DC DUI Attorney
At Scrofano Law PC, we provide aggressive DUI defense in all cases. 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 $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 important to understand the differences between the various impaired driving-related charges and penalties that each charge carries. There are several factors that an experienced Washington DC DUI attorney will look at in evaluating the strength and weaknesses of an individual case. In addition, it’s important to consult an attorney to determine whether you should take your case to trial or work out a plea agreement with the prosecution. Finally, it’s important to understand the various court dates you may be responsible for attending in relation to your Washington, DC, DUI case.
Differences Between DUI, OWI, and DWI Charges
The main alcohol-related driving offense that the government charges is a DUI. As previously stated, a DUI carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine. DWI carries the same maximum penalty. DUI and DWI actually refer to the same crime in the District of Columbia, the change in the name simply refers to the method of proof. To convict for a DWI, the government only has to prove that the individual was operating the motor vehicle and that the driver had blood alcohol or breath alcohol score of .08 or above or a urinalysis score of .10 or above. OWI, on the other hand, is like a lesser included offense in that it carries a slightly smaller maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine.
Regardless of the specific charge, anyone charged with driving under the influence in the District of Columbia should consult with a criminal defense attorney.
Penalties for DUI in DC
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 DUI’s carry a ten-day mandatory 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, .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 a number of 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 potentially 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 for a DUI can request an interlock device be installed in their vehicle to continue to lawfully drive.
Car insurance premiums can skyrocket upon conviction for DUI. Often times 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 the most important decision you can make. 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 who are facing charges for DUI, DWI, or OWI.
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 for 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 bad 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 certainly be weaker evidence of impairment than the driver causing an accident. However, driving is just one factor to evaluate.
Another factor a DUI attorney will evaluate in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a DUI case is the officer’s personal 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 important to assess how the client performed on the standardized field sobriety tests or “SFST’s”. The SFST’s are a battery of three tests that include the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand. Because of that, it’s a good idea to retain a Washington DC DUI lawyer who is certified to administer standardized field sobriety tests.
If the person is arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department, it is likely the entire encounter is recorded on a body-worn camera. However, if another police agency with arrest powers in DC handles the Washington DC DUI 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 just have to prove that the defendant’s score is accurate and 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 SFST’s and chemical scores) can be enough for the judge to find the person guilty for driving under the influence. On the other hand, a skilfully 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 when it comes to 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 DUI’s in Washington, DC. That office refuses to give plea offers for Reckless Driving in DUI cases and they have almost impossible to meet 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 DC Superior Court will give that exact sentence for 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 client and work hard to achieve the best result possible—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 dismissing 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 basically 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 get continued for another status hearing. If a Washington DC DUI lawyer and the prosecutor are unable to reach an agreement, then they would likely set a trial date at the status hearing. The final hearing may be the trial. If it’s a first offense DUI, the case will be tried before a judge. If it’s a second or greater offense, it will likely be tried in front of a jury. 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 what the law is, and the jury decides the facts they believe and applies them to the law.
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 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 attorney has to be certified to administer the standardized field sobriety tests. Our DUI lawyers have taken the same training the police officers have to get certified by NHTSA. There are many ways to challenge a DUI arrest. There are also important 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 we will never pressure you to plead guilty. For more information, check out our DC DUI Frequently Asked Questions.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration SFST Manuals