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OWI Charges in DC

In D.C., there is an interesting sub-section to the impaired driving statute which is called Operating While Impaired, or “OWI.” This offense also exists in a few jurisdictions (like Iowa, for example), but the vast majority of jurisdictions do not have an OWI charge making it somewhat unique to Washington, DC. As a result if you are charged with OWI it is important you seek the counsel of an experienced DC DUI lawyer as they will be more familiar with the differences and how to proceed with your case. Call and schedule a free consultation today.

What is “Operating While Impaired?”

OWI, according to the D.C. Court of Appeals, has the exact same level of proof and requirements as a DUI, meaning that the government has to show that an individual’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle has been impaired to an appreciable or noticeable degree by alcohol or some other substance, whether it be prescription drugs or illegal drugs.

So, the proof is the same and in that sense it is the same charge as a DUI. OWI was really created as a lesser offense than a DUI for weaker cases against a defendant or for plea bargaining reasons. An OWI has a maximum penalty of 90 days jail, whereas a DUI has a maximum penalty of 180 days. The maximum fine is $500, as opposed to a $1000 fine for a DUI.

Most importantly, OWI will often not result in a suspension or revocation of a person’s driver’s license if their license is not issued by the District of Columbia. If the defendant has a D.C. license, the D.C. DMV will treat an OWI just like a DUI, but if a person has, say, a Maryland driver’s license, then a conviction for a OWI in a D.C. case will really not incur any kind of suspension from the Maryland MVA. That is one major benefit of OWI and one way in which an OWI is a lesser offense beyond simply the maximum penalties in the court.

Perception Versus Reality of OWI Charges

Most people don’t know what an OWI means. Just about everyone in the United States has a conception in their mind of what DUI is and stands for (whether that conception is correct or not). Thus, if someone sees a person’s record and sees a DUI conviction, they are going to think, “Ah, drunk driver.” That is a negative translation, obviously.

If, on the other hand, someone sees OWI on an individual’s record, they are not going to know what to think because they don’t know exactly what that means and that gives any individual who is convicted of an OWI versus a DUI that critical opportunity to explain.

In the end, it’s important to keep in mind that an OWI has benefits (when compared to DUI and DWI), but it is the same statute and the same idea and requires the same proof as a DUI. For that reason, the defense of an OWI charge is the same as a DUI.