It is essential for all professionals in the criminal justice system to work together to ensure that only safe and responsible CDL drivers are licensed and allowed to operate large vehicles. Submitting high quality and timely data to licensing authorities helps keep unsafe drivers from obtaining or renewing CDLs.
Three major issues with court enforcement of CDL violations are outlined as follows:
1. Masking – When prosecutors, judges, and other members of the criminal justice system look at CDL holders on a case-by-case basis, allowing their convictions to be deferred or to go unreported, this is considered to be masking. The practice is prohibited by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations (FMCSR) and some state statutes. The regulation clearly forbids any masking of convictions by state authorities, 49 CFR 394.226 states:
i. The State must not mask, defer imposition of judgment, or allow an individual to enter into a diversion program that would prevent a CDL driver’s conviction for any violation, in any type of motor vehicle, of a State or local traffic control law (except a parking violation) from appearing on the CDLIS driver’s record, whether the driver was convicted for an offense committed in the State where the driver is licensed or in another state.
2. Plea-Bargaining – While the prohibition against masking is clear, the anti-masking provision does not prevent plea bargaining or dismissal of charges. Judges should consider carefully the purpose of entering into a plea agreement or allowing any type of diversion. Reducing CDL violations for the sole reason of avoiding potential impact on a driver’s license acts to contravene the intent and function aforementioned safety regulation. The only tool to determine how serious a driver’s pattern of traffic violations has been is the official driver’s history. If that history is artificially preserved through plea-bargaining one-time, or multiple times, subsequent prosecutors and judges will have no way to know about prior infractions.
3. Equity – In some instances it has been argued that enforcement of CDL violations should be tempered for constitutional reasons, specifically, equal protection under the law. The most frequent of these arguments come from states that treat CDLs differently than a non-commercial license when the holder is convicted of impaired driving. These states permit a restricted or probationary license for a non-CDL, but do not extend the same privilege to a driver’s CDL. Multiple courts have examined and upheld these different standards for commercial vs. non-commercial drivers. Essentially, these courts are finding no equal protection violation in differences of penalties for there is a rational basis for the discrepancy. See cases: Russell Lee Lockett v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 438 S.E.2d 497(Va. App. Ct. 1993) and Peretto v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 235 Cal. App. 3d 499 (Appeals Court 1991)
For an overview of FMCSA State Compliance for Courts see the presentation below made by Selden Fritschner, Chief, Commercial Driver's License Division, FMCSA made at the National Association for Court Management Conference in July, 2014: