DC DUI Lawyer

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 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 DC are Operating while Impaired (“OWI”) and Driving while Intoxicated (“DWI”).  Its 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 DC DUI lawyer will look at in evaluating the strength and weaknesses of an individual case.  In addition, its 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, its important to understand the various court dates you may be responsible for attending in relation to your DUI case.

Differences Between DUI, OWI, and DWI Charges

The main alcohol related driving offense that the government charges is DUI.  As previously stated, 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 name simply refers to the method of proof.  To convict for DWI, the government only has to prove that the individual was driving, and that the driver had a 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 a crime should consult with a criminal defense attorney.

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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 DC DUI case can trigger mandatory minimum jail time.  For example:

  • Second offense DUI’s carry a ten-day mandatory minimum sentence.
  • Breath or blood scores above .20 carry mandatory minimum jail time as do urine scores above .25.
  • The mandatory jail time rises as the chemical scores rise as well. For example, .25 or more breath score will be a higher mandatory amount of jail time than a .21, etc.
  • If someone has a schedule I drug in their system, then the penalty includes a mandatory minimum 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, convictions for DUI in the District of Columbia carry a number of collateral consequences.  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 DUI can request an interlock device be installed in their vehicle to continue to lawfully drive.

In addition, 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 DC for 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.

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 the driving.  Bad driving alone is not enough to convict someone for 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.

That same driving 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, the driving is just one factor to evaluate.

Another factor DUI attorneys will evaluate in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a DUI case are the officers 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, its 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.

If the person is arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department, it is likely the entire encounter is recorded on body worn camera.  However, if another police agency with arrest powers in DC handles the DUI arrest, the incident may not be captured on camera.  For example, the United States Park Police and United States Capitol Police often make DUI arrests in DC but do not wear body worn camera.  Body worn camera 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.  Body worn camera can often make or break a DUI Case.

Another factor to assess is whether the defendant took a chemical test.  Under DC law, the police will typically ask the person they arrest for 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 must 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 DC, sometimes the officers’ observations alone (even without SFST’s and chemical scores) can be enough for the judge to find the person guilty.

Pleading Guilty to DUI

At Scrofano Law PC, we have a simple philosophy when it comes to DUI arrests. 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 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 time plus probation.

The secret many DC DUI lawyers don’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 many DC DUI lawyers will encourage their clients to plead guilty so that the firm can save time and money, Scrofano Law PC does not. We provide honest, straightforward advice to our client and work hard to achieve the best result possible—regardless of the firm’s bottom line. Our priority is 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 DUI in 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, body worn camera, and other video evidence where applicable.

After the arraignment, the next court date is a status hearing.  Usually, what happens between the arraignment and status hearing is the defense attorney will investigate the case 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 the parties 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 arrested for DUI in DC, should consult with a qualified DUI attorney.  Having the right lawyer can make all the difference in one’s case.  An experienced 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 that can help prevent you from getting convicted.  At Scrofano Law PC, our lawyers are certified to administer the standardized field sobriety tests and 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 to take immediately after getting arrested for DUI.

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.

Additional Resources:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration SFST Manuals

DC Department of Motor Vehicles Ignition Interlock Program

Scrofano Law PC Aspiring Public Defender Scholarship

Scrofano Law PC Sober Ride

Learn about traffic crimes like DUI and Reckless driving in Virginia.

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