Of 953 truckers faulted in fatal crashes from 2000 through 2005, a Dallas Morning News investigative report found, at least one in four had been convicted of a criminal offense or received deferred adjudication before the crash. Over 14 percent had committed drug or alcohol offenses prior to their accidents, and more than one in 10 were felons. At least 137 truckers had one or more criminal offenses in the 10 years prior to their fatal accident. At least 72 had an offense within five years, and 28 truckers had at least one offense in the two years before their fatal accident. A shortage of qualified truck drivers leads trucking companies to hire more drivers with serious criminal records. In Texas, according to the report, there were 80 truckers faulted in accidents from 2000 through 2005 who received their commercial driver’s licenses at the two prisons where the truck-driver training program is offered.
The report notes that while most trucking companies will not hire a driver with a DUI conviction in the past five years, they do not otherwise exclude drivers with criminal records. Employers have an incentive for hiring felons — a federal tax credit of $2,400 on the first $6,000 an ex-offender earns under a provision established to encourage employers to hire individuals from groups with a high unemployment rate. The report tracks the apparently disproportionate safety problems of truck drivers who earned their CDL in Texas prisons.
While it is important that former offenders have opportunities for legal and gainful employment, felony records may be admissible in evidence. Both Federal Rule of Evidence 609 and Georgia Code Section 24-9-84.1 (enacted in 2005) include similar provisions to the effect that a witness, other than a criminal defendant, can be impeached with evidence of a conviction punishable by death or imprisonment of one year or more, essentially a felony, if the "probative value of admitting the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect to the witness." A witness can be impeached with evidence of conviction of a crime involving "dishonestly or false statement." Both Federal and Georgia law prohibits the use of a conviction that is more than ten years old unless the court determines that the probative value of the conviction substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect.
In light of the Texas study, lawyers representing plaintiffs in commercial motor vehicle collision cases may find it worthwhile to conduct independent investigations of the criminal histories of truck drivers, at least for the previous ten years. Such inquiry should go beyond merely asking the question of the defendant.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.