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.
However, if you were not driving at the time you were arrested for DUI, your lawyer may be able to argue you were not operating the vehicle depending on where exactly you were in or around the car and where the keys were. Maybe you were sitting in the parked car with the engine off waiting for a cab to pick up. Or maybe you were sleeping in your parked car with the engine off until you felt safe to drive. Or maybe you were leaning against the car with the keys in your hand. It becomes a lot harder to prove you were in physical control of the car if you were not caught in the act of driving or if the engine was turned off.
The second element of the DUI offense is the easier element to challenge in court due its subjective nature. To prove this element, the government provides evidence that you were impaired including breathalyzer test results, field sobriety test results, and the observations of the police officer. Each of these can be challenged.
If you submitted to a breathalyzer test and it registered over a .08 BAC, the law only considers you per se intoxicated. What this means is that your lawyer can challenge the results to prove otherwise. This can be done by challenging the reliability of the tests and the calibration of the machine. If the police officer failed to take the proper steps when administering the tests, you can demonstrate to the court that the results are unreliable.
If you did not submit to a breathalyzer, your attorney’s ability to challenge this element significantly improves. Without the breathalyzer, the government is completely dependent on the field sobriety tests and the subjective observations of the police officer.
If you submitted to the field sobriety tests, your lawyer can challenge how the tests were conducted. The police must follow certain guidelines for these tests to be proper. In court, your attorney can challenge exactly what the police did. Furthermore, your attorney could try to demonstrate to the court that the reasons you may have messed up on the field sobriety tests were because of some other outside contributing factor. For instance, if you were wearing high heel shoes and the police made you perform the tests barefoot on the road, or if you had to perform the tests while suffering from a physical injury that could serve as a basis to challenge the arrest.
If you did not submit to the field sobriety tests, your lawyer’s ability to challenge this element significantly improves again. The only evidence the government would be left with are the subjective observations of the police officer concerning whether your eyes were glassy and bloodshot, whether your speech was slurred, and whether you were stumbling around. Subjective observations are easier to challenge because what one person sees and interprets may be completely different than someone else.
In the unfortunate event that you are facing DC DUI conviction, it is important that you hire an experienced DUI lawyer who can challenge the allegations in every possible way. At Scrofano Law PC, we have successfully defended clients against DC DUI convictions.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for a DC DUI, call Scrofano Law PC immediately for a full consultation—and remember: Before you blow, call Joe!