Articles Tagged with Alcohol Offenses

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.

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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.

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As is the case with most legal inquiries, the answer to the above question is “it depends.”

Whether or not you should appeal your DC DUI conviction depends on what you are looking to get out of the situation. If you are only trying to avoid the trial court’s sentence, maybe an appeal isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you would like to have your conviction overturned and your conviction removed from your record, maybe an appeal is for you. Obviously, all three results are preferable. However, avoiding your sentence is impossible due to time it takes for the parties to brief the appellate issues and the time it takes the DC Court of Appeals to issue a decision.

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1252046_beer_glassThe Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) has video cameras all over their police stations. That means if a person is arrested for a suspected DUI or DWI within the District of Columbia, the person will be video-monitored throughout the arrest and booking process. MPD has multiple stationhouse cameras set up for many reasons including the need of such video for evidentiary purposes in a court. MPD also has a pilot body camera program where selected officers wear body cameras. All video evidence is important in any DC DUI case.

To be convicted of a DUI in DC, the government must prove that a suspected individual was (1) under the influence of alcohol or drugs while (2) operating a motor vehicle. Usually, the government will present evidence such as breathalyzer or other chemical test results and testimony from the arresting MPD officer about behaviors allegedly consistent with intoxication such as motor skills, speech, and ability to follow directions.

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1423322313o0gx3If you operate a vehicle in the District, DC law states that you have given consent to submit to a breathalyzer test if you get stopped by the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) for suspected DUI or DWI. However, MPD is not going to force you to take a breathalyzer test. You can refuse to submit to testing. At Scrofano Law PC, while the facts of every case are different, we believe that if you have had even a drop of alcohol, refusing to take a breathalyzer test will usually better protect you and your rights.

To convict someone of DUI, the government must prove that the person (1) operated a motor vehicle in DC, and (2) was intoxicated. Without breathalyzer results, it is more difficult for the government to prove that you were intoxicated. DC criminal laws allow the government to use your refusal to take the breath test as evidence that you were intoxicated. What this means is that the government will provide a judge with proof that you refused to take the test and argue that you must have refused because you were feeling guilty about drinking and driving.

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engine-start-button-1445913-mThe penalty for second offenses in the District of Columbia for DUI’s and DWI’s include a mandatory minimum jail term of ten days. It’s the only misdemeanor crime in the District of Columbia that carries mandatory minimum jail time. To give you a sense of how serious DC treats DUI second offenses: you could be convicted of assaulting a police officer and destroying property while possessing illegal drugs and the judge could still give you straight probation. On the other hand, you could have a DUI conviction from 14 years ago and get convicted for another DUI where you got pulled over for failing to use a turn signal and blew a .09. In the latter scenario, the judge must sentence you to at least 10 days in jail. The judge will also likely sentence you to a period of supervised probation for one year or more.

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beer-delivery-system-1-1246534-mI usually advise my clients to enroll in a private alcohol program after getting arrested for a DC DUI or DWI. For most people who get arrested for DUI, the police will release them at the station after several hours with a Citation to Return to Court. The citation gives them a date is for the Court to arraign the person on the charge of DUI and any other additional charges based on the police officer’s allegations.  At the arraignment, the prosecutor from the Office of the Attorney General will ask for several release conditions. The standard release conditions include (1) do not drive without a valid permit; (2) do not drive after the consumption of drugs or alcohol; and (3) report to the Pretrial Services Agency for a full screening and assessment. In almost all DC DUI cases, traffic judges in Superior Court will agree with government’s request and impose those conditions.

Now, the first two are no brainers and easy to comply with. Do not drive without a valid permit is just what it means. If you have a valid license, drive all you want. If you don’t, then don’t drive. If you get caught driving with a suspended license while under that release condition, you can not only get arrested for operating after suspension but also be charged with contempt of court. This condition is particularly important where the person’s license gets suspended as a result of the DC DUI arrest. The second condition is also an easy one. If the person has even one sip of alcohol or ingests any type of drugs, do not drive.

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There are a lot of important qualities to look for when hiring a criminal defense lawyer.  You want an attorney who truly cares about their clients.  Its important for a criminal defense lawyer to have a strong and aggressive personality.  Trust me, the government will literally run you over in a criminal case and not think twice about it if you let it.  You absolutely want someone who is strong and willing to fight.

However, in my opinion, the most important thing to look for is an attorney who will be completely honest with his clients.  For example, in the District of Columbia Superior Court almost all first offenders can get probation in DUI cases so long as nothing in the arrest triggers mandatory minimum jail time (for example, a breath score above .20 triggers mandatory minimum jail).  If you walk into a DC DUI lawyer’s office having blown a .14 as a first offender with no other criminal history, no car accident, or other aggravating circumstances and he or she tells you that you could be facing serious jail time, walk out.

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rShzOqzhThe last post discussed some of the background involved in the District of Columbia’s problems it had with its Breathalyzer program. The Metropolitan Police Department not only miscalibrated the machines to read 40 percent higher than they were supposed to but also failed to conduct accuracy testing for a period of almost ten years. As I discussed in Part I, I started an appeal in 2013 for a person who had plead guilty to DUI and served mandatory jail time based on breath scores for a machine that had not been accuracy tested.

Through another attorney he had tried to move to withdraw his guilty plea. The government vigorously contested his motion. While the government had agreed to allow hundreds of people to withdraw guilty pleas that plead or were found guilty during the 17 month period the machines were miscalibrated, it did not want to open up Pandora’s Box for ten years of convictions in which MPD failed to conduct accuracy testing. Unfortunately, the trial judge agreed and denied the motion without a hearing. After I filed my brief, it took the government one year to respond. I did not ask the Court of Appeals to allow my client to withdraw his guilty plea. Rather, I argued that the trial court had abused its discretion by not having a hearing on the motion.

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DC DUI

DC DUI

In short, the answer is maybe. The District of Columbia record sealing statute makes Driving under the Influence and Driving while Intoxicated “ineligible misdemeanors.” Accordingly, on its face, the law prohibits sealing of a conviction for driving under the influence. However, a few months ago, I won an appeal that may have opened the door for getting at least some DUI convictions removed from a person’s record.

I will discuss this topic in a two part series. The first part will provide the backdrop of the District of Columbia Record Sealing Act and the problems the District of Columbia had with its Breathalyzer program for about ten years. Part Two will discuss how, because of the Breathalyzer issues and an appeal I won in May of this year, it may in fact be possible to get a DUI conviction taken off someone’s record in limited circumstances.

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