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Can I Get a CDL with a DWI in MN?

Having a DWI conviction in and of itself will not bar you from obtaining a commercial drivers’ license (CDL). However, depending on the circumstances you could lose your ability to obtain or keep a CDL following a conviction for drunken driving. If you’re asking can I get a CDL with a DWI, the short answer is Yes.

Ultimately, a DWI could cost you a career as a commercial driver even in cases where your license is not permanently revoked. Given what is at stake with a conviction, it is vital that you fight back against a DWI arrest.

The attorneys of Gerald Miller will aggressively advocate for you during the course of your DWI case. A Minneapolis DWI defense lawyer understands how to obtain an acquittal and is ready to put their experience to work for you. Call now to get started.

Requirements for a CDL in Minnesota

It is helpful to first understand the requirements for obtaining a CDL in Minnesota. While these requirements are fairly extensive, at no point do they refer to a driver having a criminal record. While there is not a specific exclusion for DWI convictions, eligibility for these licenses could be limited in some cases by a past conviction.

The primary requirements for obtaining a Minnesota CDL involve both knowledge tests and road tests. A knowledge test is a written exam that covers state and federal guidelines for commercial trucking. Road tests involve an applicant operating a commercial vehicle in an effort to establish they can drive these large vehicles safely.

It is not enough to pass these tests, however. Applicants must meet other basic requirements including providing proof of citizenship or permanent residency. The aspect of applying for a CDL that directly relates to a DWI conviction involves the requirement for a valid Minnesota driver’s license. To obtain a CDL, a person must first obtain and hold a standard license. This means a person that has lost their right to hold a standard vehicle license may not obtain a CDL.

Minnesota DWI and License Suspension

A DWI conviction can have varying effects on a person’s right to drive. That said, every DWI arrest triggers an administrative procedure that could result in the suspension of driving privileges.

For first-time offenders, a conviction could mean a suspension of driving privileges for up to 90 days. During this time, that person is not eligible to obtain a CDL in the State of Minnesota. This suspension period can increase substantially in other cases. For example, a first-time DWI offender that refuses to submit to a chemical test could lose their driving privileges for up to one year. Longer suspensions are possible for those individuals with multiple offenses. The longer your license suspension, the longer you can expect to wait to qualify for a CDL in Minnesota.

The Impact of DWI on Your Career as a Commercial Driver

It is important to understand that your right to obtain a CDL is not the only factor that could impact your career as a commercial driver following a DWI arrest. Even if you are able to eventually obtain a CDL, a DWI conviction on your record could make it especially difficult to find or maintain employment as a commercial driver.

Many trucking companies have a strict no tolerance approach to drivers with any moving violations on their record. This approach can help keep insurance rates low. For that reason, you could struggle to obtain a job even if a DWI conviction does not bar you from getting your CDL. Fighting back against a DWI arrest and potentially avoiding a conviction entirely is your best chance to protect your future employment prospects.

DWI Cases with CDL Drivers

While the consequences of a DWI conviction are steep for commercial drivers, it is important to remember that a conviction is required before the consequences become a reality. To secure a conviction, the state must prove every element of DWI beyond a reasonable doubt.

The offense of driving while impaired is governed by Minnesota Statute Section 169A.20. The statute makes it clear that it is unlawful for a person to drive, operate, or be in physical control of a motor vehicle when they are impaired by alcohol and other substances. There are multiple legal terms to unpack in that sentence, and there are numerous ways the state could make their case for DWI. It is also worth noting that there are more ways to convict a commercial truck driver of DWI than anyone else on the roadway.

Driving, Operating, or Physical Control

The first step of every DWI case involves proof that a person was driving, operating, or in physical control of a vehicle. It is not hard to understand the concept of operating or driving a motor vehicle. That said, physical control of a vehicle is more nebulous. This standard applies to cases where a person is not driving a motor vehicle but is in the position to do so at a moment’s notice. Notably, this could involve a driver asleep behind the wheel of a parked vehicle with the keys in the ignition.

Impairment in Minnesota

According to the statute, there are seven different options for the state to choose from when establishing impairment. The prosecution needs to only establish one of these to secure a conviction for DWI. The seven options include:

  • the person is under the influence of alcohol;
  • the person is under the influence of a controlled substance;
  • the person is under the influence of an intoxicating substance and the person knows or has reason to know that the substance has the capacity to cause impairment;
  • the person is under the influence of a combination of any two or more of the elements named in clauses (1) to (3);
  • the person’s alcohol concentration at the time, or as measured within two hours of the time, of driving, operating, or being in physical control of the motor vehicle is 0.08 or more;
  • the vehicle is a commercial motor vehicle and the person’s alcohol concentration at the time, or as measured within two hours of the time, of driving, operating, or being in physical control of the commercial motor vehicle is 0.04 or more; or
  • the person’s body contains any amount of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II, or its metabolite, other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols.

It should be noted that paragraph (6) relates exclusively to the drivers of commercial vehicles. This is a form of “per se” DWI, which means the state could secure a conviction for DWI simply by providing a chemical test showing your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was at or above a certain level. For most drivers, per se DWI involves a BAC of .08 or above. The standard for drivers of commercial vehicles is much higher, as it is possible to obtain a conviction of a person driving a commercial truck if their BAC is at .04 or above.

Some states will apply this lower per se standard to drivers with a CDL even while they are operating a private passenger vehicle. That is not the case in Minnesota. According to state law, this lower threshold only applies to a person who has driven, operated, or been in physical control of a commercial vehicle within two hours of being impaired by drugs or alcohol. Under this standard, it could be possible for a person to receive a DWI using this lower standard while operating their private vehicle, but only if it was shortly after driving their commercial truck as well.

While this specific statute applies exclusively to commercial drivers, it is not the only option available to prosecutors when dealing with a truck driver. If a truck operator refuses a chemical test, the prosecution could rely on another prong in order to secure a conviction. For example, the state in these cases could make the case the truck driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This could be done by highlighting slurred speech, their admission to using a foreign substance, or failed field sobriety tests.

Talk to an Minneapolis DWI Defense Lawyer About Getting a CDL with a DWI

The best way to protect your future and obtain a CDL is by avoiding a DWI conviction entirely. If you have been arrested for DWI, the potential for avoiding a suspension of your driving privileges remains. Beating these charges could allow you to pursue a career as a commercial driver.

The attorneys of Gerald Miller understand what a CDL could mean for you and your family. We will work tirelessly to protect your rights and help you achieve your future goals by fighting back against a conviction in your DWI case. Call right away to schedule your free consultation.


This blog was originally written on March 1, 2021 and was updated on July 7, 2021.

About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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