DC DUI Plea Negotiations


The District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) prosecutes all alcohol related traffic offenses in the District of Columbia. These offenses include Driving under the Influence (“DUI”), Driving while Intoxicated (“DWI”), and Operating while Impaired (“OWI”). These crimes are essentially the most serious crimes the OAG has jurisdiction over. If you are arrested for DUI, the government will likely charge you with DUI and OWI. OWI is sort of like a lesser offense to DUI. You cannot be convicted and sentenced for both DUI and OWI.

Will the Prosecutor Dismiss a DC DUI?

The likely chance that OAG prosecutors will just dismiss a DC DUI case is likely zero. That’s because prosecutors in the District of Columbia take DUI enforcement extremely seriously. The DC Office of the Attorney General will aggressively prosecute every DC DUI arrest—lack of evidence, havoc on an individual’s livelihood, mitigating circumstances all be damned.

Clients often are relieved to discover that their breathalyzer scores fall below the 0.08, which is the legal limit. In those cases, however, the government will usually offer a Deferred Sentencing Agreement, but they will not dismiss the case. What few people know is that the government can proceed on a theory of proving the case by DUI rather than DWI. DUI requires that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one was intoxicated. Such proof can come from a police officer’s observations that the person smelled of alcohol, or had slurred speech, or had troubling walking or standing. In addition, the government can put evidence that the person failed the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (“SFST’s”).

First Offense DUI

The OAG operates with near uniform policies related to DUI plea negotiations. In fact, a good defense lawyer can usually predict what plea offer the OAG will extend before the prosecutor extends the offer. For a typical first offender DUI, the OAG will offer plea to the DUI, dismiss the OWI, and the government will recommend a suspended sentence, one-year probation, and a series of alcohol related classes and fines. An overwhelming number of these cases receive this exact plea offer. For this type of offer, there is almost no incentive to accept the plea offer.

First, the defendant cannot be convicted of both DUI and OWI, so the government dismissing the OWI is a meaningless gesture. In addition, at least at the date of this entry, most DC Superior Court judges will mete out that same sentence for a first offender if convicted at trial. That is by no means a guarantee but merely an observation. Therefore, the government asks the individual to give up all their constitutional rights in exchange for next to nothing in return.

Setting a DC DUI for Trial

When someone is arrested for DUI, the first court hearing is an arraignment. An arraignment is just a formal reading of the charges. The next court date is a status hearing. It is at the status hearing where the government will extend a plea offer. At the status hearing, the defendant must decide whether to accept the plea offer or set a trial date. At Scrofano Law PC, we set almost every DC DUI case for trial at the status hearing if the government extends this standard plea offer. In most (but not all) cases, even if you lose at trial, the result will usually be a sentence along the lines of what the government extended as a plea offer at that status hearing. Therefore, little incentive exists to waive all constitutional rights and plead guilty to a DUI. The government does not offer anything meaningful in return and there is little trial risk in going to trial for most cases.

In fact, in some cases, setting the case for trial and filing motions can pressure the prosecutor to offer a plea that is better than their standard offer. The government often states they will not extend a plea offer if the case is set for trial in DUI cases. However, in many cases, and depending on the actual prosecutor, this ends up being false. Prosecutors are human beings like everyone else and they are typically handling a case load of over 100 cases. They have an incentive to resolve cases and not spend countless hours in court arguing motions.

DUI Mandatory Minimum Sentences

There are many other factors that can come into play for DUI prosecutions. With DC’s DUI law (amended in 2012), several things can trigger mandatory minimum jail sentences. Among other things, repeat offenses, high chemical scores, and whether someone was under the influence of drugs while driving can trigger mandatory minimum jail. In addition, the government may charge the person with additional crimes like Reckless Driving or Speed over 30. In those cases, the government may offer to drop the additional charges, so it could make sense to accept a plea. Or the government may offer a Deferred Sentencing Agreement in some cases. Accordingly, its not a blanket rule to set every case for trial and legal advice should be tailored to each individual case. However, generally the OAG does not extend plea offers that incentivize someone to plead guilty at the status hearing in the District of Columbia.

Contacting a DUI Lawyer

If you are arrested for a DC DUI, DWI, and/or OWI, contact Scrofano Law PC for a full consultation. Our attorneys have handled dozens of cases that have resulted in not guilty verdicts, dismissals, and probationary sentences. Contact us today!