Virginia law treats drunk driving cases of commercial drivers more seriously as compared to other drivers. Commercial vehicle drivers can face a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge even if they were operating a vehicle with a lower than permitted alcohol limit in their blood system. Additionally, the penalties for a DWI conviction for commercial drivers are much more severe than for any other driver. It is for these reasons that you will need the best representation possible if you are a commercial driver facing DWI charges for you to have a better chance of winning the case. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, our attorneys will build a strong defense for your case, which may get your case dismissed or your charges reduced. We serve residents of Fairfax, VA, and Northern Virginia who seek legal representation for their criminal charges.
What is a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) DWI?
Under Virginia Code Section 46.2-341.24, Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) DWI is defined as driving/ operating a commercial vehicle while under the intoxication or influence of drugs, alcohol or both. A commercial vehicle operator is said to have committed this crime if the following are true;
- He/she drove a commercial vehicle while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol
- At the time of driving the commercial vehicle, he or she had a .04% or more blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
- He/she drove a commercial vehicle with whichever amount of alcohol in their system
Proving a Commercial Driver’s License DWI in Virginia
For you to be convicted of a CDL DWI, the Commonwealth has to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you;
Operated or drove
The Commonwealth has to provide evidence proving that you operated in any way or drove a commercial vehicle for you to be convicted of the offense. In Virginia, operating a vehicle means that you are driving or you are in actual control of the vehicle. An admission that you were driving or a testimony from a witness claiming to see you drive or operate the vehicle could be presented as evidence of operating the vehicle.
Any commercial vehicle
Virginia Code Section 46.2-341.4 defines a commercial vehicle as every vehicle, motor vehicle or a combination of motor vehicles that are used for transporting property or passengers. The vehicle should be
- Meant to carry 16 passengers or more. The 16 passengers include the driver
- Of any given size used for transporting hazardous supplies
Every vehicle or a vehicle combination that meets the above definitions is regarded as a commercial vehicle notwithstanding if it’s used for profit-making or commercial activities.
While intoxicated with alcohol or drugs
If you are intoxicated with drugs or alcohol, your ability to operate a vehicle safely is impaired. Being intoxicated means that you took enough drugs or alcohol to noticeably affect your muscular movement, speech, manner, behavior, general appearance or disposition.
In Virginia, a BAC that is more than .08% makes a permissive implication that you were intoxicated during the commission of the crime. If your blood system was concentrated with a specific type of drug at given levels, the court is allowed to deduce that you were driving while intoxicated with drugs.
Apart from chemical tests, The Commonwealth may prove your drug or alcohol intoxication through other ways. They include; slurred speech, admissions to taking drugs or drinking, an odor or alcohol, your appearance that suggests you are intoxicated (i.e., appearing unkempt, glassy, your eyes being bloodshot), initial results of your blood test, and the driving behavior that made you get stopped. All these can be brought in as proof that you were intoxicated at the time of driving.
Unlike a DWI convicted under Virginia Code Section 18.2-266, if you are a commercial vehicle operator and you have been suspected of operating a commercial motor vehicle while intoxicated, you may be needed to do a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT). The test results won’t be submitted as proof against you in court. However, they are used to create a possible cause that you were driving a commercial vehicle while intoxicated.
If the results from the PBT detect any level of alcohol in your blood system, or if you refuse to do the PBT, it triggers the law of implied consent. This law requires any person driving a commercial vehicle to do a blood or breath test to detect any amount of drugs or alcohol in their system.
The law of implied consent will only be triggered if the commercial driver was driving a commercial vehicle on a public road and is arrested within two hours of committing the crime. If by taking a breath test, there is a detection of any alcohol, the magistrate, with immediate effect, issues an out-of-service order that lasts for 24 hours. This means that you are prohibited from operating a commercial vehicle for a period of 24 hours.
If you refuse to submit to a blood or breath test as required, you will face a refusal charge under Virginia law. In addition, an immediate order of out-of-service will be issued. The order will last 24 hours.
Drugs or alcohol
You could be convicted if you are arrested for driving a commercial vehicle while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol in Virginia. However, for this to happen, the Commonwealth has to prove that your blood system had detectable levels of drugs, alcohol or both. It also must prove that it is the drugs or alcohol in your blood system that impaired your ability to operate the vehicle safely. In addition to blood and Breathalyzer tests proving that the said elements were in your blood system, these tests are also used to prove that those elements were at high levels, enough to deduce that you were intoxicated while operating a vehicle.
Virginia Legal Limit for Commercial Drivers
A commercial driver driving with a BAC of .04% or above will be charged with a lesser offense. Even drinking a few beers can make you have a .04% BAC. In addition, if it is proven that you were impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of driving, you can face DWI charges regardless of the level of alcohol or drugs in your system.
The stipulated legal limit for Virginia commercial drivers or drivers passing through Virginia is .08%. (Code 46.2-341.24(A)). However, a commercial vehicle operator who has a .08% and above can still be punished. He or she will face the same consequences as any other commercial driver. In addition, the driver will have their driving privileges stripped off.
Penalties for CDL DWI
Any driver convicted of CDL DWI in Virginia faces administrative and criminal punishments. The severity of these punishments is contingent on particular factors like your intoxication level, whether or not you were transporting minors, whether it is a first DWI or a subsequent offense, and whether your DWI offense resulted in an accident. You need to have an experienced CDL DWI attorney who may succeed in fighting off these factors if they exist in your case so that you can face lenient penalties.
A first CDL DWI offense is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor. It’s punished with fines, jail time, a driver’s license suspension, and disqualification from driving a commercial vehicle.
Jail time- a CDL DWI Class 1 offense is punishable by up to one year in jail. If it is your second or subsequent offense, you will face a compulsory minimum jail sentence.
Fines- if found guilty of CDL DWI, you will be subjected to a fine ranging between $250 and $2,500. For second or subsequent offenses, you will be charged compulsory minimum fines.
Disqualification from commercial vehicle driving- being disqualified means that for a specific timeframe, you will not be able to drive, operate, or physically control a commercial vehicle. The prohibition period is enforced by a magistrate, a court, a certified law-enforcement, or an administrative body or official.
If it is your first offense, you will be prohibited to drive for a year, especially if your CDL DWI caused damage or injury, or if at the time of the arrest you refused to submit to Breathalyzer and blood tests. Also, you will be disqualified if you had previously been convicted of DWI in a different state. You cannot acquire a restricted driver’s license if you have been disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle.
If you were driving a commercial vehicle that is used for transporting hazardous substances while intoxicated, you will be prohibited to drive any commercial vehicle for a period of 3 years.
If it is your second CDL DWI offense, you will be prohibited from driving a commercial vehicle for life. Also, you will not be able to acquire a restricted driver’s license. A conviction of any two or several of these offenses is a contributing factor;
- Operating a commercial motor vehicle while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol
- Operating a personal vehicle while intoxicated with drugs and alcohol
- DWI causing damage or injury while driving a commercial motor vehicle
- DWI causing injury or damage while driving a personal vehicle
- Refusal to take blood or breath tests if you have been charged with CDL DWI
- Operating a commercial vehicle while violating an out-of-service directive
- Refusal to submit to blood or breath tests if you have been charged with driving a personal vehicle while intoxicated
- Fleeing the accident scene of the accident you caused while driving a commercial vehicle while intoxicated
- Fleeing the accident scene of the accident you caused while driving a personal vehicle while intoxicated
- Operating a commercial vehicle while intoxicated and using a suspended driver’s license
- Using a commercial vehicle to commit a felony
- Operating a commercial vehicle while prohibited/ disqualified to do so
- Using a personal vehicle to commit a felony
Driver’s license suspension- apart from disqualification to drive a commercial motor vehicle, another penalty includes being stripped off of your driving privileges by suspending your license. The license suspension period depends on the number of CDL DWI offenses you have been convicted of and the seriousness of the offenses. If it is your first offense, your license will be suspended for one year.
Second Commercial Driver’s License DWI Offense
If you get convicted of CDL DWI offense for the second time within a period of 5 years, your punishment will include up to one year jail sentence (with a compulsory minimum active jail sentence of five days). You will also be charged a fine ranging from $200 to $2500. If it is your second conviction of the same offense within a period of 10 years, the punishment includes up to one-year jail sentence (no compulsory minimum, active jail time) with a fine ranging from $200 to $2500. For any second CDL DWI offense you commit, your license will be suspended for 3 years.
Third Commercial Driver’s License DWI Offense
If you get a third CDL DWI conviction within 10 years, the punishment will include up to one-year jail sentence, with a compulsory minimum active jail time of ten days. If you committed the third offense within a five years’ period, you will face a compulsory minimum, active 30 days jail time. You will also be subjected to a fine ranging from $500 to $2500, disqualification for life, and an indefinite period of license suspension.
Driving a Commercial Vehicle with .04% or Higher BAC
This is a lesser offense of CDL DWI. Virginia law considers it a Class 3 misdemeanor offense. Its penalties include a maximum fine of $500 and a one-year disqualification from driving a commercial vehicle. You will not be allowed to acquire a restricted driver’s license during the disqualification period. In addition, your privileges to drive a vehicle that’s non-commercial will be stripped off. You will also be prohibited to drive in Virginia in case you were prohibited in other states as a result of having a .04% or higher BAC.
A Commercial Driver DWI While Driving a Non-Commercial Motor Vehicle
If you are a commercial vehicle operator and you have been convicted of DWI, Breathalyzer Refusal or DWI maiming while driving a personal vehicle, you will be prohibited to drive a commercial motor vehicle for a year.
Refusal to Submit to Blood and Breathalyzer Tests
If, without any reasonable reason, you refuse to do a blood or breath test after you have been arrested for CDL DWI an immediate out-of-service order is issued by the magistrate. If convicted for this offense, you will be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle. If you were disqualified from driving in other states for this offense under the law of implied consent, Virginia will also disqualify you.
CDL DWI While Violating an Out-of-Service Directive, on a Suspended License, and While Disqualified
CDL DWI when you have been disqualified, when in defilement of an out-of-service order or with your license suspended is a Class 2 misdemeanor offense. Its punishments include a maximum of 6 months of jail time and a maximum of $1000 in fines. A second conviction for any of these is a Class 1 misdemeanor. It is punishable by a maximum of one-year jail time and a maximum of $2500 in fines.
Operating a Commercial Vehicle with Whichever Level of Alcohol in Your System
The law considers this a traffic violation. An out-of-service order will be issued immediately you are charged with this offense. The order lasts 24 hours.
Can You Apply for a CDL Out of Virginia After a DWI?
If your commercial driver’s license is disqualified in Virginia for driving while intoxicated, you cannot obtain a new one in another state. This is because the regulations by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) apply to all commercial vehicle drivers and owners in the United States. An agency that deals with licensing in one state generally gets notified of any commercial driver’s license revocation in other states. Therefore, they won’t issue you with another CDL when yours is suspended.
Reinstating a CDL After a DWI Conviction
After a first offense CDL DWI, you can re-qualify to have your driving privileges reinstated. You must comply with all license suspension terms. The terms include;
- Paying court costs and fines
- Paying reinstatement fee if any
- Waiting till the suspension period ends
- Finishing the Alcohol Safety Action Program
- Finishing CDL knowledge tests and driving skills
- Passing a hazardous substances knowledge test
For a second or subsequent CDL DWI, you cannot re-qualify for another CDL because the disqualification is for life. You may only get your CDL back by filing an administrative review. Consult your CDL DWI attorney on the options you have if you have a second CDL DWI conviction.
Seek the Services of an Experienced CDL DWI Defense Attorney Near Me
The consequences of a Commercial driver DWI can be more severe than other DWIs. In addition to criminal and administrative penalties, you may lose your job and the ability to fend for yourself and your family. You may have a better chance of keeping your license and avoiding a conviction if you fight CDL DWI charges. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we will prepare a strong defense for any charge against you which will place you at a higher chance of winning your case. If you have been charged with commercial DWI in Fairfax, VA, and the North Virginia area, call our Fairfax criminal lawyer at 703-718-5533 to share details about your case.