Washington DC Criminal Defense Lawyer

David Benowitz is an experienced attorney with a successful track record of fighting for his clients. As a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, DC, David is committed to providing knowledgeable and dedicated criminal defense at reasonable prices. En Español.


David is AV-rated by Martindale-Hubbell, has earned a perfect 10 rating by AVVO, and is a member of the National College of DUI Defense. He is also the only Washington, DC-based criminal defense attorney who has been board-certified as a criminal advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. David is a faculty member at Harvard Law School’s Trial Advocacy Workshop and has taught at the National Institute of Trial Advocacy’s Building Trial Skills Program.

David Benowitz Criminal Lawyer DCIf you have been contacted by a law enforcement agency, you should not make any statements – even those denying involvement – as they could be used to build a case against you. Instead, you should politely decline to comment and then contact a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer immediately. The sooner you reach out to an experienced attorney, the sooner a lawyer can begin to investigate and build a defense that can help you defeat the government’s case.

Federal Charges

While many criminal charges are brought in DC Superior Court, some allegations are charged in federal district court. These offenses are prosecuted by the United States government and, as a result, have the full force of a number of federal law enforcement agencies supporting the prosecution. Agencies conducting investigations, undercover operations, and sting operations include:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATF)
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

Any offense that occurs on federal property can be charged as a federal crime. In addition, white collar charges alleging fraud, cybercrimes, and drug crimes are among the criminal offenses most frequently prosecuted as federal crimes. Internet sex crimes, such as receipt and possession of child pornography and online enticement of a minor, are also vigorously prosecuted in federal court.

Federal criminal charges are extremely serious, with a conviction leading to possible strict sentences in federal prison without the possibility of parole. Potential evidence against you is gathered during lengthy investigations that may include wiretapping and other surveillance conducted by agents, the use of cooperating witnesses, subpoenas for documents, emails, and other materials, and the execution of search warrants at your home and place of business. If you are investigated for a federal crime, it is crucial to seek legal counsel from a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer and defense team experienced in handling federal cases.

If you believe you are being investigated for a federal offense or if you have been charged with a federal crime, getting legal counsel from an experienced and knowledgeable Washington, DC criminal defense attorney should be a priority so that your rights are protected. More information regarding federal charges and legal representation can be found here.


There are three types of assault that you can be charged within the District of Columbia: simple assault, assault with significant bodily injury, and aggravated assault. It is important to note that someone can face assault allegations and charges even if there was never any contact between them and the complainant, known as battery. Assault can be charged when there is the threat of force, causing someone to reasonably fear that harm is imminent.

Simple assault has two different definitions and can be prosecuted in two ways: 1) as the use of force or violence to injure or attempt to injure someone; or 2) as a threatening act that reasonably would create fear in another person, committed with the intent to cause injury or create fear, with the apparent ability to injure. Simple assault is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

Assault with significant bodily injury is charged when the injuries to the complainant require hospitalization or immediate medical attention. The penalties for this added element are more significant, with a maximum prison sentence of three years, fines that can add up to $12,500, or both.

Aggravated assault is the most serious of assault charges. Assault is considered “aggravated” if it causes a substantial risk of death, obvious disfigurement, extreme physical pain, or unconsciousness. The maximum penalties for aggravated assault are ten years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both. Our assault lawyer page contains more information about the differences between these charges, as well as information on when and how they are applied.

As in all criminal cases, when someone is facing assault charges the accuser cannot drop charges or decide not to press charges. The U.S. Attorney’s office files assault cases and can prosecute even if the alleged victim does not want to move forward with the charge.

Assaulting a Police Officer

The charge of assaulting a police officer differs from standard assault charges. An assault on a police officer charge requires the use of active force against an officer who is on duty, or against a police officer because he/she is an officer. Resisting arrest or intimidating a law enforcement official would not qualify as assaulting an officer in DC. It is important to speak with a DC criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if someone is facing any level of assault charges.

Drug Charges

It is illegal to knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance in the District of Columbia. The only exception is if a licensed physician, operating within the realm of their professional practice, prescribed the substance to you. Simple possession of a controlled substance carries a potential jail sentence of 180 days, a fine of $1,000, or both.

The potential penalties increase dramatically if you are charged with distributing or possessing with intent to distribute a controlled substance. A conviction on either charge carries a potential maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and/or a fine of $75,000.

In DC, the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana was recently legalized.   This law applies locally; federal law enforcement agencies may not recognize it.

The District of Columbia’s laws regarding drugs can be complex. Reach out to a skilled drug attorney for more information about these laws and how an experienced criminal defense lawyer in DC could help investigate your situation and build a defense.

Gun Charges

Criminal Lawyer in Washington, DC.Gun laws can be very complex, and a permit to possess or carry a firearm outside of the District of Columbia does not mean a person can do so within Washington, DC. Common gun charges include carrying a pistol without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition.

There are a number of laws that dictate when and where you are allowed to “carry” a firearm. If you are charged with carrying a pistol without a license, you are facing a felony offense and potential maximum penalties of five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.

The laws defining what constitutes “carrying” or a “pistol” and what makes a firearm “unregistered” are complicated, so you may want to continue to our gun lawyer page for more information about these laws. If you plan to own a firearm in the District of Columbia, it is important to understand these laws beforehand so that you avoid serious pitfalls.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in Washington, DC are serious offenses. Those convicted could have their license taken away, face large penalties, and potentially serve jail time.

In DC, there are potential traffic-alcohol charges: DUI, DWI, and OWI.  You may be charged with a DWI if you are alleged to have a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) of .08 or over .08. DWI is a per se offense in DC that is automatically triggered when a driver’s BAC test results come back at 0.08 or above.

You can be charged with a DUI in the District of Columbia if you are alleged to be operating a motor vehicle with any BAC; there is no requirement that it be above .08.

A first-time DWI or DUI violation could bring a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. You also face a suspension of driving privileges in the District of Columbia of up to one year.   If you are found to have a BAC of .20 or over, you face a potential mandatory sentence of ten days in jail. The penalties for DUI or DWI, including mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment, increase substantially as your BAC increases and if you have prior convictions for traffic alcohol offenses.

However, you can also be charged and penalized under DC law if you are driving while somehow impaired at a level that does not meet the standard for DWI. Operating While Impaired (OWI) is considered a less serious criminal offense, as it carries up to 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine for a first offense.  Please visit the DUI lawyer page for more information about these laws and the penalties.


Repercussions for traffic violations can range from a minor ticket to criminal misdemeanor charges. Speeding, reckless driving, driving with a revoked license, driving with a suspended license, driving without registration, and driving without insurance are all considered serious offenses.

The penalties for speeding can be serious. Depending on the speed limit and how fast someone is driving, speeding violations can mean points on your driving record, fines of up to $1,000, the loss of driving privileges, the potential for jail time, and more.

Common traffic violations can lead to a reckless driving charge. Those include but are not limited to driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit, tailgating, failing to yield to an emergency vehicle, and eluding the police. Potential penalties for reckless driving include the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license, increased insurance costs, fines up to $1,000, and even jail time. For more information on how a criminal defense attorney in DC could help, please see our traffic lawyer page.

Sex Crimes

Being convicted of a sex crime can result in extremely long prison sentences and placement on a sex offender registry. Other consequences, such as losing your job, or relationships, can accompany sex crime charges or convictions.

There are five different levels of sex crimes that you can be charged with under District of Columbia law, ranging from first-degree sexual abuse as the most serious to misdemeanor sexual abuse.

The most serious offense one can be charged with is first-degree sexual abuse, which includes causing a person to engage in a sexual act with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of the person committing the offense, accomplished through the use of force, threatened use of a weapon or use of a threat sufficient to force coercion. Our sex crimes lawyer page has more information about the serious violations you can be charged with under the umbrella of a sexual offense. And if you are facing charges, contact a seasoned Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer.

Murder & Manslaughter

Murder and manslaughter are very serious felony charges that can result in extremely long prison sentences if you are convicted of either offense. It is therefore critical to contact a DC criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

As stated in DC Code Section 22-2104, if you are convicted of first-degree murder you face a mandatory minimum 30-year prison sentence. In certain instances, the term can be extended to a life sentence without the possibility of parole or release.

First-degree murder refers to causing the death of someone intentionally with premeditation and deliberation, or killing someone during the commission of certain other felony offenses,  which is referred to as “felony murder.”

Second-degree murder refers to causing the death of someone with either the intent to kill, seriously injure, or in conscious disregard of an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury; it does not require premeditation or deliberation. A conviction for second-degree murder carries a long prison sentence.

Voluntary manslaughter applies when a killing that would otherwise make out the elements of second-degree murder, but mitigating circumstances are present.  Mitigating circumstances can exist when a person acts in the heat of passion with adequate provocation, or when a person actually believes they are in danger of serious bodily injury, and actually believes that the deadly force used was necessary to defend against that danger, but one or both of these beliefs are not reasonable.

Involuntary manslaughter applies when someone causes a death, the conduct causing the death was a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care, and that conduct created an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury.

A DC criminal defense lawyer can work to help anyone facing these allegations explore their defense options.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington, DC Today

Facing an accusation that you committed a crime in Washington DC can be a frightening and intimidating experience. From an initial confrontation with a police officer, to an arrest, a booking in jail, to appearances in court, the entire process can be overwhelming.

In addition to the obvious stressors that you may feel, the potential criminal penalties for a conviction can forever change your life. A conviction for even a low-level misdemeanor offense will result in a criminal record, may require you to pay a fine, and might even result in a jail sentence. More serious felony convictions could result in a lengthy prison sentence and follow you for the rest of your life.

If you are facing a criminal charge or believe that you are the target of a criminal investigation in Washington, DC, your freedom is at stake. David Benowitz and his team of DC criminal defense attorneys are ready to help you. Call (202) 883-3563 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced and accomplished Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer.

If you are looking for information on criminal offenses not listed above, use the below links.

Learn More

Finding “The Best DC Criminal Lawyer”

All too often, we are asked who is the “best DC criminal lawyer.” In reality, those labels do not help, because there is no way to apply them to any one attorney.

There is no “best DC criminal lawyer.” There are many excellent and qualified attorneys across the District, but in truth, there is no one lawyer who is best suited to every single case. The practice of law is a complicated endeavor, and even within the practice area of criminal law, there are major differences in criminal defense in different local jurisdictions, and between different kinds of cases. For instance, DUI cases and white collar cases involve very different areas of criminal law, types of evidence, and defense strategies.

When someone says they are looking for the “best DC criminal lawyer,” we inform them that they should instead be looking for an attorney who they believe is the right lawyer to represent them in a case. When looking for a lawyer for your case, you should look for a DC criminal defense lawyer who has experience practicing criminal law and handling cases involving the charges you are facing, works hard, and stays abreast of recent developments in the law. Furthermore, it can also be very important to find an attorney who has experience practicing in the local courts where you or a loved one are facing your charges.

Every case is unique, both in the fact-specific circumstances of the charges and in how the law may apply to the case. Although prior results do not guarantee or predict similar or favorable outcomes in the future, it can be an asset to have an attorney who is knowledgeable about the charges you or a loved one may be facing.

The most important aspect about selecting an attorney for your case is whether, after speaking to or consulting with a lawyer, you feel that you have found the right advocate to represent you. Rather than trying to look for “the best DC criminal attorney,” look for a Washington DC criminal defense lawyer who you believe is right for your case. This is an important decision, and you should have confidence in the attorney you choose to represent you.

David Benowitz Recognizing Public Servants Scholarship!

David Benowitz is proud to announce the Recognizing Public Servants Scholarship. In order to encourage his passion for public service in others, Benowitz is offering $1,000 to one student who can best discuss the importance of public servants. If you would like to apply, please visit our scholarship page.

Client Reviews

Title: Lesser charge with no jail time

I was facing second degree murder and 20+ years. Mr. Benowitz represented me. He was there for me, he answered my questions and hung in there. He gave me good advise about choices I had to make in the case. As a result I ended up with a much lesser charge with NO jail time. I am relieved because I would have been sitting in jail for a really long time.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5 / 5 stars