Washington, DC DUI Penalties

Driving under the influence in the District of Columbia carries severe risks of getting charged with one of three types of impaired driving. Many drivers feel that they can drive safely after having one or two casual cocktails, but the District has a zero tolerance policy to reduce accidents that are caused by inebriated or impaired drivers. Drivers can receive convictions even when driving with blood alcohol contents that are less than the national legal limit, which is 0.08 percent. Below we discuss the various kinds of drunk driving charges in DC: DWI, DUI, and OWI.

Types of Impaired Driving Offenses in Washington, DC

There are three types of charges that involve operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol:

DWI or Driving While Intoxicated

Operating a motor vehicle while your blood alcohol is 0.08 percent or above carries severe penalties and automatic license suspensions. Drivers under the age of 21 can be convicted of DWI for any measurable alcohol content. See DC Code Section 50-2206.11.

DUI or Driving Under the Influence

Operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.05 or higher can result in a DUI charge if drivers show evidence of appreciable impairment.

OWI or Operating While Impaired

You do not need to be driving to be charged with OWI, which is essentially a zero tolerance law. BACs of as little as 0.02 percent or more can still affect your ability to operate and control a motor vehicle. Drivers who pull to the side of the road but leave their keys in the ignition still have control of their vehicles and could be charged with OWI. DC Code Section 50-2206.14.

Possible Penalties for a DUI Conviction

Driving under the influence is a misdemeanor criminal offense in DC.Penalties for impaired driving in the District of Columbia vary depending on the charge, your driving record, BAC content, and evidence of unsafe driving. Breathalyzers, which had been banned in Washington due to inaccurate readings from faulty equipment, have been replaced and reinstated. Drivers must submit to these tests or face losing their right to drive for one year, and they can still be convicted by other evidence of drunk or impaired driving. Typical penalties include fines, community service, license suspensions, and jail time.

DWI and DUI Penalties

Penalties have recently increased for District drivers convicted of DUI charges. Drug or alcohol use can cause impairment, and marijuana stays in the blood for days after and could be used to convict if you show other signs of impaired driving. Fines and penalties include the following sanctions:

  • First offenses could result in fines up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail.
  • Judges impose mandatory 10-day jail sentences if your BAC is over 0.20, 15 days for BACs over 0.25, and 20 days for BACs over 0.30 percent alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.
  • Second offenses committed within 15 years of the first violation result in fines of $2,500 to $5,000 and up to one year in jail, with a minimum jail term of 10 days.
  • If you drive impaired with a passenger under 17 years of age, then additional minimum fines of $500 to $1,000 per child apply for first and subsequent offenses. Judges must impose a minimum five-day jail sentence per restrained child and 10-day jail sentence per unrestrained child.
  • These fines and penalties apply even if drivers never move their vehicles an inch. Getting behind the wheel and inserting keys in the ignition gives you control of the motor vehicle.

OWI Penalties

Prosecutors can easily prove OWI charges because they only need to demonstrate minor impairment and alcohol or drug consumption. OWI fines and penalties include the following sanctions:

  • First convictions carry a $500 fine and maximum possible jail sentence of 90 days.
  • Second convictions within 15 years could result in fines of $1,000 to $2,500 and up to one year in jail.
  • Second convictions carry a mandatory five-day jail sentence.
  • Third and subsequent convictions within 15 years carry $1,000 to $5,000 fines, one-year maximum jail sentences, and 10-day minimum jail times.

DUI Defense Strategies in the District

Sometimes, an attorney can convince a judge and prosecutor to accept a plea bargain and reduce DUI charges to OWI. However, this will count as a DUI offense if you receive another DUI conviction within a 15-year period.

Any type of DUI conviction could limit your ability to drive, find employment, or keep your job. Even after you pay your fines, serve your sentence, and perform any community service, the conviction could haunt you for years. If you face DUI charges, you only have 15 days to fight license suspension at the DMV. However, a skilled DUI lawyer can help minimize consequences, fight charges, and protect your rights. The following legal strategies could help you after being charged with impaired driving offenses:

  • First-time offenders can sometimes qualify for special court-ordered driving classes and get their charges dismissed.
  • Breathalyzer tests can be challenged due to acid reflux and other digestive disorders.
  • An attorney can challenge the officer’s reasons for making a traffic stop.
  • Innocent explanations for driving erratically could challenge evidence of impaired driving.
  • Rising blood alcohol could offer a possible defense based on when the BAC test is administered.
  • Field sobriety tests could be open to alternative interpretations.