law holds that how a motorist will handle a personal car tells much about how he/she will drive a commercial vehicle. It also reveals the respect the motorist has on road safety and traffic rules.
A second drunk-driving conviction for commercial drivers will lead to a CDL suspension for life. Commercial drivers who get arrested for a second-DUI offense should contact a skilled DUI lawyer as quickly as possible. The attorney may be able to work out a defense that may prevent a lifetime suspension.
The kind of training commercial drivers go through is of high quality compared to what ordinary drivers undergo. Additionally, the automobiles they operate are highly hazardous if driven recklessly. These two points are the reasons why commercial drivers face harsher punishments if they repeat their drunk-driving offense. The sentence for the first DUI offense is like a warning that mistakes will not be tolerated. And if they repeat the same mistakes, the DMV and the courts impose more stringent penalties.
Commercial vehicles also need to be driven by drivers that can be highly trusted. Therefore, if any driver breaks traffic rules, he/she is not spared.
Apart from receiving a permanent suspension for being a repeat DUI offender, you will also be subjected to lifetime suspension if you commit a traffic violation for the second time. A lifetime suspension also comes if you get convicted of committing a felony involving controlled substances using a commercial vehicle. Also, committing a drunk-driving felony when your CDL is still suspended may earn you a lifetime suspension.
A permanent CDL suspension means you will never, at any given point, be permitted to drive a commercial motor vehicle again. And even though there might be room to appeal the license suspension and have the suspension time lowered, these chances are rare. And even if your appeal goes through, the only automobiles you can be allowed to operate are Class C vehicles.
Reinstating Your CDL After a Suspension
Before you can attempt to have your suspended CDL restored, you first must ensure that your personal license has not been inactivated. Your CDL cannot be reinstated if your personal driver’s license has been canceled, suspended, or revoked. If you qualify to reinstate your CDL, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will send a notification to you. The contents of the notice include instructions on the reinstatement process and when to begin it.
If your CDL was suspended because of a drunk-driving offense, you might have been relegated to a non-commercial license holder. Being downgraded to non-commercial license holding enables you to apply for a restricted personal driving privilege while still serving a probation sentence. If this is the case, to reinstate your CDL, you may be asked to apply again for it afresh.
Note that you cannot reinstate your CDL before you go through a medical evaluation. Also, you need to have completed and handed in a ten-year filled form of History Record Check and paid the required fee of application.
In case your commercial driver’s license was suspended, then you got degraded to a non-commercial license holder, you may also be required to take tests on knowledge and driving skills. The Department of Motor Vehicles provides these tests before it can reinstate your license.
Another point to keep in mind is that you should embark on the CDL reinstatement process only after you have served the whole suspension period as ordered by the DMV or court. Also, you can’t reinstate your CDL if your personal license still reflects a denied status in the DMV system. Before your license can be fully restored, you will be issued a commercial driver’s permit, which you will use for some time.
Successful CDL reinstatement could depend on taking knowledge and driving skills tests. The CDL reinstatement process may vary based on the requirements of the DMV and the reason why the license was suspended to begin with. Before you start on reinstating your CDL, you should first consult a skilled drunk-driving lawyer. Additionally, you can consult a representative of the DMV in case you need to evaluate the fees, the involved steps, and the forms or tests involved.
Reinstating your CDL is not an easy process. Therefore, instead of going through all the procedures, we advise that you avoid cases that may cause a suspension. For instance, being designated as a negligent operator is one of the common reasons your license can be suspended. And, the DMV will label you a negligent operator mainly if you violate traffic rules, leading to a traffic offense charge. Any violation of traffic rules increases your DMV points, which in the long run, when these points accumulate to a certain level, they earn you the negligent operator title.
For instance, insignificant violations like speeding earn you a point on your record. On the other hand, severe crimes like hit and run earn you two points. When these points accumulate to a specific number, it makes the DMV suspend your privilege to drive for a particular period.
Drunk-driving cases in California are treated differently. This means there is no definite outcome for your situation. Consequently, the process to reinstate a CDL also varies based on several factors. Your Order of Revocation/Suspension may be a good starting point, but you will likely need a lawyer to assist you through the process. Generally, you have to do the following to have your license reinstated:
- Win the DMV hearing
- Pay reissue fee to the DMV
- Wait for the whole suspension period to elapse or obtain a restricted driver's license in case you qualify
- Take any classes the court orders
The Fees Associated with CDL Reinstatements in California
As we said earlier, everyone’s case is different. This also means the costs to reinstate your CDL may vary depending on the offense. Usually, a CDL reinstatement in California requires you to pay specified fees as listed below:
- $55 for reissue fee
- $100 for APS suspensions
- $15 fee for court restriction
- $20 fees for removing a restriction
- $24 for drug-related suspensions
Note that you may be asked to pay all or any of the costs. This depends on how severe your offense was. Also, keep in mind the fines represent the DMV charges only. In other cases, you might even be asked to pay penalties sanctioned by the court, which may be above the ones we have listed. Your local DMV office could help you to determine the fee you need to pay to the DMV. However, you will need expert legal representation to help you navigate any extra penalties.
Find a Commercial Driver’s License DUI Defense Attorney Near Me
When your license is suspended, your job will be affected. For instance, a permanent suspension affects your employability as a commercial driver. As a result, your usual daily living will be affected, as well. This doesn’t have to happen to you. As soon as you are arrested for commercial DUI, you can start devising strategies you will employ to prevent a conviction. This is because license suspension only happens if you are convicted. One of these strategies is contacting a skilled DUI defense lawyer. If you are in Van Nuys, contact the Leah Legal law firm at 818-484-1100. Our attorneys will help you challenge the charges against you and possibly prevent the suspension.