As a fundamental facet of the U.S. economy, commercial drivers play a central role in keeping goods flowing and businesses thriving. Yet, operating large vehicles comes with unique challenges and burdens. Among the most significant difficulties commercial drivers may face, none is more pressing than the possibility of a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) charge, also known in some states as a commercial DUI. Facing a DWI charge can be a daunting and distressing experience for anyone. Still, the stakes for commercial drivers are even higher, putting their livelihoods and futures at an outsized risk.
However, there is hope for commercial drivers facing DWI charges. If you have been accused of commercial DWI in Texas, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of your options. Yet it’s important to remember that, as a citizen, as an employee, and as a resident of Texas, you are afforded certain rights that should be upheld and defended. With clear guidance and fierce representation, you can overcome this legal hurdle.
If you have been charged with commercial DWI in Austin, it is in your best interest to speak with the Law Office of David D. White, PLLC, about your case as soon as possible.
Truck and commercial drivers are held to higher responsibility standards due to the potential risks of operating large vehicles. In most jurisdictions, a commercial driver operates a vehicle designed to transport goods or passengers and holds a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Most commercial drivers must also obtain federal U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) licensing.
The federal commercial licensing process involves following strict guidelines set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is responsible for regulating the commercial motor vehicle industry. Commercial drivers seeking federal licensing must comply with rigorous background checks, medical examinations, and specific training requirements to demonstrate their proficiency in handling the unique challenges of operating large commercial vehicles.
Moreover, the USDOT requires commercial drivers to adhere to certain safety regulations, such as maintaining accurate records of duty status and compliance with hours-of-service rules to ensure adequate rest periods and prevent driver fatigue. CDL holders may also be subject to random alcohol testing and harsher penalties for refusing a test.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA), over 56,000 positive drug and alcohol violations were reported nationally among commercial drivers in 2020. It may be difficult for some to understand why the prevalence of intoxicated driving is so high among commercial drivers, but many factors are driving these numbers.
Working as a commercial driver comes with its share of pressures and struggles. Long hours on the road, demanding schedules, and the responsibility of transporting goods or passengers can tax drivers physically and emotionally. As a result, commercial DWI cases present a multifaceted landscape, with drivers reaching for a diverse range of vices that lead to impaired driving. Below are some examples of how you can be charged with DWI in Austin:
Driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws vary significantly for commercial drivers compared to regular motorists. One of the key distinctions in commercial DWI laws is the lower blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for commercial drivers. While the legal BAC limit for regular drivers is typically set at 0.08%, commercial drivers operating under the FMCSA face a significantly reduced limit of 0.04%.
What this translates to is that even a very small amount of alcohol consumption can result in a commercial driver being deemed “intoxicated” and subsequently charged with a DWI. Despite a commercial driver’s BAC falling under the 0.08% standard limit for regular motorists, they may still be arrested.
Beyond the stringent BAC limits, commercial DWI laws usually impose stricter penalties than those applied to non-commercial drivers, which can severely affect their ability to earn a living and maintain employment.
Commercial drivers charged with DWI in Texas face a vast spectrum of legal consequences that can impact them for the rest of their lives. The Texas legal system often imposes two distinct types of penalties for commercial DWI cases: criminal and civil.
Criminal proceedings involve the state seeking to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, commercial drivers charged with a DWI have the right to legal representation, and the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. If a defendant is convicted, criminal penalties in commercial DWI cases focus on punishment for violating the law. The Texas criminal court system determines these penalties, including fines, probation, community service, and incarceration. A conviction also means a permanent charge on the defendant’s criminal record. The purpose of criminal penalties is to hold the driver accountable for their actions and deter others from engaging in similar behavior.
On the other hand, civil penalties in commercial DWI cases focus on addressing the offense’s non-criminal aspects, such as administrative matters and public safety concerns. Civil penalties are typically determined through hearings, separate from the criminal court system. These penalties may involve license suspensions or revocations, fees, or future disqualification from operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). Unlike in criminal cases, the burden of proof for civil penalties is often lower, and commercial drivers may have fewer procedural protections during administrative hearings.
It’s important to note that the outcomes of criminal and civil proceedings are not always directly related. Even if commercial drivers avoid criminal convictions, they may still face civil penalties, and vice versa.
Among the potential civil consequences a commercial driver may face for a DWI conviction in Texas, one-year CDL suspensions are common for first-time offenses. This includes both driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, as well as refusing to submit to a test to determine alcohol concentration or drug presence. A person who holds a commercial driver’s license may be subject to a one-year suspension of their CDL upon a first conviction, depending on the circumstances of the offense.
While many first-time DWI convictions only result in one-year CDL suspensions, certain offenses can result in even more severe penalties, including a three-year CDL suspension. These involve particularly sensitive situations, such as jobs involving hazardous materials. Under Texas law, a CDL holder faces a three-year suspension under the following circumstances:
Texas law imposes mandatory annual surcharge fees on individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated, including commercial drivers. These surcharges, payable to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), are an additional financial burden that must be adhered to for three consecutive years as a condition for maintaining a valid driver’s license. Neglecting to pay the surcharges or establishing a payment arrangement may automatically suspend the driver’s license until all outstanding fees are settled. The specific surcharge amount varies based on the severity of the DWI offense:
Texas commercial drivers face stringent criminal penalties if found driving while intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04% or greater. In addition to jail time and fines, drivers may face probation, mandatory alcohol education programs, and other court-ordered requirements. The severity of the penalties increases based on the impairment level and prior DWI convictions.
A first DWI offense for a commercial driver with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.04% or greater is considered a Class B misdemeanor in Texas. This offense carries a maximum jail sentence of 180 days and/or a fine of up to $2,000.
If a commercial driver’s first DWI offense involves a BAC of 0.15% or higher, it is elevated to a Class A misdemeanor. This offense can result in a fine of up to $4,000 and a maximum jail sentence of one year.
Regardless of the BAC level, a second DWI offense for a commercial driver is also considered a Class A misdemeanor. The driver may face the same penalties as a first offense with a BAC of 0.04% or greater, including a fine of up to $4,000 and a maximum jail sentence of one year.
If a commercial driver is found to have an open container of alcohol in their vehicle at the time of the DWI offense, it is considered a Class B misdemeanor. This offense carries a fine of up to $2,000 and a maximum jail sentence of 180 days.
Certain aggravating factors, such as DWI convictions involving child passengers, prior prison sentences, or intoxication that resulted in harm to another person can lead to even greater fines and longer jail sentences for commercial drivers.
The impact of a DWI conviction reaches far beyond the courtroom, leaving a trail of collateral consequences that can significantly alter a commercial driver’s life. The scar of a criminal conviction on your public record carries immense weight, from tarnished reputations to limited job opportunities. In addition to losing livelihood, a DWI conviction can lead to increased insurance premiums, further strains an already unstable financial situation.
The collateral consequences become even more severe if the DWI offense is classified as a felony. In addition to facing potential incarceration, commercial drivers convicted of felony DWIs may lose essential rights such as gun ownership and voting rights.
Commercial drivers should know that they have the right to challenge the charges against them when charged with a DWI. There are various defense strategies that skilled commercial DWI attorneys can employ to contest the prosecution’s case and potentially secure a favorable resolution for their client. Below, you will see the different ways our commercial DWI lawyer in Austin can fight such a charge.
A common defense strategy is challenging the legality of the traffic stop leading to the DWI arrest. The charges could be dismissed if law enforcement lacked probable cause to stop the commercial vehicle or violated the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Breathalyzer tests, although commonly used to measure blood alcohol concentration, can be subject to errors and inaccuracies. A DWI attorney can investigate and assess the breathalyzer’s maintenance records and calibration history to challenge the validity of the test results.
Field sobriety tests are conducted to assess a driver’s level of impairment, but the results can be subject to bias on the part of an officer, making their accuracy questionable. An attorney can scrutinize the administration of these tests and question their reliability as evidence in court.
Suppose the case relies on blood test results. In that case, a DWI attorney can investigate potential mishandling of blood samples or errors in the testing process, suppressing this evidence and hindering the prosecution’s case against the driver.
The “rising blood alcohol” defense argues that a driver’s BAC was lower at the time of driving and increased to above the legal limit later during testing. This defense can be applicable in certain circumstances.
Challenging DWI charges requires a comprehensive understanding of Texas DWI laws and close attention to the unique details of the case. Qualified commercial DWI attorneys use their legal knowledge and experience to assess each case thoroughly and pursue the most suitable and effective defense strategy.
Facing a commercial DWI charge in Texas can be a daunting experience, with potential consequences that can touch every aspect of a person’s life. The significance of hiring a reputable commercial DWI lawyer during this challenging time cannot be overstated. A skilled attorney with expertise in commercial driver defense can play a pivotal role in guiding drivers through the legal process and helping them protect their rights.
At the Law Office of David D. White, PLLC, we understand that commercial DWI cases can be extremely complex, involving specific regulations and standards that apply to commercial drivers. Over the years, we’ve handled many cases and become well acquainted with the relevant Texas laws and most effective defense strategies. Through our personalized legal guidance, we can assess the details of your arrest, scrutinize the evidence against you, and identify potential weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. Our dedicated team can advocate adhesively on your behalf, negotiating with prosecutors for reduced charges, seeking alternative sentencing options, or, if necessary, securing an acquittal at trial.
Moreover, our committed DWI attorneys can assist you in preserving your driving privileges. DWI convictions can lead to suspending or revoking your commercial driver’s license, jeopardizing your career and livelihood. With our expert legal strategies and fine-tuned negotiation skills, we can challenge license suspensions and work to restore and secure your driving privileges while your case is pending.
If you face a commercial DWI charge in Texas, remember you don’t have to endure this battle alone. However, time is of the essence. Delaying action could lead to missed opportunities for gathering evidence, identifying witnesses, and exploring potential defense tactics. At the Law Office of David D. White, PLLC, we can listen to the details of your case, answer all of your questions, and begin building a strong defense strategy immediately. For a free and confidential case evaluation, please call us at 512-729-3283 or contact us today for more information.
“When you hire me, you get me. Not my admin, not my associates. I’ll meet, talk, text, and work with you directly to get you the best possible outcome in your case.”
David D. White
Criminal Defense Lawyer
David is both professional and easy to interact with. I cannot say enough good things about his ability to provide the best service possible. If I had another legal matter in the future I would definitely use David again. I highly recommend him.