This blog highlights some of the drastic changes to the drinking and driving law in the District. The DC Comprehensive Impaired Driving Act of 2012 increased significantly (doubled) the penalties for drinking and driving and also increased the mandatory minimum sentences as such.
Accordingly the first offense conviction on DUI/DWI now carries the same penalties as most criminal misdemeanors, a maximum of: 180 days/$1000 fines.
The minimum statutory imposed incarceration even for the first time offenders was also doubles based on the blood alcohol level/content commonly referred to as BAC. That is a BAC of 0.08 or more is considered per se intoxication and will results in a DWI or/and a DUI charge. If the BAC level on the first offense is between 0.20-.25 there is a mandatory 10 days incarceration. Between 0.25-.30 you will be facing 15 days mandatory time and more than .30 — 20 days on a first offense.
If there is a prior drinking and driving conviction in this or any other jurisdictions, then the penalties would increase to a one year incarceration and fines between $2500-$5000 and 10 days mandatory minimum. If the BAC between 0.20-.25, 15 days mandatory time, 20 days if BAC is between 0.25-.30 and 25 days of time if BAC is .30 or more.
Two prior convictions then the penalties even increase significantly higher: fines between $2500-$10,000, one year incarceration and 15 days of mandatory sentence with increase of 20 additional days of mandatory time if the BAC is between 0.20-.25, and 25 days for BAC between .25-.30, and an additional 30 days of mandatory time if BAC more than 0.30.
Additional 30 days of mandatory to the penalties enumerated in the paragraph above if there are three prior convictions.
The penalties for Operating while impaired (OWI), the lesser included offense to DUI, did also double. First offense: $500 fine and maximum of 90 days. Second offense: fines no less than $1000, and no more than $2500 with the maximum incarceration increased to one year and mandatory five days of jail time. With two or more OWI convictions penalties increase to fines no less than $1000 and no more than $5000 and incarceration no more than one year, with the mandatory jail time increased to 10 days.
OWI is defines as “person’s ability to operate or be in physical control of a vehicle is impaired by consumption of alcohol….”
If the BAC at the time of arrest is less than 0.50 then there is a rebuttable presumption that the person operating the vehicle was not under the influence of alcohol. If the BAC is between 0.50-0.80 there is a prima facie proof and presumption that the person was under the influence (DUI). Thus BAC at 0.50 or more would result is an OWI or DUI charge and more than 0.80 (per se intoxication) a DWI charge. If there are no chemical test results and a refusal, then the officer upon observation and the field sobriety test results may charge both DWI and DUI or DUI and OWI.
The chemical test to determine alcohol level may be by blood, urine or breath. An official copy of the results by the technician is admissible as substantive evidence without the collaboration or testimony of the technician or the police officer. Provided that there is a certification attached thereto with the breathalyzer attesting that within the past three months the machine was tested and found to be accurate, and moreover, the test was conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s standards. With blood and urine tests, certification by the chief toxicologist that the test is accurate. The testimony of the technician or the police officer certifying test results can be compelled as long as it is requested in writing within 15 days prior to the scheduled trial date, and it is articulated why the test results is inaccurate.
The new law makes the District one of the toughest jurisdictions when it comes to drinking and driving. The statute also ties the hands of judges as the minimum sentences are articulated clearly to be mandatory and not discretionary.
Thus the chemical test results and validity thereof becomes a major factor. Due to the general unreliability of the breathalyzer tests, and the challenge-ability of the results, more police officer are conducting blood and urine tests, which are traditionally more accurate and reliable.
There is no replacement however for impeccable trial skills in cases as such. Before the amendment to the statute, a guilty verdict would have resulted in probation whereas the same case now most likely will result in a mandatory jail time.
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