Much litigation and debate has centered around how/why the Department of Transportation is able to disqualify a persons' commercial driving privileges following an arrest for operating while intoxicated. As of May 22, 2009, it appears that much of that ligation and debate may be over. Back in 2005, the Iowa legislature amended Iowa Code Section 321.208 to allow for the disqualification of a person's commercial driving privileges following an arrest for operating while intoxicated even if they were driving their personal vehicle. The disqualification would be for one year in the event the person refused to submit to chemical testing or was found or plead guilty to operating while under the influence and it was a first offense. The disqualification would be for life if the person's commercial driving privileges had previously been disqualified.
The unfriendly part about the legislation back in 2005, is that although the statute allowing for disqualification of a commercial driver's license was amended to allow for disqualification of a commercial driver's license even if the person was driving their non-commercial vehicle, Iowa Code Section 321J.8, which is the code section dealing with what warnings a motorist is to be given prior to being asked to submit to chemical testing, was not. Thus, a situation was created whereby motorists holding commercial driver's licenses were not being advised about the disqualification consequences to their CDL licenses and were only being told about the consequences to their non-commercial driving privileges which were for different periods of time. Thankfully, the Iowa Supreme Court addressed this issue in State v. Massengale, 745 N.W.2d 499 (Iowa 2008), and determined that it was a violation of due process for failing to adequately inform motorists holding a commercial driver's license how their CDL license could be disqualified following an arrest for operating while intoxicated.
Nevertheless, holders of commercial drivers licenses were still being treated different and were at a disadvantage. Iowa Code Section 321J.13(6)(c) allowed for a person who had successfully suppressed their breath test results or breath test refusal from being admissible in trial to petition the Department of Transportation to reinstate their non-commercial driving privileges. However, this code section did not apply to commercial driving privileges. See Wiebenga v. IDOT, 530 N.W.2d 732 (Iowa 1995). Thus, motorists who had either their statutory or constitutional rights violated which resulted in the suppression of their chemical test or chemical test refusal had an avenue to get their non-commercial driving privileges reinstated but no such avenue existed for reinstatement of a person's commercial driving privileges for the same statutory or constitutional violations.
This year the Iowa legislature wisely acknowledged the disadvantage that was being bestowed upon holders of commercial drivers licenses, and proposed Senate File 419. That file proposed changes to Iowa Code Section 321.208 to clarify how/when a persons commercial driving privileges can be disqualified following an arrest/conviction for operating while intoxicated but more importantly amended Iowa Code Section 321J.13(6)(c) to provide an avenue for the holders of commercial drivers licenses to petition the Department of Transportation to reinstate those privileges following a successful motion to suppress. Thus, if a motorist is able to get their chemical test result or test refusal suppressed and held inadmissible at trial on the criminal side of their case, they can petition the Department of Transportation to reinstate (or keep from disqualifying) their commercial driving privileges. Senate File 419 was signed by Governor Culver on May 22, 2009, and the portion of that bill amending Iowa Code Section 321J.13(6)(c) became effective immediately and is applied retroactively back to January 1, 2005.
Simply stated, if you or someone you know was arrested for operating while intoxicated dating back to January 1, 2005, and held a commercial drivers license but was able to reinstate their non-commercial driving privileges as a result of a successful motion to suppress on the criminal case, SF419 appears to allow reinstate of the commercial driving privileges or removal of the disqualification of the commercial driving privileges arising out of that event. It would be best for those individuals to contact an attorney who is competent on these issues.