Operation in a DC DUI


TIn a DUI case in the District of Columbia, the government must prove two elements of the offense. First, the government must prove the individual was impaired by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both. Second, and an often-overlooked element is that the individual was operating the vehicle. Most people assume that operating the vehicle means the commonsense definition: that the individual was driving, the car was in motion, etc. However, what it means to “operate” a motor vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence in the District of Columbia can be quite confusing.

Using common sense, one would think the driver was not operating a vehicle in a situation where a car was parked, and/or the driver was asleep. In the District of Columbia, however, common sense does not prevail. Under DUI laws in DC, “operation” is defined as actual physical control over the vehicle, and “physical control” means capable of putting the vehicle into movement or preventing movement. What it means to be capable of moving or preventing movement has been decided by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and includes a wide variety of scenarios.

The most obvious scenario of a driver being capable is one who is actually caught in the act of driving. Another obvious scenario is where a driver sitting in the front seat of a parked car with the engine on. Capability becomes less obvious when the driver is not caught in the act or the engine is not on. Think about the following situations: a person leaves a club or bar and realizes they are too drunk to drive home. They decide to get in the car because its cold and sit in the driver seat and await their Uber. DC DUI law would likely view that as “operation” even if the keys were not in the ignition. Another common scenario involves a driver who gets in their car after drinking too much alcohol and decides to “sleep it off.” Police approach to do a “welfare check” and determine the individual is impaired. With or without keys in the ignition, its likely a DC judge would find this behavior constitutes “operating” a vehicle.

Driving versus Operation

Is a driver capable if he or she is sitting in the front seat of a parked car with the engine off, but the keys are in the ignition? Under DC law, yes. What if the driver is asleep? Under DC law, yes. What if the driver is asleep and the keys are in his or her pocket? Under DC law, usually. What about standing outside the vehicle with keys in your pocket while waiting on an Uber? DC Law is not entirely clear on that point and its very likely District prosecutors would try to prosecute someone under that scenario and the Courts have held that intent does not matter in this situation.

Essentially, DC law on operating a motor vehicle is a “Catch-22.” Avoid drinking and driving by sleeping it off in your car can still risk getting a DUI. And, obviously, driving after consuming alcohol also risks arrest for a DUI. Accordingly, if individuals plan on drinking, its best to not even bring the car out at all. With the prevalence of Uber and other rideshare apps, its easier and easier to avoid driving under the influence. At Scrofano Law PC, we often advise clients that paying for a $200.00 Uber ride is far most cost-effective than getting arrested for driving under the influence.

In addition to the cost in time and reputation, a DUI arrest can cost thousands of dollars in legal fees, increased insurance premiums, court fines and other collateral consequences. For example, someone with a Commercial Driver’s License (or “CDL”) could lose their job as a result of a DUI arrest and/or conviction. By losing their CDL, not only would they lose their existing job but also potential future earning potential for having a CDL. Given the serious expense for getting a DUI, it is always worth it to pay for ridesharing apps.

Hiring an Attorney

In the unfortunate event that you are charged with a DC DUI, it is important that you hire an experienced attorney who can argue that you were not operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. At Scrofano Law PC, we have successfully helped our clients to avoid DUI convictions. All attorneys at Scrofano Law PC If you or someone you know has been arrested for a DC DUI or DWI, call Scrofano Law PC immediately for full case evaluation. Our attorneys are standing by ready to help.