In the District of Columbia, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is responsible for prosecuting DUIs and it takes this job very seriously. While other jurisdictions routinely offer favorable deals for DUI offenders, DC rarely does. What that means is that often times you would be no better off pleading guilty than you would be if you took the case to trial and lost. Your best bet at beating a DUI conviction is going to trial and holding the government to its burden of proof.

To be convicted of a DUI, the government must prove that you were (1) operating a motor vehicle (2) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While two elements may not seem like much to prove for the government, there are numerous ways to challenge the evidence against you on both elements.

The first element of the DUI offense is the trickiest element to challenge because DC law has a broad definition of what it means to operate a motor vehicle. Operate is defined as actual physical control over the vehicle. Physical control means capable of putting the vehicle into movement or preventing movement. If you were pulled over and the police witnessed you driving, it is hard to say you were not operating the vehicle.

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A Wisconsin man is currently facing up to 30 years in prison after being convicted of his eighth DUI. In the state of Wisconsin, while a single DUI conviction is usually charged as a misdemeanor, multiple DUIs are charged as felonies which carry significantly higher penalties. Unlike in Wisconsin, however, DUIs within the District of Columbia are never charged as felonies.

As previously discussed, in the District, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has jurisdiction over the prosecution of DUIs. The OAG can only prosecute traffic misdemeanors like DUIs, reckless driving, and hit and runs. Conversely, if a person within DC is charged with a felony, the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) has jurisdiction to prosecute the case. Consequently, the OAG will rarely ever charge a DUI as a felony because it does not want to lose jurisdiction over the case. What this means is that no matter how many DUIs you get within DC, you will only ever be charged with a misdemeanor. So while the Wisconsin man mentioned earlier faces up to 30 years in prison for eight DUI convictions, the most time a person will spend in jail for any DC DUI or DWI is up to 1 year.

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In recent news, Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav was arrested for driving under the influence in Las Vegas. This arrest follows a string of other charges plaguing the Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famer including charges for marijuana-related DUI, speeding, open container, operating a vehicle without a valid permit, and battery. Considering the length of the rap legend’s rap sheet, you can imagine how quickly Flavor Flav said “Yeahhh Boiii” when the judge in the most recent case accepted his plea of no contest.  In some states, when you are arrested for a crime, you have the option of pleading three different ways to the charges: not guilty, guilty, or no contest. Generally, the government will offer you some type of deal in order for you to plead guilty or no contest because it gives the government a chance to close your case quickly and secure an easy conviction.  Flava Flav’s case illustrates an important point about handling a DUI or DWI in DC.

In many cases, it is common for the government to offer some sort of lighter sentence in return for a defendant’s guilty plea. In other cases, a defendant may plead no contest (or nolo contendere) and the government will not oppose this plea because the defendant will be punished the same way as if he or she pled guilty. A no contest plea is preferable for some defendants because it allows the defendant to avoid admitting guilt for the crime and the negative effects that a guilty plea may have otherwise had in the future. A nolo contendere plea is basically the Defendant saying: “I may or may not be guilty but I don’t want to take the time and effort to challenge the prosecution.”

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sleep-1431410What started out as a mission to satisfy a late-night craving, ended in disaster for one Florida man when a police officer found him sleeping in his car at a Taco Bell drive-thru.

As explained in a recent Los Angeles Times article, the driver fell asleep while placing his order early one Friday morning.  After the drive-thru attendant woke the driver up, he pulled his car into a parking spot to wait for his order there.  Not long after the driver parked his car, a police officer who had been dining inside the restaurant, noticed him sleeping.  The driver explained to the officer that he was just waiting on the food he’d ordered, but the officer knew something the man did not—he had actually never ordered his food.  Suspecting the driver may be under the influence, the officer asked him to take a roadside breath test but he refused.  However, the man was eventually charged with DUI after failing a field sobriety test.

This news article demonstrates the confusing nature of what it means to “operate” a motor vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence.  Employing the general standards of common sense, one would think the driver wasn’t in control of his vehicle in this situation because the car was parked and the driver was asleep.  In the District of Columbia, however, common sense does not prevail.

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car-1232347As previously discussed, if you are arrested in the District of Columbia for a DUI, the DMV will most likely suspend or revoke your license for a period of 6 months to 2 years depending on various factors. However, the DC DMV offe
rs an Ignition Interlock Device Program (IIDP) allows DUI and DWI offenders to get their driving privileges back faster.  An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer connected to a car’s ignition system. To start the car, the driver must first blow into the device to check the alcohol level on his or her breath. The car will only start if the driver’s breath alcohol level is below an accepted amount on the device.

While the device itself may be a bit burdensome on a driver or a somewhat unsightly in your vehicle, DC’s IIDP gives DUI offenders a chance to reduce the suspension or revocation period on their license. What this means is that if your license is suspended because of a DC DUI and you participate in the program, you get a restricted driver’s license which allows you to drive as you once did, so long as your vehicle contains the breathalyzer. Although the program is optional at the moment, it may become mandatory for some DUI offenders.

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A likely consequence of a DC DUI conviction is the suspension or revocation of your license.  In the District of Columbia, if you are convicted for a DUI, the DMV will automatically initiate procedures against you to either suspend or revoke your driver’s license.  The DC DMV takes this step regardless of whether you are actually convicted of the DUI.  We have previously discussed tips for preventing the license suspension while the case is pending.  If you ultimately get convicted, there is virtually no way around suspension.  If your license has been suspended or revoked in the District, there are important things to know to reinstate your driving privileges.

First, you must wait to reinstate your license after the suspension time or revocation period has ended.  What this means is that you are not eligible for reinstatement within a certain period of time after your arrest, and the time period varies depending on whether you submitted to or refused to take the breathalyzer test during your arrest.

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black police cuffsThe District of Columbia Superior Court is unlike many jurisdictions in that it does not have a bail bond system. In fact, there is not a single bail bonds person or business in the entire District. The City Council outlawed bail bonds years ago. So, the question is how is bond determined in a DC criminal case. DC Superior Court has a condition based system that starts with the general principle that most people should be released on their personal promise to appear in court.

That means in most misdemeanor cases, including DUIs, the person arrested will be released and required to sign notice to return for their next court date and appear with their attorney. The notice informs the person that if they fail to appear at the next court date, they could be charged with a separate crime (called a Bail Reform Act violation) that carries a maximum penalty of 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine. Often times, however, the judge will also impose court ordered conditions as part of the person’s release. Sometimes these conditions make sense. For example, when a repeat drug offender gets ordered to participate in a drug treatment program. However, many times the conditions imposed can be invasive, burdensome, and even paternalistic.

As previously discussed, the Pretrial Services Agency supervises most of the individuals charged with a crime and released on their personal promise to appear. Pretrial is a giant government bureaucracy that is understaffed and overworked. However, it appears that a recent trend has been a push to get more individuals charged with DUI’s and DWI’s in DC under Pretrial Supervision. At Scrofano Law PC, we recommend anyone charged with a DC DUI, including a first-offender enroll in a private alcohol program in an effort to avoid the requirement to report to and be supervised by Pretrial Services Agency.

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In the District of Columbia, when an individual gets arrested for a DUI or DWI, the police officer is supposed to serve the individual a “Notice of Proposed Revocation.” The Notice instructs the person arrested that they must request a hearing with DC DMV within 10 days otherwise their DC driver’s license will be suspended. If the person arrested has an out of state license, the proposed notice of revocation instructs them to request a hearing within 15 days. If the arrested person with an out of state license fails to request a hearing within 15 days, that person will lose their driving privileges in In the District of Columbia.

If an individual fails to request the hearing but continues to drive they could get arrested for operating after suspension (“OAS”) or operating after revocation (“OAR”). Those crimes are separate misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/or a $5,000.00 fine. While most people get unsupervised probation if convicted for those crimes, getting arrested while having a pending DUI case can definitely lead to some jail time. In addition, convictions for OAS and OAR also carries 12 points with the DC DMV. A DUI combined with an OAR or OAS arrest or conviction can lead to serious license problems. Its like digging a hole you cannot get out of.

Accordingly, its extremely important that anyone arrested for a DC DUI request a hearing within the time limits set forth in the Notice. The location to set a DMV hearing is 301 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. The Notice provides several basis to revoke or suspend a license or driving privileges. Refusing to take a breathalyzer is a basis to issue the Notice. Simply getting arrested for DUI is enough to get issued a Notice regardless of whether the arrested person blows in the breathalyzer. It’s the officer’s responsibility to properly serve the Notice on the arrested person and get it to the DC DMV. In rare cases, the officer may forget to submit the paperwork and the arrested person will go to the DMV anyway. In that situation, the DMV will usually tell the arrested person that they have nothing on file. In that situation, the person’s driving privileges are safe unless and until they get convicted for a DC DUI, DWI, or OWI.

When a person requests the hearing, that request will toll the suspension at least until the criminal case is over. For example, lets say you get arrested on January 1st. If you do nothing, your driving privileges will be suspended or revoked. If you request a hearing and let’s say it gets set for February 7, your license will remain valid at least until February 7. If the officer fails to show up for the February 7 hearing, the DMV will take no action against the license. That means you will only lose your license if you ultimately get convicted in the criminal case. If you hire an aggressive DC DUI lawyer and get the case dismissed or you win at trial, you will never lose your license in the process under that scenario. However, if win the DMV hearing and ultimately get convicted, DC DMV will suspend your license for 6 months if you blew and one year if you refused to blow in the breathalyzer.

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In DC, a Civil Protection Order (CPO) is very similar to a restraining order. Its a court order that requires a person to do or not to do certain acts. For example, if your ex-spouse is harassing or stalking you, you can file a petition with the court to order your ex-spouse to have no contact with you.

The person who files for a CPO is called the “Petitioner.” The person who a CPO is filed against is called the “Respondent.” Any person can file for a CPO if they feel like they need to protect themselves against someone they have an “intrafamily relationship” with. In general, a CPO will require the respondent to stay at least 100 feet away from the petitioner at all times and to have no contact with the petitioner—including electronic and social media communications. It also usually bars communicating with the person through ha third-party. The terms of a CPO can vary depending on a petitioner’s situation.

To get a CPO, a petitioner has to go to a Domestic Violence Intake Center in DC Superior Court and file a CPO petition. This petition is signed by the petitioner under oath. After you file the petition, you will be given a court date for the CPO hearing. Before the hearing, you must properly serve the respondent with notice of the CPO hearing. You cannot serve the respondent personally. The process server must be some other individual who is older than 18 years of age.

The first hearing will be for what’s called a “Temporary Protection Order” or TRO. That hearing is conducted ex parte, meaning with only one side—the Petitioner. The standard is extremely low and judges routinely grant the TPO. The TPO stays in effect for 10 business days.

After the respondent is served, a CPO hearing is set. At the CPO hearing, you must prove to the judge that the respondent committed or threatened to commit a crime against you. It is imperative that you bring evidence and witnesses to the hearing to help you prove your allegations. The court will issue a CPO if the judge makes a finding that the respondent committed or threatened to commit a crime against you. If the respondent does not show up to the court date, a CPO may be entered by default.

The purpose of a CPO is to protect the petitioner, not necessarily to punish the respondent. However, if the respondent violates the terms of a CPO, the petitioner may pursue criminal charges against the respondent. You can report CPO violations in two ways: (1) call the police or (2) file a motion for criminal contempt.

If the respondent is arrested, or if you file a motion for criminal contempt, the court will issue a new court date during which a judge will determine if the respondent violated the CPO. You must testify before the judge to prove that the respondent violated the terms of the CPO. If a judge finds that the respondent violated the CPO, he or she may have to serve jail time, spend time on probation time, and/or pay fines to the court. If you file a Motion for Contempt, the first step in the process is for the Office of the Attorney General (the same agency that prosecutes DC DUI cases) to determine whether to prosecute the allegations.

A CPO is usually valid for 1 year. If you would like to modify, extend, or vacate the CPO, you must do so through the court. You cannot unilaterally alter the terms of a CPO. To modify, extend, or vacate the CPO, you have to file a motion with the court explaining why you want to change the terms of the CPO. You will be given a new court date, at which time you will explain to a judge why you want to change the terms of the CPO.

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This is the final part of a three part series on DC gun laws.  In the first part, I discussed the current state of DC gun laws and how its important to challenge current gun charges on the basis of the law’s unconstitutionality.  The second part discussed the process for attempting to withdraw a guilty plea on a gun conviction under the District’s old law and weighed the pros and cons of trying to withdraw a guilty plea.  This final part discusses the class action lawsuit filed by Scrofano Law PC and the Law Office of William Claiborne.

In Smith et al v. District of Columbia, we argue that after Palmer was decided, the District government should not have continued to prosecute gun offenses.  We argue that the government’s prosecution of unconstitutional gun laws violated plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights.  In addition, we argue that the seizure of guns violated the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment rights.  As previously discussed, a typical scenario that occurs in the District of Columbia is a law abiding out of state resident visiting the District who is unaware of the District’s draconian gun laws gets pulled over for a minor traffic violation.  That person tells the law enforcement officer that she has a gun in the vehicle—as one is typically trained to do in gun safety courses.  Then, the officer arrests that person and charges them with a felony gun crime.

In the past, the best outcome you could typically hope for was a misdemeanor plea agreement to avoid a felony conviction.  Palmer changed things for at least a period of timePalmer declared the District’s gun laws unconstitutional and many cases got dismissed.  However, after Palmer was decided the District government continued to prosecute folks—including out of state residents with lawfully registered firearms in their home state for misdemeanor registration offenses.  However, because Palmer declared that the District’s absolute ban on carrying a pistol violated the Second Amendment, we believe the then-existing registration scheme was also unconstitutional.

We argue the registration scheme was unconstitutional in at least two ways.  First, it made District residency a requirement for registration.  That mean none of the folks arrested who had lawful firearms from their home state could not ever carry in the District solely on the basis of their non-residency.  Second, no mechanism existed to register a firearm for the purpose of carrying.  Palmer recognized that the Second Amendment includes the right to carry for self-defense not just the right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense.  Furthermore, this whole process of prosecuting individuals from out-of-state is particularly onerous considering the District government expends no resources to create awareness of its strict gun laws.  There are no signs on the metro telling people not to bring their guns into the city.  There are no commercials and no billboards.  Hundreds if not thousands of innocent non-residents have unknowingly ran afoul of these laws and became felons and misdemeanants.

Carrying a pistol is not like a DUI for example where everyone knows it’s a crime to drink and drive.  Many individuals mistakenly believe that if something is legal in their home state, it is legal in other states or the District.  We believe the people who were arrested and prosecuted under these unconstitutional laws deserve compensation for the damages they suffered.

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