Under Washington State law, if you are a commercial-vehicle driver who was arrested for DUI or being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, you can have your commercial driver's license (CDL) disqualified. This law applies even if you were arrested while in a personal, noncommercial vehicle outside of work hours. However, sometimes steps can be taken to avoid disqualification of your commercial driver's license.
When a commercial driver's license can be disqualified
Your commercial driver's license can be disqualified in two ways: (1) if you refuse to take a breath test (used to determine the amount of alcohol in your blood), or your breath test resulted in a score of .08 or higher, and (2) if you were convicted of DUI, or of being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If this is the first time you were arrested for either one of those offenses, your commercial driver's license will be disqualified for 1 year. If you are arrested again for the same reason, your commercial driver's license will be removed for life.
Avoiding a commercial driver's license disqualification
You can take immediate steps to increase the chances of avoiding a CDL disqualification:
- Challenge the disqualification. You can only do this by requesting a hearing at the Department of Licensing (DOL).
- Request a hearing as soon as possible. Be sure to send it in by the deadline so you don't lose the opportunity to challenge the suspension or revocation of your driver's license.If you miss the deadline, your CDL may be automatically disqualified.
- Contact a DUI defense attorney. An experienced attorney, particularly one who is experienced with commercial driver's license cases, can advise you regarding the specifics of your case and give you instructions on what to do next.
The commercial driver's license suspension hearing
To avoid disqualification, you must not be convicted of a DUI/being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, or you must win the hearing that will be held at the Department of Licensing (DOL). Under the Washington Implied Consent Law, drivers who have been arrested for DUI or a similar violation have a right to request an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension of their licenses. This recorded hearing takes place over the phone and is presided over by a hearing examiner who works for the DOL. The DOL does not have a prosecutor or attorney represent the department during this call. However, it's advisable to have an attorney represent you at this hearing. The evidence relied on by the DOL in administrative hearings is the written report and supporting documents provided by the arresting officer. The DOL hearing examiner may also issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear and testify.
If you chose to hire an attorney to help negotiate your case, the prosecutor may agree to reduce a DUI charge in exchange for a guilty plea to another crime. Your DUI may be reduced to a reckless driving charge or negligent driving in the first degree. This has significant benefits, including no mandatory jail time and no mandatory ignition interlock requirement. Ignition interlock devices (IIDs) are alcohol breath-testing devices that require drivers to blow into a breath tester and pass a breath test before they can start their vehicles.
Both reckless driving and negligent driving are traffic crimes and will be listed on your driving record. A conviction for reckless driving requires a mandatory 30-day license suspension. If you drive commercial vehicles, reckless driving and negligent driving may also have consequences for your CDL.
If you are arrested for DUI or for physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, it is important to get help from an experienced DUI defense attorney, particularly one who is familiar with the issues specific to CDL disqualifications. If you hire an attorney, you will be charged for his or her services. Attorneys' fees depend on their experience and areas of expertise.