The answer is complicated but probably not. In 2015, the District of Columbia City Council passed legislation that legalized marijuana under local law. The legislation codified Proposition 71, which was a voter initiative that the citizens of the District overwhelmingly supported. This paved the way for a new era in marijuana laws in the DC. However, Republicans in Congress have each year interfered with the will of local voters and put a “rider” into a spending bill that blocks the local government from the ability to create a regulatory mechanism for recreational dispensaries.
The District of Columbia is unique for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that there are dozens of police departments whose officers regularly patrol the city. Between the Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Secret Service, the Metro Transit Police, the United States Park Police, the Capitol Police, the myriad university police forces and more, D.C. residents can practically be pulled over or arrested anywhere by any force at any time. That being said, it is always helpful to have an understanding of the different federal and local police forces which have jurisdiction in Washington, D.C. and to know their jurisdictions. Here is an overview of some of the most prevalent police forces in D.C. who can pull you over and potential arrest you for a DC DUI or DWI:
1. District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)
The Metropolitan Police, or MPD, is the local police force for the District of Columbia, and its jurisdiction covers the entirety of the District. MPD operates like any other city police department and serves the city as its local police force. MPD is probably the most common agency to make arrests for DUI’s in DC and many of the MPD officers are certified to administer the standardized field sobriety tests and operate breathalyzer machines.
According to a recent news article from NBC 4 Washington, an officer of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) was just arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. The officer was arrested after his supervising officer allegedly noticed a strong odor of alcohol coming from his person during an interaction with this officer that arose as a result of a civilian complaint.
The defendant has been a sworn MPD officer for four years prior to his drunk driving arrest in Washington, DC. When his supervisor smelled the odor of alcohol, he asked the officer to exit his vehicle and subjected him to a series of standardized field sobriety tests (SFTSs). According to a spokesperson for the MPD, this officer allegedly failed the SFSTs, and that, along with additional probable cause, led them to arrest the officer on a charge of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. It is important to understand that this officer has merely been accused of a crime and, like all of us, enjoys the presumption of innocence, unless and until he is found guilty in court after the government proved every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Continue reading
If 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.
Marijuana decriminalization took effect a few weeks ago and its important to know the facts before you spark up. First and foremost, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. There is a good chance that at least the United States Park Police and the Capitol Police—both of which have jurisdiction to make arrests in DC—will continue to make arrests for marijuana possession. Whether the United States Attorney’s Office will then prosecute those arrests in federal district court remains to be seen.
Under District of Columbia law, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is now punishable by a $25.00 citation. The citation is akin to a speeding ticket. It does not carry possible jail time. That means if the Metropolitan Police Department (or “MPD”)—the District’s local police force—stops you and finds less than one ounce of weed, the officer should only give you a citation and let you on your way. However, smoking marijuana in public remains illegal under both federal and local law. That means if you get caught by any police agency smoking weed in public, you will likely get arrested. The penalty for smoking weed in public is akin to getting arrested for possessing an open container of alcohol.
In August of 2012, the District of Columbia City Council amended the city’s DUI laws to include increased maximum penalties, increased mandatory minimums, and a whole host of other changes. One important change that’s not talked about a lot is the change to the city’s hit and run laws. Most people think if you are involved in an accident its okay just to leave a note with your information (if you hit a parked car by accident) or to exchange information on the scene. While hit and run charges in DC are misdemeanors, they can lead to negative consequences.
What do DC hit and run laws require?
DC’s laws require that when you are a party to an accident, you must not only stop and exchange information but also call the police and wait for the police to arrive on scene. That means if you stop and exchange information, that is not enough. You could exchange insurance information, leave the scene, and later be charged with leaving after colliding, which is a misdemeanor traffic offense that carries a maximum penalty of 90 days and/or a $500.00 fine (if property damage occurs) or 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine (if personal injury occurs).
There are some days where the wastefulness in the criminal justice system makes me sick. Last Wednesday, November 7 was one of those days. On the weekend of October 13, 2013, during the government shutdown, the Metropolitan Police Department conducted “Operation off the Streets 2.” This operation, which probably cost the city millions of dollars in resources, resulted in the arrest of over 60 people in undercover prostitution operations.
Almost everyone arrested were first time offenders or people with very limited criminal history. Almost everyone arrested was released on what’s called “citation release.” That means the police released them at the station after booking them and gave them a citation to come to court at a future date. That brings us to November 7—the day they set all 60 of these arrests for arraignment. Some of them hired DC prostitution lawyers in advance others got court appointed attorneys on the day of arraignment.
If you are arrested in the District of Columbia, the police will confiscate your property. The police will take your property and in most cases they make it very difficult (if not impossible) for you to get your property back. When they take your property, there are three primary manners in which they categorize the property, which determine the process you must use to get it back.
First, personal property, which may include keys, wallet, and other personal items. That type of property is the easiest to get back. The police should give you a property receipt, which you can take back to the police station to get your items returned. However, the police will not release personal effects to a third-party. That means if you are locked up after your arrest, you cannot send a friend or family member to pick up the property.