DC DUI/DWI/OWI Attorney

What are the alcohol related driving offenses in DC?

In the District of Columbia, there are three main alcohol related driving offenses.  Just an arrest for one of these offenses can lead to, among other things, suspension of driver’s license and burdensome release conditions.  The first two are basically the same crime with different ways for the government to prove a person committed the offense.  Driving under the Influence or “DUI” and Driving while Intoxicated or “DWI” both carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or $1,000.00 in fines for first time offenders.  Repeat offenders face additional penalties including mandatory jail time where the prosecutor files what are called “enhancements.”  For DUI, the government has to prove that a person was operating a motor vehicle and that person was impaired to an “appreciable degree.”  The government usually tries to prove DUI cases with testimony from police officers who observed a driver’s behavior.  Common evidence in these types of cases includes results from standardized field sobriety tests, results from breath, blood, or urine chemical tests and the officer’s observations.  Since the Metropolitan Police Department has adopted a policy where all patrol officers wear body worn camera, much of the interaction between the police and defendant is usually recorded. 1252046_beer_glass

What type of evidence will the prosecutor use?

This type of testimony an officer might offer at trial usually includes things like the person had a strong odor of alcohol or his or her eyes were red.  The government usually has an officer testify about how a person may have failed the “standardized field sobriety tests” or SFST’s.  SFST’s include three roadside tests that an officer will conduct during a traffic stop.  These three tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus or “HGN” (follow a pen with your eyes), the walk and turn (walk a straight line heel to toe), and the one leg stand (stand on one leg and count).  These tests often have limitations and are only as good as the officer who administers them.  An experienced DC DUI lawyer will usually attack the officer’s administration of the standardized tests.

What are the SFST’s?

These tests were developed in the 1970’s by government funded research to create a standardization for all pre-arrest sobriety testing.  In each test, the officer is trained to look for specific cues of impairment.  The HGN test has six possible cues of impairment (3 on each eye).  The walk and turn test has eight possible cues of impairment.  Finally, the one leg stand has four possible cues of impairment.  Unfortunately, the officer does not explain before during or after the administration of the test what constitutes clues of impairment.  Imagine taking a test in school without ever having been given materials to study in advance.  That is essentially the disadvantage a DUI suspect faces.

In addition to intoxication, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was operating the motor vehicle in the District of Columbia.  Unfortunately, DC criminal law defines “operation” extremely broadly and permits conviction where an individual was legally parked and asleep at the wheel.  Despite the odds facing a DUI defendant, some improvements in the criminal justice system have occurred over the years.

Will there be video evidence?

Body worn cameras have fundamentally changed DUI defense in DC over the last few years.  Prior to the Metropolitan Police Department adopting a policy where all patrol officers wear body worn cameras, most DUI trials were based solely on the officer’s testimony.  Now, almost all DUI arrests have some type of video evidence to either corroborate or contradict the officer’s testimony or version of events written in the police report.  However, several police agencies in DC have jurisdiction to make arrests and do not use body worn cameras.  In addition, video captured at the station house can produce crucial evidence of either impairment of lack of impairment in any DUI case.

What is the difference between DWI and DUI?

For DWI (as opposed to DUI), the government’s burden to prove the case is less.  They only have to prove that a person was driving and that while the person was driving the person’s blood alcohol was above a certain limit.  The most common scenario is a breath test machine that computes a person’s breathe score at .08 or above.  The other methods include blood testing and urine testing.  In DC criminal law, a blood score of .08 or above and urine score of .10 or above is the legal limit.  DC Superior Court judges have interpreted the DC DUI statute to mean that if the government proves someone was above the legal limit and driving, that person is guilty of either DUI or DWI.  As a result, the Office of Attorney General usually charges people with just DUI and then either proceeds to try and prove the case by evidence of impairment or chemical scores depending on the facts of each case.  Under this method of proof, the government does not have to prove actual intoxication–only that the defendant was (1) driving; and (2) scored above the legal limit on one of the above mentioned chemical tests.

What is an OWI charge?

Finally, DC has a crime many other jurisdictions do not.  This crime is called Operating while Impaired or “OWI.”  OWI is similar to a DUI in terms of how the government can prove the case but the standard is lower in that the government only has to prove that a person was driving and that their ability to drive was impaired to “any degree.”  OWI carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine for first offenders.  If you are arrested for an alcohol related driving offense, the government will likely charge you with DUI and OWI.

Based on DC criminal law, the government cannot convict you of both crimes and you cannot be sentenced for both crimes.  Usually, on the day of trial, the government will dismiss the OWI charge and only proceed on the DUI charge under either method (DUI or DWI) of proof depending on whether a chemical score exists in the case.  If arrested for DUI or OWI in DC, you should consult an experienced DC DUI lawyer because you could face jail time, fines, probation, loss of driving privileges, and many more consequences of a DUI or OWI conviction.  In some instance, a conviction can lead to jail time that cannot be served on the weekends.  In addition, long term consequences for your driver’s license can occur and it may or may not be possible to drive with an interlock ignition device.  Appealing a DUI conviction is an option but can often only be a “moral” victory if successful.  That is why securing an aggressive DUI defense attorney for your criminal case is absolutely essential.

If you are charged with a DUI, you could face serious consequences and should contact a Washington DC DUI lawyer as soon as possible.  Contact Scrofano Law for a comprehensive consultation by filing out our online form or calling 202-765-3175.