Washington DC OWI Lawyer
Being charged with drunk driving is a serious matter, and potentially even a life-changing event. While many people believe they know when they have had “too much to drink,” some of these very people are the same ones who are later handcuffed in the back of a police car.
Of the three drunk driving offenses in DC, Operating While Impaired (OWI) is the least serious. Nonetheless, it still carries heavy fines, possible jail time, and consequences for your driving privileges. In addition, it can have the negative impact of becoming part of your permanent criminal record. Call a DC OWI lawyer today.
Drunk Driving Charges in DC
There are three different drunk driving charges in the District of Columbia. The most egregious violation of drunk-driving law is driving while intoxicated (DWI), which is the common drunk-driving offense we have become familiar with requiring a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Section 50-2206.11.
The second offense, which is equally serious but harder to prove, is driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or any drug(s). A DUI offense usually requires a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08, in addition to other evidence to demonstrate that the driver’s ability to safely operate his or her vehicle safely is impaired. Section 50-2206.11.
The third offense, which will be the primary topic of this page, is operating a vehicle while impaired (OWI). The reason that OWI charges can be difficult to understand and require an attorney to defend against is that the charges are founded mostly on evidence of impairment outside of breath and chemical testing because the BAC of a driver charged with an OWI will almost always be below 0.05. Section 50-2206.14. Put simply, DC law permits for a driver to be arrested and charged for an OWI when they are not “legally drunk,” or when their BAC is below 0.05.
OWI Charges in DC
Operating a vehicle While Impaired (OWI) is defined under DC law as operating or being in physical control of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol and/or any drug(s). Section 502206.14 The evidence used to prove that an individual is impaired by alcohol and/or any drug(s) will likely be the arresting officer’s account of the driver’s behavior and other indicators (i.e., bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, trouble speaking coherently) of drug and/or alcohol use.
The OWI offense was designed to allow law enforcement officers to crack down on impaired driving by being able to arrest drivers who did not meet the threshold for a DUI offense but still appear impaired to some degree. Therefore, the arresting officer does not need to provide evidence of intoxication gathered through field sobriety tests often required for a DUI arrest, or the breath, blood, or urine tests required to establish high BAC (as required for DWI charges). The standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) police officers use were designed by the NHTSA to help officers identify drivers with BACs of 0.08 or higher.
As a result of the broad and subjective nature of the DC OWI charge, DC drivers are almost always at risk of arrest if they have had anything to drink that night. Although OWI charges do not carry penalties of the same severity as DUI or DWI charges, an OWI charge is still a serious matter.
Furthermore, because the evidence in OWI cases is largely based on witness testimony, the defense strategy is somewhat different than typical DUI cases. For these reasons, it is important to consult with an experienced DC OWI lawyer if you have been charged with operating while impaired.
OWI Penalties in DC
First of all, being convicted (or even charged) with an OWI may result in a loss of driving privileges by having one’s license suspended or revoked. Second, the penalties of a first-time offense OWI conviction are up to 90 days in jail and/or $500 fine. Section 50-2206.15. Third, an OWI conviction will appear as a criminal conviction on your criminal record, which could have lasting negative effects on one’s employability, reputation, and ability to apply to school or qualify for scholarships.
If an individual receives an OWI conviction and has a prior OWI, DUI, or DWI offense, then the driver faces up to 12 months in jail and/or a $1,000 to $2,500 fine. Section 50-2206.15(b). If an individual has two or more prior drunk-driving offenses, then an OWI conviction carries penalties of a $1,000 to $5,000 fine and 10 days to 12 months in jail. Section 50-2206.15(c). Keep in mind that these penalties do not include enhanced penalties that may apply if there are minors in the vehicle or significant traces of drugs in the driver’s system.
OWI and Plea Agreements in Washington, DC
There are many times when prosecutors might realize a DC DWI or DUI charge is not likely to result in conviction, and may be amenable to allowing a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge, such as OWI. Depending on the circumstances and facts of your case, a misdemeanor OWI may be a good deal because an OWI conviction may not have the same consequences to your driver’s license (if your license is other than a DC license) and does not carry the same stigma as a DUI conviction.
A DC OWI charge is much easier for a prosecutor to prove in court than a DWI or DUI charge. You may be surprised to know that an OWI conviction does not require the government to prove you were over a certain legal limit (as with DWI) or that you were appreciably impaired (as with a DUI). Instead, they only have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were operating a vehicle while impaired to any degree by alcohol. And how do they do that? The officer’s account of your behavior that night has a lot to do with it.
The prosecutor will attempt to build an OWI case against you utilizing evidence including your driving behavior, your alleged speech patterns, and your appearance. Also, if you admit to the officer that you’ve been drinking, this can be used against you.
This is why a DC OWI lawyer recommends you keep your conversation to a minimum when you are pulled over. After providing the officer with your license and proof of insurance per their request, you can respectfully refuse to answer questions about where you’ve been or how much you’ve had to drink. Because the law surrounding a DC OWI case is so broad, it is crucial you discuss the case with a local DC OWI lawyer as soon as possible.
Attorney Jason Kalafat can paint a realistic picture of the consequences you might be facing and any potential solutions. Jason Kalafat also offers representation against other criminal charges in Washington, DC, so click here if you are seeking representation against an accusation of assault, drug possession or any other charge.