Washington DC DUI Lawyer
The term “driving under the influence” often conjures disturbing images of vehicles driving erratically, swerving wildly across lanes, but the truth is that most DUI traffic stops are far less dramatic. In fact, most DUI arrests come after a stop for a minor traffic violation. Rather than being significantly inebriated, many drivers arrested for DUI simply failed to realize just how few drinks it takes to put someone over the legal limit.
If you have never been in trouble with the law, a first offense DUI arrest can be frightening and confusing. If you are facing a second or subsequent DUI offense, you know the impact a conviction may have on your life.
There are three serious charges that can be issued in the District of Columbia for drunk driving: Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), Driving Under the Influence (DUI), and Operating a vehicle While Intoxicated (OWI). If you are charged and convicted of any of these three drunk driving violations, consequences may include:
DUI Laws in DC
- Jail Time
- Loss of Driving Privileges / Suspended Driver’s License
- Substantial Fines
- Higher Insurance Premiums
- Installation of an ignition interlock device
- Permanent Blemish on Your Criminal Record
It is important that people understand the difference between these drunk driving crimes. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is the most serious offense with the most severe consequences, particularly because the enhanced penalties for high blood alcohol content (BAC) levels only apply to DWI charges. Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or any drug(s) is also a serious offense with the same penalties as a DWI, except the BAC-related enhanced penalties for the latter. Operating a vehicle while impaired (OWI) by alcohol and/or any drug(s) is the least serious drunk-driving violation, but is still a criminal offense punishable by jail sentences and fines.
Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
Driving while intoxicated is the most egregious of drunk driving offenses in the District. DC Code § 50-2206.11 states that no person is permitted to operate or be in physical control (e.g., sitting in the driver’s seat) of any vehicle while the person is intoxicated. A person is in violation of this law if the driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher. This is a “per se” rule.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
Driving under the influence is also a very serious offense. DC Code § 50-2206.11 states that it is illegal for any person to operate or be in physical control of any vehicle while the person is under the influence of alcohol and/or any drug(s). As explained above, it is a “per se” rule that any driver with a BAC of 0.08 or higher is presumed to be driving while intoxicated. However, a driver is presumed to be driving under the influence if:
- The driver has a BAC under 0.08 but at or above 0.05, or;
- The driver has a BAC under 0.05 but above 0.00 and one of the following is true: (1) the person is driving a commercial vehicle, (2) the person is under 21 years of age, or (3) there is evidence that the driver is impaired by a drug.
- The driver has a BAC of 0.00 but there is substantial evidence that the driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle is significantly impaired by the consumption of a drug.
This is because if a driver’s BAC is below 0.05, there is a rebuttable presumption that the driver is not under the influence of alcohol and/or any drug(s). However, that presumption does not apply (see § 50-2206.51(b)) if there is evidence of impairment from consumption of a drug, the person is/was driving a commercial vehicle, or the driver was under 21 years of age.
Some examples of non-BAC evidence of impairment are:
- Dilated pupils
- Slurred speech
- Bloodshot or watery eyes
- Unbalanced coordination
- Failed field sobriety tests
- Hazardous driving
Operating a Vehicle While Impaired (OWI)
Operating a vehicle while impaired is the least serious drunk-driving offense. DC Code § 50-2206.14 states that it is illegal for any person to operate or be in physical control of a vehicle while impaired in any way by alcohol and/or any drug(s). Being impaired is defined as the consumption of alcohol and/or any drug(s) affecting the person’s ability to drive in any way that can be perceived or noticed. Evidence of impairment used by the prosecutor to prove an OWI includes:
- Dilated pupils
- Slurred speech
- Admission by driver of having had alcohol (even small amounts)
- Poor coordination
- Failed field sobriety tests
- Hazardous driving (e.g., swerving within or between lanes, etc.)
- Driving far below the speed limit
DC DUI Arrest: Your Rights and Responsibilities
A police officer needs to have a legal reason to pull you over. That reason may be as simple as a broken taillight or a rolling stop, or it may be as severe as erratic, reckless driving or excessive speed. If the police officer who stops your vehicle suspects that you may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he or she will likely ask you questions designed to coerce you to admit guilt. You do not have to answer any questions about your activities or whether you have had anything to drink. Be polite and provide your identification, but decline to answer any questions without the advice of your lawyer.
If you are suspected of DUI, the officer may ask you to perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests or may ask you to submit to a roadside breath test. You do not have to submit to these tests, which are not intended to prove your innocence, but rather to indicate intoxication and prove your guilt.
If you are arrested for driving under the influence, you will be asked to submit to a blood alcohol analysis test, generally through a breath machine, at the police station. In some instances, the officer may request that you submit to a urine test. These tests are required under the District of Columbia’s implied consent law. Your refusal to submit to the official breath or urine test will result in the automatic suspension of your license, regardless of the outcome of your DUI case. Similar laws apply to DUI offenses in Maryland and Virginia. It is also important to keep in mind that if you are arrested, the officer should read you the Miranda warning before asking you further questions related to your charges.
In any DUI case, time is critical. If you have been arrested for DUI, contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and begin building your defense.
DUI Defense from an Experienced Attorney
Washington, DC DUI lawyer Jason Kalafat will fight on your behalf. Whether challenging the legality of your traffic stop, arrest, or breathalyzer results, or negotiating a reduced plea or a deferred sentence through the DC diversion program that will keep you out of jail and keep a conviction off your record, he will explore every option for the best outcome to your case. For a free consultation with an attorney who has successfully handled the full spectrum of all DUI cases in DC, call Jason Kalafat at (202) 558-4382.
Jason Kalafat is also well-versed in representing clients charged with non-alcohol related driving offenses. Visit our DC traffic lawyer page or our Washington, DC criminal lawyer page for more information.
Looking for a list of DUI definitions? Click here to access a list of the main terms used in DUI cases.
Jason Kalafat in His Own Words
Below are several links to question-and-answer pages excerpted from an interview with Jason Kalafat in which he discusses his experience defending DUI cases in the District of Columbia.
- On DUI Cases in DC
- On Field Sobriety and Breath Tests
- On Defending DUI Cases
- On Hiring Private Defense for a DUI Case
- What to do after getting a DUI in DC
- On Taking an Alcohol Education Course After Getting a DC DUI
- On How Insurance is Impacted By a DUI Charge
- On Ignition Interlock Devices and Driver Education Courses
- On DUI Laws For People Under 21