Articles Tagged with SFST’s

Getting arrested for a DUI in Washington DC is a serious offense. Penalties for a conviction can include loss of license, higher insurance, fines, and jail time. However, getting arrested is not the same as getting convicted. If you are arrested for a crime, the law presumes you are innocent until proven guilty. However, if you plead guilty and get sentenced or go to trial and are found guilty by a judge or jury, you are no longer innocent. You have been convicted.

Just getting arrested for a DUI can lead to a suspended license and other consequences. However, if your case gets dismissed or you go to trial and are found “not guilty” you will not have a conviction on your record. Because its important to try and avoid a conviction, the following is list of 10 ways to challenge a DC DUI. Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list, all cases are different, and there are no guarantees any of these strategies will work for your specific case. The point of this article is to demonstrate that there are many options for challenging a DC DUI arrest.

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A couple was arrested in New Jersey this week for two separate instances of drunk driving, each within six hours of each other according to a report from USA Today’s Daily Record.  The boyfriend was the first to be arrested after a police officer responded to a call about a vehicle left on the side of the highway with its engine running, blinker on and keys in the ignition.  After a lack of cooperation on the boyfriend’s part and a declined Alcotest (New Jersey’s breathalyzer program), the police arrested him and charged him with DWI and a host of other alcohol and traffic related offenses including disorderly conduct.  He was then taken to jail to wait in a holding cell until someone could show up to take him home.

When his girlfriend arrived to do just that, officers noticed her breath smelled like alcohol.  She admitted to drinking earlier in the day, and upon taking the field sobriety test and an breathalyzer, was discovered to blow a .28%—well over .08%, which is the legal maximum in each state.  She was then charged with DWI and joined her boyfriend to wait for someone to retrieve her from the police station. The girlfriend’s arrest raises all sorts of questions about D.C.  DUI law—like when and how a police officer can charge you with a DWI or DUI.  Based on the article alone, the girlfriend wasn’t even driving the vehicle when she spoke with the officers.  How could she have been arrested?  After all, driving under the influence requires that the person was driving not just that they were under the influence.

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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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This posting is the first in a three part series that seeks to answer some of the many questions people have regarding DC DUI arrests.  This post, like all posts, is not intended to serve as legal advice and is for educational purposes only.

Do I have to blow into the breath machine?

This question is complicated, but the short answer is no.  However, if you refuse to blow into the breathalyzer or submit to a urine or blood sample, the DC Department of Motor Vehicles can suspend your license for one year.  Although any arrest or conviction for DUI or DWI in DC can result in a loss of license for at least six months anyway.  The refusal may add another six months.  However, most DC DUI judges will give probation to first time offenders.  However, if your breath score is above a .20, then that triggers mandatory minimum jail time under the law.  That means even if the judge only wants you to give you probation, she must give you some mandatory minimum time.  The new law also prevents this time from being served on the weekends.  DUI is the only crime where the law literally requires you to incriminate yourself while police investigate you or be punished.

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green-alcohol-cocktail-1422791-mThis blog is the third and final part in a three part series discussing the  SFST’s that officers administer during DC DUI traffic investigations.  The first part dealt with the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (or “HGN”), which is the follow the pen test.  The second part discussed the Walk and Turn Test, which is the walk the line test.  This part discusses the One Leg Stand Test.

During the One Leg Stand Test, the police officer will instruct the person suspected of driving under the influence to hold one leg six inches above the ground and count aloud.  The officer will instruct the person to count in the thousands (i.e. “one thousand one, one thousand two, etc.”).  The counting will go for thirty seconds but the officer will not inform the person how long to count in advance.  Like with the HGN and Walk and Turn, the officer looks for specific cues of impairment.  For the One Leg Stand Test, the four cues are:

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This blog is the second part of a three part series discussing the standardized field sobriety tests police officers will administer as part of a DC DUI and DWI traffic stop.  The first part discussed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (or “HGN”).  This part discusses the second test, which is the walk and turn test (“WAT”).

The “WAT” test requires that you walk nine steps heel to toe along a straight line, pivot three steps to turn, and then walk nine steps back heel to toe.  Police officers that NHTSA has certified to administer SFST’s look for eight cues of impairment during this test.  Like with the HGN test, the officers do not tell you what the cues are and they are the sole judge of whether you pass or fail the test.

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