Driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas is an incredibly serious offense that comes with serious penalties for first-time offenders and enhanced sentences for repeat offenders. The law is even harder on commercial drivers because they are held to a high standard of professionalism and safety. This means that commercial drivers who get arrested for DWI face tougher penalties than other drivers. If you have a CDL and are arrested for a DWI, either in your personal or work vehicle, you could face severe license suspensions or disqualifications. And losing your CDL could have serious consequences for your future livelihood. It could mean the loss of a job or the inability to obtain another one after the CDL has been reinstated.
Whether you made an error in judgment when operating the vehicle or the DWI arrest was due to a misunderstanding, you need an experienced Fort Worth DWI lawyer to help you fight the charges and protect your driving privileges. Contact Attorney Andrew Deegan today at 817-689-7002 for a free consultation about your case, your rights, and possible defenses to the charges against you.
What is a Commercial Vehicle?
When most people think of commercial vehicles, they think primarily of motor coaches, 18-wheelers, and large box trucks. However, even smaller and ordinary vehicles can be considered as commercial vehicles. For purposes of Texas DWI laws, a commercial vehicle refers to:
Large trucks: Any 3-axle vehicle weighing over 6,000 pounds or any vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more
Smaller commercial vehicles: A school bus, double trailer, a tank vehicle, a passenger vehicle designed to move more than 8 passengers, and any vehicle used to transport hazardous materials and requires a placard.
Recreational vehicles and farm vehicles operated by drivers who don’t require CDL do not count as commercial vehicles.
Commercial DWI Laws in Texas
Commercial DWIs are regulated by both Texas law and regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Drivers who hold a CDL are held to a higher standard compared to regular drivers who are allowed to drink. The legal limit form DWI is below 0.08 blood alcohol content (BAC) for personal vehicle drivers. The BAC for commercial drivers in Texas is 0.04 percent, which is half the standard for regular drivers. Therefore, a driver operating a commercial vehicle on a Texas road and with a BAC of 0.04% or higher is considered to be over the limit and could be immediately removed from handling safety-sensitive tasks, including operating a commercial vehicle. The driver could face DWI charges in addition to losing his/her commercial driving privileges.
The .04 BAC limit places female commercial drivers at a disadvantage due to physiological differences that make women process alcohol slower than men. For instance, a 130-pound woman who drinks a single beer before driving may test at a .26 or higher BAC, which makes it risky to have a second drink. Men, on the other hand, have to drink a bit more heavily to reach this limit and not feel intoxicated, especially for regular drinkers. For this reason, many are charged with DWI even when they thought they were safe to drive. In essence, it’s much easier for commercial drivers to get a DWI than it is for personal car drivers.
Commercial Drivers Implied Consent
Under Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 522.102, individuals holding a commercial driver’s license in Texas are considered to have given implied consent to submit to testing when they receive a CDL. Testing may be in the breath, blood, or urine to determine mental and physical impairment when stopped or arrested on suspicion of DWI.Before stopping a commercial vehicle and requesting a driver to submit to testing, an officer must have probable cause to believe that the driver is intoxicated or impaired.
If the commercial driver refuses to submit to chemical testing, their CDL will automatically be subject to an automatic administrative license suspension. This suspension is not a criminal penalty and can be enforced even if the driver is not charged with or convicted of DWI. Upon a refusal to submit to testing, a commercial driver’s license will be suspended for a period of at least one year as provided by Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 522.081(b)(3). Also, refusal to submit to or failure to pass a chemical test will result in an automatic 24-hour suspension from driving the commercial vehicle under Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 522.101.
The ALR Hearing
Many citizens arrested and charged with DWI in Texas do not realize that they are facing two cases against them. In addition to criminal charges by the state, there’s an administrative hearing to suspend your driver’s license and CDL. Bear in mind that the administrative penalties are separate from whatever criminal penalties you may receive.
After your arrest,you must request a Texas Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing to challenge the disqualification of your CDL and suspension of your driver’s license. You have 15 days from the date of the arrest to request this hearing. A commercial driver must notify their employer of the arrest and potential license suspension. If you request a hearing in due time, the police will issue a temporary driving permit that will allow you to continue operating the commercial vehicle for up to 41 days.
If you lose you lose your ALR hearing, your CDL will be suspended for one year, and the penalty increases to 3 years if you were driving a commercial vehicle with placards for hazardous materials. This could also mean that your career as a commercial driver is over. If you do not request an ALR hearing in due time, your CDL will be automatically disqualified for one year, and your driver’s license will be suspended for 180 days.
However, if you hire an experienced Fort Worth DWI and criminal defense lawyer, he can help you request the hearing within the stipulated time and argue on your behalf at the hearing. TheTexas Department of Public Safety (DPS) must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- You were driving or operating the commercial vehicle in a public place while intoxicated
- There was reasonable suspicion to arrest you
- You were taken into custody and were asked to submit to a breath or blood test, were informedorally and in writing of the implications of refusing or failing an intoxication test, and you refused or failed to take the test.
Your attorney will try to question the evidence. But you must know that there’s limited time to prepare for the hearing, and the standard of proof is much lower. A seasoned lawyer will listen to your side of the story, analyze the facts, and apply insight and the law to create a strategy that will help retain your driving privileges. He will attack the police officer’s probable cause, field sobriety tests, and paperwork with the intent to disprove the elements required to suspend your CDL. The main objective is to prevent both the suspension of your driver’s license and the disqualification of your CDL.
With the BAC limit for commercial drivers being half of the other drivers, you may be able to avoid the suspension of your driver’s license if your BAC was between .04 and .079. However, it will be more difficult to prevent the disqualification of your CDL, but it’s still possible.
While you can handle request the hearing and defend yourself, it’s usually a good idea to consult with a skilled DWI lawyer first. The process can be complex, and having an attorney by your side can mean the difference between keeping or losing your license or even winning or losing the criminal cases. The ALR hearing provides an opportunity for your attorney to cross-examine the officer(s) and use the information and evidence provided to help develop a solid defense for your criminal case. If you lose the hearing, I will appeal. I am not an attorney who is committed to fighting for my clients’ rights because I know their reputation and livelihood are at stake. If your appeal request is approved, your suspension will be lifted for 90 days.
Texas DPS Hearing
If you willingly submitted to chemical testing and failed, your CDL will be taken, and you will be issued a temporary driving permit that expires after 41 days. A Texas Department of Public Safety hearing gives your attorney the same benefit as an ALR hearing, including an opportunity to disprove the elements of the charge, cross-examine the police officer, and know which evidence the prosecution is planning to use against you in the criminal case. The same elements as those in an ALR hearing must be proven, but the state does not have to prove that you refused to take a breath or blood test. You have 20 calendar days from the date of the arrest to request a DPS administrative hearing.
If you lose at your DPS hearing, your license will be suspended for 90 days, and your CDL will be disqualified. Also, the disqualification period will be 3 years if the commercial vehicle that you were operating had placards indicating hazardous materials.
Regardless of whether you are subject to a DPS hearing or an ALR hearing, you have several opportunities to plead your case and attempt to maintain your driving privileges. An experienced Fort Worth DWI defense lawyer who is wellversed in the Texas CDL suspension process can help present a strong defense on your behalf to challenge the suspension and help you maintain your livelihood.
The Effects of a DWI on a Commercial Driver’s License
Although the Texas Transportation Code sets minimum consequences, situations such as transportation of hazardous materials or fleeing the scene can result in higher penalties. Typically, a first DWI offense will result in CDL disqualification for 1 year or 3 years if you were driving a commercial vehicle transporting hazardous materials. Your CDL will be permanently disqualified if this is your second DWI offense, or you’ve committed another felony while using your commercial vehicle.You also face possible civil penalties under the FMCSA, regardless if it’s your first or subsequent DWI offense while operating a commercial vehicle.
Occupational CDL After a Suspended CDL
While personal car drivers who are charged with DWI are usually able to obtain occupational licenses that allow them to use their vehicle to and from work, school, or for important household duties, there’s no equivalent for commercial driving. Once your CDL is suspended for DWI, you will not be eligible to drive a commercial vehicle until one year has passed, and your driving privileges are reinstated. This applies even if you’re able to obtain an occupational license to drive a passenger vehicle.
CDL Reinstatement After a DWI Conviction
Typically, you must have a good driving history to be eligible for a Commercial Driver’s License in Texas.A DWI on your record can stand as an obstacle, even if you can pass all the skills and knowledge tests. You may still be able to obtain a CDL if convicted of a first DWI offense, but the problem will be more about the potential employer checking your record. Conversely, if you have two or more DWI convictions on your record, you could be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for life.
Under Tex. Transp. Code Ann. Ann. § 522.082, an individual disqualified from obtaining a CDL for life, may be able to reinstate their CDL. A person may seek reinstatement of a permanent CDL disqualification after a minimum of 10 years. They must also meet the TxDPS conditions for resentment. If the person is later convicted of a disqualifying event after their CDL reinstatement, they will be permanently disqualified without the possibility of reinstatement.
Penalties for a DWI Conviction in Texas
If you’re found to be operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .04 or higher, you could be convicted of a Class B misdemeanor if you’re a first-time offender. You could receive 3 days to 6 months in jail and a possible fine of up to $2,000. Other penalties include probation, mandatory attendance in Alcohol Awareness Program, Community service, and suspension of your driver’s license and CDL.The penalties increase with each subsequent DWI conviction. If convicted or a third or subsequent DWI, you face a felony, which significantly increases your risk of substantial fines and jail time.
Sentence Enhancements for CDL Holders
If you have been previously convicted of a DWI, the charge is increased to a Class A misdemeanor. You also faced enhanced penalties if convicted of Intoxication Assault. This is where an accident occurs and causes serious bodily injury to another person as a proximate cause of the intoxication. This charge often accompanies DWI charges that involved an accident or collision. And this could be substantial given the size of most commercial vehicles. Intoxication assault in Texas is typically charged as a third-degree felony. You may face a minimum of 2 years and up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. The penalties could be enhanced further if the person injured was an emergency medical service personnel, firefighter, or peace officer in the actual discharge of an official duty.
If the DWI resulted in another person’s death, you can be imprisoned for 2 to 20 years and/or be sentenced to pay a maximum fine of $10,000. Each death will lead to an additional charge of intoxication manslaughter.
Collateral Effects of a DWI Conviction on Commercial Drivers
The impact of a DWI conviction can be long-lasting, even after your driving privileges are reinstated. When your CDL is disqualified, it’s possible for you to lose your job. If this happens, you’ll be forced to look for another job that doesn’t require a CDL. In addition, it may be hard to get another job as a commercial driver in the future. Most transportation companies require a background check for their drivers, which usually involveschecking their driving history, DWI, and other traffic-related convictions. Whether they hire you with a DWI conviction on your record is entirely up to their discretion. Sadly, most of them won’t unless you were convicted a long time ago and have maintained a clean driving record ever since. Additionally, a DWI on your record could result in increased motor vehicle insurance, which can be finically burdening, especially if you’ve lost your job.
Commercial DWI Defenses
Because you face jail time and substantial fines, in addition to CDL disqualification and driver’s license suspension, defending your charge is highly crucial for you, your profession, and your family.But many people believe that they’re good as convicted if they’ve been pulled over for DWI and have failed sobriety or chemical tests.To successfully obtain a conviction, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you operated a commercial vehicle while intoxicated. Achieving this is harder than you think. If the prosecutor cannot prove all elements of the crime or there’s not enough evidence to suggest that you were actually intoxicated, the jury cannot convict you of the offense.
I know you’re a hardworking person, and you may have erred in judgment, or you are not guilty of the offense. I will build your defense to poke holes in the State’s arguments and convince the jury that you’re not guilty of the offense.
- Getting your charges dropped,
- Presenting a solid case for acquittal,
- Negotiating lesser charges, or
- Negotiating a lenient sentence that limits the suspension of your driver’s license.
Here are some of the positions that I can take to build a solid legal defense strategy:
You weren’t actually driving while intoxicated
There were issues with the field sobriety tests
The results of the chemical test were not accurate
Breath, blood, or urine test results may seem like ironclad evidence. But they are not always accurate due to a number of reasons, including:
- The defendant was on a high-protein, low carb diet
- The defendant may suffer from heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD, all of which can produce high BAC readings
- The police and/or lab failed to follow the strict procedures for chemical tests
- The driver may have had a rising BAC when the chemical testing was done, meaning that his/her BAC was lower at the time he/she drove
Police did not follow proper protocol during the arrest
Even if the defendant was DWI, the arresting officer must follower proper procedures. If they violate the protocol, the charges should be dismissed or evidence collected should not be admissible in court. Examples of protocol violation can include:
- Pulling a driver over without reasonable suspicion or probable cause for a traffic stop
- Failure to properly advise a defendant of the implications of not submitting to a chemical test
- Failure to comply with the legal procedures for conducting a chemical test
- Failure to read your “Miranda rights” during the DWI arrest
Find a Fort Worth Commercial DWI Lawyer Near Me
A charge of DWI is serious and can have negative consequences on your life, especially if your CDL is integral to your livelihood.You need an experienced lawyer who will aggressively fight for your rights.I know how to advocate for those accused and won’t hesitate to act to protect your reputation and livelihood. I am experienced and knowledgeable in DWI law and face situations quickly and directly. I will make every effort to prevent the disqualification of your commercial driving privileges.
It’s natural to obsess over the potential outcome of your case. You can let me take care of all the details. I will let you know of approaching deadlines (especially the administrative hearing), what will happen at your next court date, options, strategy, and basically what to expect throughout the process. I take that stress and burden off your shoulders. I am trained in forensic science, and I’ll use that knowledge to give you the best fighting chance.