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I Was Arrested for DUI and I Have a Class A License

Having a commercial driver’s license and being arrested for DUI can be a scary thing, as the consequences are far more severe than for a person with a regular, Class C license.  The commercial license holder may have worked for years as a commercial driver only to suffer the arrest and realize his or her career may be over, his or her family finances in jeopardy and that he or she has few other employment options.

Indeed, if the commercial driver’s license holder is arrested while driving a commercial vehicle (defined below), it is a violation if the driver’s blood alcohol content is just 0.04% (Vehicle Code § 23152(d)) or if the driver is operating the vehicle under the influence of drugs (Vehicle Code § 23152(e)).
The Gist of this Article: If one has a commercial driver’s license and is arrested for DUI, even if on one’s own time (not during work), it can have devastating consequences on one’s future because the DMV can impose a one year commercial license suspension for the first time DUI and a lifetime suspension upon the second such conviction.
It is important to understand that if a commercial driver’s license holder is not driving a commercial vehicle, he or she is not criminally liable with a BAC under 0.08% unless he or she is otherwise impaired.

Most importantly, in contrast to a regular Class holder convicted of DUI, a commercial driver’s license holder has his or her license suspended for a year (Vehicle Code § 15300) and the commercial license holder is ineligible for a restricted license during the suspension period (Vehicle Code § 13352.4).  Upon a second or further DUI conviction, the commercial license is suspended for life.

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It may come as a surprise what the Vehicle Code defines as a commercial vehicle.  Certainly, it is a double trailer or a vehicle that carries a hazardous substance and requires a placard warning of this (Vehicle Code § 15278).  It is also defined as a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more that tows a vehicle with a GVWR of 10,001 or more (Id.).  It is also a school bus, a tank vehicle and a passenger vehicle that carries over ten persons, including the driver (Id.).  It does not include an RV or a taxi, unless the taxi carries over ten persons.

The punishment from the court for a conviction is the same as a regular DUI, but the license suspension consequences from the DMV are severe, as discussed above.

The defenses to a DUI for someone with a commercial driver’s license are the same as for someone with a standard, Class C license facing a DUI.  Therefore, we recommend hiring the most experienced DUI attorney who regularly appears in the courthouse at issue.

That attorney will be keen to first scrutinize the traffic stop.  Was it pretextual?  Did the officer have reasonable cause to make the stop?  In other words, a good faith belief that person driving the vehicle violated the Vehicle Code or was otherwise involved in a crime?  This could be driving a vehicle with expired registration, talking on a cell phone while driving, speeding, making an unsafe lane change, etc.

If the officer responds to a traffic collision and finds the suspect walking away from a parked car, etc., then other evidence can be considered by the officer.  This can include “evidence of actual impairment” such as “the driver’s appearance, and odor of alcohol, slurred speech, impaired motor skills, slowed or erratic mental processing, and impaired memory or judgement.  Conversely, absence of these manifestations may indicate that the driver was not impaired.”  People v. McNeal (2009) 46 Cal. 4th 1183, at 1198.

The attorney will then look to the accuracy of the BAC measurement taken, either by breath or blood.  This will include evidence of the machine’s calibration, the client’s history of GERD, acid reflux or heartburn (when breath is given), or a rising BAC.  When a blood sample is given, the attorney will inspect the chain of custody of the sample, the client’s history of diabetes, anemia or medications such as blood thinners, and the qualifications of the phlebologist.  The attorney also may seek a “blood split,” or retesting of the blood sample.

For more information about DUI issues, please click on the following articles:
  1. What Do DUI Field Sobriety Tests (FST’s) Actually Show?
  2. U.S. Supreme Court Lowers Standards for Allowing a DUI Traffic Stop Based on an Anonymous Call to 911
  3. I Got a Bill from the CHP After My DUI – What Should I Do?
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