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What You Need to Know if You have a CDL and Get a Texas DWI

Thousands of Texans depend on commercial driver's licenses (CDL) for their livelihood and as a means to fulfill their job requirements. Without a CDL, a person cannot drive commercial trucks, and as such, their livelihood is at stake. One of the main causes of losing the privilege of using a CDL or of obtaining a CDL initially is a conviction for DWI. In fact, in Texas, a conviction is not even necessary. Being charged with a DWI while driving a commercial truck in Texas with a CDL invokes two processes from which to defend your CDL: the criminal process and the administrative process. Both processes are independent of the other.

Doug Murphy, a Board Certified DWI lawyer and Board Certified criminal defense lawyer in Houston, Texas, understands the importance of retaining your CDL and the privileges that accompany it. He is not an attorney who settles, but an attorney who fights for your rights and freedom. He prepares each case from the outset with the intention that it will proceed to trial. This method threatens prosecutors who understand that a trial places their case against you in jeopardy, particularly when you are represented by Doug Murphy, a lawyer whose reputation is built on success in the courtroom. Contact Doug Murphy today if you possess a CDL and have been charged with a DWI or DWI-related charge while operating your commercial vehicle.

Criminal Process & Your Texas CDL

In Texas, it is a crime to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at 0.04% or above if you have a commercial driver's license and are driving a commercial motor vehicle. This legal limit is not set by the State of Texas alone but by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which states that any commercial driver operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher is considered to be driving under the influence.

Penalties for Operating a Commercial Vehicle While Intoxicated

If you are found to have a BAC of 0.04% or higher, as a first-time DWI offender with a CDL, you could be convicted of a Class B misdemeanor that carries with it a minimum term of confinement of three days, a possible jail sentence of not more than 180 days, and a possible fine of up to $2,000. Penalties increase with each subsequent DWI conviction. Importantly, with a third or subsequent DWI conviction, you face a felony, which substantially increases your risk of substantial jail time and fines.

Your Defense to a DWI Charge While Operating a Commercial Vehicle

Because you face jail time and serious fines, in addition to driver's license suspension and CDL disqualification (see below), defending your charge is of the utmost importance for you, your family, and your profession. Truckers can make a very good livelihood off of their trade, but to be forced to forego it for a year minimum due to jail time and CDL disqualification puts truckers' careers at risk. To rebuild your reputation and to convince an employer to hire you when there is a pool of potential, qualified candidates will be a challenge.

Doug Murphy understands what's at stake, and he will build your defense with this in mind. He knows you are ultimately a hard-working individual, and in some cases, you may have erred in judgment, while in other cases, you truly were not guilty of the offense. Either way makes no difference; Doug Murphy will build a strategy to perforate the State's argument(s) and force the jury to uphold the standard that you are not guilty unless proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If all the required elements are not present, and doubt exists, the jury cannot convict you of the offense.

Administrative Process & Your Texas CDL

If you are arrested for DWI, first offense, while operating a commercial vehicle using your CDL, your driver's license and CDL will be taken, and the police will issue a temporary driving permit that expires 41 days from the date of issuance. This temporary license allows you to continue driving your commercial vehicle.

If you have been charged with DWI while driving a commercial vehicle and want to contest the suspension of your driver's license and disqualification of your CDL, then you must request a hearing:

  • You have 15 days to request an administrative hearing if your CDL was suspended under the Administrative License Revocation (ALR) program, which means you refused a chemical test; otherwise
  • You have 20 days to request a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) administrative hearing.

ALR Hearing

If you refused to submit to a breath or blood test, or in some circumstances, a urine test, you have 15 days from the date of your arrest to request a Texas ALR hearing. This hearing is the only means to contest CDL disqualification and driver's license suspension. If you successfully request a hearing in due time, then you can continue to drive your commercial vehicle up until your hearing, even if it exceeds 41 days.

If you lose your ALR hearing, then your CDL is disqualified for one year unless you were driving a commercial vehicle identified with placards for hazardous materials, then the penalty is 3 years. In effect, your career could be on the precipice of being over.

If you fail to request an ALR hearing within 15 days, your driver's license will automatically be suspended for 180 days, and your CDL will be suspended for one year.

If, however, you hire an experienced DWI and criminal defense attorney, he can argue on your behalf at the hearing. The Texas DPS must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the following:

  • There was reasonable suspicion to stop or probable cause to arrest you.
  • You were driving or you were in actual control of a vehicle in a public place while intoxicated.
  • You were taken into custody, and (1) you were informed orally and in writing of the consequences of refusing or failing a breath or blood test; then (2) you were asked to submit to a breath or blood test; and (3) you refused to take the breath or blood test.

Your attorney will attempt to cast questions on the evidence, but the standard is much lower at an administrative hearing. In addition, there is limited time to prepare. An experienced attorney will listen to your case, examine the facts, and apply law and insight to create a strategy for you. He will attack the police officer's paperwork and the officer's reasonable suspicion and probable cause with the intent to disprove the above-listed elements required for a preponderance of the evidence. The goal is to prevent both the disqualification of your CDL and the suspension of your driver's license.

Remember, too, that the BAC legal limit for CDL-holders is half the BAC legal limit of other drivers who are legally permitted to drink alcohol. Thus, if your BAC level was between 0.04 and 0.079, you may still be able to avoid driver's license suspension, but it will be more difficult to prevent CDL disqualification.

The ALR hearing is an opportunity for your experienced DWI lawyer to cross-examine the police officer(s) and use that information to help build a defense for your criminal case. If you lose the ALR, your experienced attorney—unlike other lawyers who will take the loss—will appeal. An appeal must be filed within 30 days. Doug Murphy, again, is not the kind of attorney who will accept a loss, but will fight for your rights. It is your livelihood and your reputation at stake, and Doug Murphy understands the importance of this. If DPS approves the appeal request, your suspension will be removed for 90 days.

Texas DPS Hearing

If you did not refuse a breath or blood test, but submitted to the test and failed, your licenses will be taken and you will be issued a 41-day temporary license. A Texas DPS hearing allows your attorney the same benefit as an ALR hearing, i.e., an opportunity to cross-examine the police officer and build your criminal defense case as well as disprove the elements of the charge that the State is required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence. Here, the same elements must be proven as that which must be proven during an ALR hearing, with the exception that the state does not need to prove you refused to take a breath or blood test.

If you do not succeed at your DPS hearing, your license will be suspended for 90 days, but your CDL will still be disqualified for one year, or 3 years if you were operating a commercial vehicle with placards indicating you were transporting hazardous materials.

You should also keep in mind—regardless if your hearing was a regular administrative hearing or DPS hearing—the following:

  1. A third DWI offense or other felony committed while using your commercial vehicle will result in lifetime disqualification of your CDL.
  2. Regardless if it's your first or third DWI offense while in possession of a CDL, you also face possible civil penalties under the FMCSA.

Applying for a CDL after a DWI Conviction

To obtain a Commercial Driver's License in Texas, you must have a good driving history. A DWI on your record can prevent you from obtaining a CDL, even if you are able to pass all the skills and knowledge tests. If it is your first offense, then you may still be able to obtain a CDL, but the problem will be more about an employer hiring you with a DWI on your record. If, however, you have two or more DWIs on your record, then you could be disqualified from obtaining a CDL for life.

Contact Our Houston, Texas Commercial Driver DWI Lawyer

Your CDL is your link to your livelihood. A DWI conviction puts that all into question. Attorney Doug Murphy is a Board Certified criminal defense lawyer and a Board Certified DWI lawyer who will fight for your rights. He's been doing it for two decades, and he gives back to the legal community by teaching other attorneys how to do the same. If you want one of the best DWI lawyers in Texas to protect your career and freedom, contact Doug Murphy online or at 713-229-8333 today to discuss the circumstances of your case.

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