DUI and the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

A fair number of my DUI Clients are individuals who have a CDL, or Commercial Driver’s License. Some know, before they contact me, that any kind of DUI conviction, including a 1st Offense, will automatically result in a 1-year Suspension of a person’s CDL privileges. Those who didn’t already know that are rather unpleasantly surprised to find out.

It used to be, a few years ago, that when a person faced, for example, a garden-variety DUI (meaning OWI, actually), their Lawyer would get the charge dropped to the less severe Offense of Impaired Driving, which only carries a 90 day Restriction of a person’s License. During the 90 days the person’s regular Driver’s License was Restricted, their CDL was Suspended. After 90 days, they’d pay a $125 Reinstatement Fee to the Secretary of State, and their full License, including CDL, would be given back.

Garbage3.jpgThen someone in Lansing had an idea. Honestly, I try to keep politics out of this blog, but the older I get the more I’m convinced that politicians aren’t nearly so much crooked as they are incompetent. Really, how many laws have been passed that made your life any better? Maybe the smoking ban was a good thing (sorry smokers…), but beyond that, anything that comes out of Lansing is either going to make life more difficult, or expensive, or both.

Anyway, some Einstein in Lansing figured that it would be a good idea to tack on a mandatory 1-year Suspension of a person’s CDL as a punishment for any 1st Offense DUI charge. I can only guess that the idea behind this action was that this would somehow serve as a further disincentive for anyone to drink and drive.

Except that about the only time anyone finds out about this is AFTER they get a DUI charge, when it’s too late to do anything about it. And the fallout from this part of the law is pretty substantial.

I’ve had utility workers who drive trucks for their employers worried sick about losing their jobs. The good news is that in all the cases I’ve handled, my Clients have been able to manage some kind of work-around. Sometimes this means filling a different position, and other times it means riding shotgun with another driver.

The guys who face the toughest obstacle are full-time truck drivers. The State has essentially decided that they will be unable to work in their chosen occupation for the next year. If there’s anyone in Lansing who thinks that these added consequences are working to curb DUI’s, then they need to get their head out of the clouds. This plainly stupid part of the law is simply costing hard-working taxpayers to lose wages, which, in turn, means fewer taxes paid to the State.

For me, it is never anything but sad when I meet a person who asks me if there’s anyway around this. I know that every Prosecutor out there has been besieged by Defense Lawyers, like me, trying everything in the book to persuade them to drop the DUI to a non-alcohol related Offense.

And their answer, understandably, if unfortunately, is always the same: No.

This does mean that the DUI Lawyer needs to look at every aspect of the case with a magnifying glass. There can be no stone left unturned in the quest to find either some way out of the charge altogether, or some defect in the evidence significant enough to use as leverage to force a Plea Bargain down to a non-alcohol related Traffic Offense.

Sometimes, when you look closely enough, you’ll find something. In many cases, however, the Stop, the Field Sobriety Tests and the Breathalyzer results are pretty rock-solid. In-car Police video is obtained, and watched, and no fatal flaw in the Police case turns up. The Prosecutor has a good case, and the only thing that can be done is to delay the matter and spending lots of money to fight a losing battle.

Sometimes, in life, we just have to accept that things are beyond our control, no matter how hard we try to fix them. In DUI cases involving CDL’s a person can do no more than make sure they hire a Lawyer who will carefully, critically, and competently examine the evidence against them, and who will honestly exhaust every possibility in the quest to find a better way out of this situation. Beyond that, there’s not a lot to be done, or that can be done.

About a year ago, I wrote an article about how a Criminal Charge can seem to spell the end of a career for the person facing it, and how, no matter what happens, it always works out. And that is true. Although it might seem like a DUI is the end of the world to a person with, and who relies upon a CDL for their livelihood, think about this for a moment; no truly strong, industrious and motivated person is going to be wiped out because of that kind of setback. Hurt, sure, but wiped out…no. Remember that old saying that “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”

I’ve had truck drivers who have gone from driving their own rig to hiring someone else to drive it for them, just to keep their business going Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it does cut into their income, but they keep their business viable until their CDL is reinstated.

I’ve yet to see a person laid off from a company due to the Suspension of a CDL. While the person might burn up any favors or goodwill they’ve got for a while, things are usually worked out. Again, it can be expensive. I have a Client who has worked his way up the ranks in the sanitation business. It took him years to go from loading garbage in the back of the truck to driving it, and there is a pretty significant pay difference, too. Nevertheless, he still has a job, even if it no longer means driving the truck and dealing with a pay cut. He may be hanging on to the back of the truck itself, but he’s still hanging on to a job, as well.

I suppose if there’s any lesson in all of this, it’s that we can expect our lawmakers to continue the tradition of enacting worthless legislation. I’ve often wondered how long a campaign would last if some politician said something like “I’m all against drunk driving, but there are a few consequences of our DUI laws that need to be scaled back.” I can just imagine the opposition painting that kind of common-sense view as being soft on, or somehow encouraging drunk driving. I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying not to hold your breath waiting for things to change, or get any easier.

In the meantime, the best we can do is the best we can do. For my part, anytime someone with a CDL hires me, I’ll pull out the old magnifying glass and put my heart and soul into analyzing the evidence in the case against them, looking for any way to make things go away, or get better.