The 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.
First offense DC DUI’s carry a maximum penalty of 180 days and/or a one thousand dollar fine. If the government discovers you have a prior conviction for DUI or DWI, they will file what are called “enhancement papers.” The enhancement papers increase the maximum penalty for the charge to 1 year in jail and/or a $5,000.00 fine. The only upside in this scenario is that a second offense triggers a jury demand. That means under a second DUI offense, you have the right to have your case decided by a jury rather than a judge. First offense DC DUI’s and DWI’s do not trigger a jury demand and they are adjudicated by a judge in Superior Court. That means the judge decides whether you are guilty or not guilty.
To make matters worse for the accused, the law requires that the mandatory 10 days be served consecutive. That means, as a practical matter, the judge cannot sentence you to serve your time on the weekends. That is one of the most absurd provisions in the amended DC DUI law passed in 2012.
Given what is at stake for a second offense, challenging the government’s assertion that you have a prior offense is essential. The law still requires that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the prior DUI (1) be an actual admission of guilt; (2) occurred within the last 15 years; and (3) happened to the same person. The normal way to do this is for the government to produce and file certified copies of the alleged prior conviction. If a DC DUI lawyer does not request this or challenge the government on this point, they will simply file the enhancements based on some entry they see in a law enforcement database they have access to that the defense does not.
The government’s attitude here is particularly problematic in cases where the prior offense allegedly occurred outside of DC. For example, the government may see a notation about a prior DUI in Virginia 8 years ago in a law enforcement database. Without doing their homework, the prosecutor may file the enhancements. It may actually be that the accused was arrested for DUI but ultimately plead guilty to Reckless Driving. That is not an uncommon occurrence in the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, if the defense lawyer does not challenge the government on this issue, the individual remains subject to mandatory minimums and—if convicted—will get 10 days in jail. Therefore, it is extremely important you hire a DC DUI lawyer who understands these issues and has experience challenging the government on the issue of enhancements.