About DUI Cases in DC
It is important for a person charged with a DUI in DC to understand the legal process, as well as the potential penalties they may face if convicted of a DUI. A DC DUI lawyer can help a person understand their charges and help prepare a strong defense. Contact our legal team to take the initial steps involved in protecting your driving record and your freedom.
Unique Aspects of DUI charges in Washington, DC
DC does not have a separate charge for refusing to provide a chemical sample which is a breathalyzer, blood, or urine test. This is different from Virginia where a refusal to provide a sample is considered a separate charge. In DC, when a person provides a chemical sample and their BAC reaches a certain point, there is mandatory jail time.
Another challenge for those charged in DC is from a law that was passed in August 2012. This law says that if a person completed diversion, meaning they had their DUI charge dismissed by completing a program in another state, this will still be treated as a prior conviction in DC. A person in this situation will be forced to complete a mandatory minimum 10-day jail sentence even though the person was never convicted of a crime. This harsh policy is pretty unique to DC.
Probable Cause in DC DUI Cases
DC does not employ many DUI checkpoints, so police officers must have probable cause to pull a person over. Probable cause can be based on any minor traffic infraction or another articulable reason to pull a person over. Between the numerous traffic laws and difficult nature of driving in DC, anyone driving after dark for more than a couple of blocks can be pulled over if the police want to pull them over.
Due to the number of police officers that patrol DC, consuming alcohol in DC becomes a matter of when, not if, someone will be stopped. There are many cases where the reason police pulled the person over is pretty vague, but they insert into the police report that the person was weaving through traffic or did not use their turn signal when switching lanes. Police officers do not usually pull people over during the daytime for minor infractions, but at night, it is almost guaranteed.
Common Mistakes Individuals Make When Pulled Over by Law Enforcement
The most common mistake people make when they are pulled over is admit to the police officer that they consumed alcohol. One of the first things the police officer will ask when they pull someone over, particularly at night, would be whether they had anything to drink. Most drivers who had a drink will admit to it thinking that the officer might be able to smell the alcohol, so if they do not admit to drinking, the officer will think they are a liar and arrest them.
In effect, the person will admit to having one or two drinks and think the officer will not arrest them because that is not a lot. In the District of Columbia, if a person admits to having consumed any alcohol, it is certain that the officer will ask them to step out of their vehicle to perform a field sobriety test.
Another mistake that a person usually makes is by performing field sobriety tests. This is a mistake because even sober people display clues of impairment during field sobriety tests. They are not going to be able to do these tests perfectly, because people get nervous when they are standing on the side of the road at midnight and the officer is obviously thinking that they have done something wrong.
This can be a very nerve-racking experience, so even someone with perfect balance who is perfectly sober is likely to exhibit clues of impairment. Most people do not realize the field sobriety tests are completely voluntary and you do not have to complete them. There is no separate charge for failing to perform a field sobriety test.
Police officers are provided the same field sobriety test training that attorneys receive. During the training, participants are asked to perform the field sobriety tests. Even though the tests are usually performed in the morning, while everyone is sober and calm, generally most people fail. A rule of thumb regarding field sobriety tests in DC is that when you are asked to take one by the police, your answer should always be no, especially if you have had anything at all to drink.