Drivers of commercial vehicles must receive good legal advice since their driver’s licenses are their livelihoods. To complicate things, defense attorneys (and prosecutors) cannot treat the commercial driver like the typical holder of a Class D license (the regular driver’s license most of us hold). This is because an extra set of rules and consequences apply to the commercial driver. This article provides six tips for the practitioner to consider when accepting the commercial driver as a client.
Tip 1: Two Sets of Rules Apply. The commercial driver must worry about both his non-commercial motor vehicle (non-CMV) driving privilege—the regular privilege enjoyed by most license holders—and his commercial driving privilege. The commercial driver will lose his ability to drive a commercial vehicle if he loses his non-CMV driving privilege.1 As such, the practitioner must first analyze the consequences to the driver’s non-CMV or base driving privilege. But, after performing an analysis pertaining to the driver’s non-CMV privilege, the practitioner must also perform an analysis of the driver’s CDL privilege under the Uniform Commercial Driver’s License Act.2 The CDL holder can have his CDL privilege disqualified (taken away) in a number of ways and the practitioner must be familiar with the triggers for a disqualification. It is possible for a disposition to have no affect on a driver’s non-CMV privilege but still trigger a disqualification of the driver’s CDL.
Tip 2: Supervision Doesn’t Count. Supervision is considered to be a conviction for CDL purposes.3 Supervision is only a non-conviction for the purposes of the driver’s non-CMV privilege. So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that supervision is a safe disposition for the commercial driver. It is not in many circumstances.
Tip 3: Be on the Lookout for Disqualifications. If a CDL holder loses his ability to drive a commercial vehicle, it is because the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office has disqualified the driver from driving a commercial motor vehicle.4 Disqualifications can come for a number of different reasons, such as refusing a chemical test or leaving the scene of an accident.5 If your client is a commercial driver, it is important to be familiar with the disqualification consequences the client may face. It is important to note that for some offenses a disqualification may occur even if the violation occurred while the client was not driving a commercial motor vehicle.6 Also, the practitioner should particularly be on the lookout for any offense that the law labels a “serious traffic violation.” For example, speeding 15 or more miles an hour above the limit is a serious traffic violation.7 If a commercial driver receives two serious traffic violations, while driving a commercial vehicle, in a 36-month period, he will receive a disqualification of his CDL privilege for a minimum of two months.8 Serious traffic violations are listed in the Illinois Offense Table9 and the definition section of the Uniform Commercial Driver’s License Act.10
Tip 4: Equipment Violation as Potential Outcome. If the State has charged your client with a serious traffic violation, consider asking the traffic prosecutor to amend the ticket to an equipment violation under 625 ILCS 5/12-101. This offense will not affect CDL privileges and it is not a points-assigned violation (commonly referred to as a “moving violation”) for purposes of triggering a suspension or revocation of drivers’ non-CMV driving privileges. While state’s attorney’s offices vary in their approach to traffic matters, many prosecutors and judges will consider a 12-101 amendment for truck drivers.
Tip 5: Talk Outcomes with Your Client. While a defense attorney may be happy with a 12-101 plea agreement, the driver may not. For example, a driver’s employer may not allow him to plead to an equipment violation. If the driver’s case is a speeding case involving a speed of 15 or more miles per hour over the limit, a good resolution would be to amend the speed to below 15 miles per hour (so that the offense is no longer a serious traffic violation) and then pleading the driver to supervision. The supervision protects the driver’s non-CMV driving privilege and the offense is no longer a serious traffic violation. The moral here is that the practitioner must listen carefully to the goals of the driver and seek a resolution that not only protects the driver’s driving privileges, but also the other concerns that the driver may have.
Tip 6: Know Your Judge. Commercial drivers only make money when their vehicles are traveling down the road. They also may get citations far from home. As such, commercial drivers do not like to appear in court if they can avoid it. The judges in your county may allow you to appear in court on your client’s behalf with a written guilty plea. Contact the traffic prosecutor in your county or another local attorney to find out what can be done to avoid the client’s appearance in court. Practices do vary from county to county, so don’t make a false assumption that what works in one county will work in another. ■