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Navigating DUI Charges in DC With Skilled Attorneys

Driving under the influence (or “DUI”) is one of the most common criminal offenses committed, and it has some of the worst consequences for those convicted. It is the only misdemeanor in the District of Columbia that carries mandatory minimum jail time under certain factual scenarios.

In Washington, DC, the crime of DUI carries a maximum penalty of 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine. However, many judges will give DUI offenders probation even if convicted—except when the law imposes mandatory minimum jail time.

Other alcohol-related driving offenses in Washington, DC, in addition to driving under the influence of alcohol, are Operating while impaired (“OWI”) and Driving while intoxicated (“DWI”). It’s essential to understand the differences between the various impaired driving-related charges and the penalties that each charge carries.

An experienced DUI lawyer will examine several factors in evaluating an individual case’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, it’s crucial to consult criminal defense attorneys to determine whether you should take your case to trial or work out a plea agreement with the prosecution. Finally, it’s essential to understand the various court dates you may be responsible for attending in relation to your Washington, DC, DUI case.

DC DUI Penalties

Alcohol-related driving offenses in the District of Columbia are the only misdemeanor offenses that can carry mandatory minimum jail time. There are many instances in which a Washington, DC, DUI case can trigger a mandatory minimum jail sentence. For example:

  • Second-offense DUIs carry a compulsory ten-day minimum sentence.

  • Breath or blood alcohol scores above .20 carry mandatory minimum jail time, as do urine scores above .25.

  • The mandatory jail sentence rises as the chemical scores rise. For example, a .25 or more breath score will carry a higher mandatory amount of jail sentence than a .21, etc.

  • If someone has a Schedule I drug in their system, then the penalty includes a mandatory minimum of 15 days in jail as well.

  • Having a child in the backseat can trigger mandatory jail time, and if the minor is not wearing a seat belt, the time can go up.

In addition to potential loss of liberty, those convicted for DUI in the District of Columbia are facing several collateral consequences. A conviction for DUI carries 12 points and, consequently, the loss of one’s license with the DC DMV or the loss of driving privileges in DC for an out-of-state license holder.

The license suspension will last at least six months and could last up to two years, depending on whether the person refused the breathalyzer or has prior offenses. In some cases, a person with a DC driver’s license who gets convicted of a DUI can request an interlock device be installed in their vehicle to continue to drive lawfully.

Car insurance premiums can skyrocket upon conviction for DUI. Often, a DUI conviction may impact professional and work-related issues, including causing problems with a security clearance.

Operating while Impaired (or “OWI”), which is a lesser offense than DUI, carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. The consequences of an OWI conviction are similar. Some consequences include loss of license for six months to one year, skyrocketing car insurance rates, and, in some cases, mandatory jail time.

There are only a few scenarios in which pleading to an OWI charge may make sense, considering that most of the penalties are the same for DUI. For instance, if someone is arrested in Washington, DC, for a DUI and has a Virginia driver’s license, it may make sense to plea to OWI, depending on the facts. Virginia does not have a corresponding crime for OWI, so the Commonwealth of Virginia will not suspend a license in response to a DC OWI conviction.

Getting arrested for a DUI and facing penalties can be stressful. Hiring an experienced Washington DC criminal defense and a DUI lawyer is your most important decision. Having a DUI lawyer who communicates with you throughout the process can help you ease your anxiety. Our criminal defense lawyers at Scrofano Law PC provide aggressive defense for those facing DUI, DWI, or OWI charges.

Evaluating Your DC DUI Case


Several factors can impact the strength or weakness of a DC DUI case. The first thing most lawyers will typically assess is operating the motor vehicle. Bad driving alone is not enough to convict someone of a DUI, but the driving observed can often be good or bad evidence for a DUI defendant.

Officers are trained to look for certain types of impaired driving when determining whether to pull someone over, and that can be used against the defendant as evidence at trial. For example, if the police pulled the driver over for failing to use a blinker, that would undoubtedly be weaker evidence of impairment than the driver causing an accident. However, driving is just one factor to evaluate.

Another factor a top DC DUI lawyer will evaluate in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a DUI case is the officer’s observation of the defendant. For example, whether the officer claims to smell alcohol on the defendant’s breath or claims the defendant has bloodshot eyes or slurred speech.

In addition, it’s essential to assess how the client performed on the standardized field sobriety tests or “SFSTs.” The SFSTs are a battery of three tests: horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand. Because of that, it’s a good idea to retain a certified Washington DC DUI lawyer to administer standardized field sobriety tests.

If the Metropolitan Police Department arrests the person, the encounter is likely recorded on a body-worn camera. However, if another police agency with arrest powers in DC handles the DUI Washington DC arrest, the incident may not be captured on camera.

For example, the United States Park Police and the United States Capitol Police often make DUI arrests in DC but do not wear a camera. Body-worn cameras can typically create the most compelling evidence in a DUI case because the fact finder can see themselves whether the defendant appears impaired or not. That can often make or break a DUI Case.

Another factor to assess is whether the defendant took a chemical test. Under the DC law, the police will typically ask the person they arrest for a DUI to take either a breath test or a urine test (sometimes both). In some rare cases, however, they may ask to take an actual blood draw.

Blood and breath cases above the legal limit of .08 allow the government to sidestep, having to prove that the defendant was impaired. In those cases, they must prove that the defendant’s score is accurate, reliable, and above the legal limit. Urine cases require a slightly higher score of .10 or above. Police will often request a urine test when they suspect the driver is under the influence of a drug like marijuana.

However, in Washington, DC, sometimes the officers’ observations alone (even without SFSTs and chemical scores) can be enough for the judge to find the person guilty of driving under the influence. On the other hand, a skillful DUI attorney knows the best way to fight various legal obstacles. 

Pleading Guilty to DUI, DWI, or OWI


Attorneys at Scrofano Law PC have a simple philosophy regarding DUI arrests and legal issues. The only way to win is to fight your case. If you plead guilty, you will lose. The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia prosecutes DUIs in Washington, DC. That office refuses to give plea offers for Reckless Driving in DUI cases, and they have almost impossible to meet the criteria for diversion in DUI cases.

Accordingly, they usually extend the same offer in every DUI case regardless of a person’s criminal history. If there are no mandatory minimums, the prosecutor usually extends an offer to plead guilty to the DUI, and they won’t oppose probation. If the facts trigger mandatory minimum jail time (for example, a second offense or high chemical scores), they’ll ask for the mandatory jail sentence plus probation.

The secret that a Washington DC DUI lawyer doesn’t want you to know is that most judges in the DC Superior Court will give that exact sentence to a DUI offender with limited or no criminal history. The OAG, therefore, gives a disincentive to plead guilty. Of course, every case is different, but the OAG applies this policy uniformly.

While some Washington DC DUI lawyers may encourage their clients to plead guilty so that their law firm can save time and money, defense lawyers at Scrofano Law PC don’t do that. We provide honest, straightforward legal advice to our clients and work hard to achieve the best result, regardless of the firm’s bottom line.

If you are charged with a DUI in Washington, DC, and you need help from a DUI attorney, don’t hesitate to contact our law firm. Our priority will be to get you the result you need.

While it often does not make sense to plead guilty to a DC DUI, it does make sense to accept an offer of diversion. Diversion typically involves jumping through a series of hoops, including alcohol classes and community service, in exchange for the government’s dismissal of the case.

Going to Court for a DUI in Washington, DC


In a DC DUI case, there will typically be at least three court hearings the defendant must appear for. The first hearing is the arraignment. At the arraignment, the government provides discovery, and the judge imposes release conditions. At that hearing, the DUI defense lawyer will plead not guilty on the defendant’s behalf and request discovery. Discovery is the evidence the government intends to use against the defendant and usually includes police report documents, a body-worn camera, and other video evidence where applicable.

After the arraignment, the next court date is a status hearing. Usually, a Washington DC DUI attorney will investigate the case between the arraignment and status hearing and negotiate with the prosecutor. If an agreement is reached, like a Deferred Sentencing Agreement, it may be entered at the status hearing, and the case would be over.

However, if the defense or prosecution needs more time, it could be continued for another status hearing. If a Washington DC DUI lawyer and the prosecutor cannot agree, they would likely set a trial date at the status hearing. The final hearing may be the trial. The case will be tried before a judge if it’s a first-offense DUI. It will likely be tried in front of a jury if it’s a second or greater offense.

In a judge or “bench” trial, the judge decides whether the government proves their case beyond a reasonable doubt. In a jury trial, the judge instructs the jury on the law, and the jury decides the facts they believe and applies them to the law.

How Can a DC DUI Lawyer Help?

A DC DUI lawyer can be invaluable in defending against a DUI charge. They have the legal knowledge and experience to navigate the complicated legal system and fight for your rights. Here are some ways a DC DUI attorney can assist you:

  • Knowledge of the law: A good DC DUI lawyer will have extensive knowledge of the laws surrounding DUI offenses, including any recent changes or updates. This knowledge allows them to build a strong defense for your case.

  • Investigation: A DUI attorney will thoroughly investigate your case, looking for loopholes or inconsistencies that can weaken the prosecution’s case against you. They can also review police reports and other evidence to make sure proper procedures were followed during your arrest.

  • Negotiation skills: An experienced DUI attorney knows how to negotiate with the prosecution to potentially get your charges reduced or dismissed. They can also advise you on whether it is in your best interest to accept a plea deal.

  • Courtroom experience: A DC DUI lawyer has likely spent countless hours in Court, presenting cases and defending clients against DUI charges. This experience allows them to anticipate potential challenges and effectively argue on your behalf in Court.

  • Support and guidance: Dealing with a DUI charge can be overwhelming and stressful. A DUI attorney can provide support and guidance throughout the legal process, answering any questions you may have and helping to alleviate some of the stress involved.

Hiring an Experienced DC DUI Lawyer

Anyone charged with a DUI in Washington, DC, should consult with a qualified DUI lawyer. Having the right DUI lawyer can make all the difference in one’s case. An experienced Washington DC DUI lawyer can tell you exactly what to expect throughout the court process, poke holes in the government’s case, and advise you on what steps you should take before, during, and after court proceedings.

There also may be legal issues a skillful DUI attorney is aware of that can help prevent you from getting convicted. At Scrofano Law PC, DUI attorneys must be certified to administer standardized field sobriety tests.

Our DUI lawyers have taken the same training as police officers to get certified by NHTSA. There are many ways to challenge a DUI arrest. There are also essential steps a DUI attorney has to take immediately after getting arrested for DUI. If you are charged with a DUI, beware: time is of the essence. Hire the best Washington, DC, criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

At Scrofano Law PC, we can advise you as to what to expect every step of the way in a DC DUI case. We will fight aggressively for your rights and never pressure you to plead guilty. For more information, check out our DC DUI Frequently Asked Questions.


We Fight for Your Rights!