The DC Comprehensive Impaired Driving Act of 2012 essentially doubled the minimum sentences applicable to all drinking and driving statutes imposing and enforcing the toughest penalties compared with most other jurisdictions.

Specifically, the statutory language states: no person shall operate or be in physical control of any vehicle in the District:

  • When the person’s alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of testing is 0.08 grams or more either per 100 milliliters of blood or per 210 liters of breath or is 0.10 grams or more per 100 milliliters of urine;
  • While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug or any combination thereof; or If under 21 years of age;
  • When the person’s blood, breath, or urine contains any measurable amount of alcohol.

Accordingly, in Washington DC you can be technically charged with a DC DWI or DC DUI if you are operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of any measurable amount of alcohol or drugs.


A driver’s blood alcohol concentration or BAC can be measured by testing the driver’s blood, breath, or urine.

A BAC of 0.08 or more will most likely result in a DWI (driving while intoxicated) charge, the most severe, and generally referred to as “per se” intoxication.

The BAC below  0.08 will result in a DUI (driving under the influence) charge, a lower included offense. Your physical appearance such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, performance on field sobriety tests — all will be considered as well as chemical tests.

Intoxicated is defined as either having an alcohol concentration of:

  • 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of the person’s blood or
  • per 210 liters of the person’s breath, or
  • 0.10 grams or more per 100 milliliters of the person’s urine; or
  • Having any measurable amount of alcohol in the person’s blood/urine/breath if the person is under 21 years of age.

Generally at the scene the Officer will rely upon both the physical attributes as well as the reading of the breathalyzer machine. Given the severity of the mandatory minimum sentences, in more serious cases and when there is accident or fatality, blood and urine tests are more prevalent.

These are the highlights for elements of each charge with their corresponding BAC levels:


DWI: Operating or in physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated —  0.08 or more BAC.

DUI: Operating or in physical control of vehicle while under the influence — 0.05-0.08 BAC.

OWI: Operating or in physical control when ability to operate visibly compromised or impaired —  .05 or less.

There is a presumption of non-intoxication for BAC less than .05.


The first time penalties for DC DWI/DUI conviction are fines of no more than $1000 and a maximum prison term of no more than 180 days.

Significantly though, if the person’s BAC upon arrest was between 0.20-0.25, there is a mandatory 10 days jail time and if the BAC was between 0.25-0.30 there is a 15 days mandatory jail time and over 0.30 — 20 days of jail time – all mandatory.


In the District, there is also a third or the least significant drinking and driving offense that is categorized as “Operating While Impaired” (OWI).

Impaired is defined as having person’s ability to operate or to be in physical control of a vehicle visibly compromised due to  consumption of alcohol or drugs.

Specifically the statute outlines that: No person shall, while the person’s ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by the consumption of intoxicating liquor, operate or be in physical control of any vehicle in the District.

Conviction under this provision, for the first time offense, carries a fine $500/90 days.

Incidentally, BAC of 0.05 grams or less establish a rebuttable presumption that the individual is not under the influence of an intoxicating liquor and BAC above that level shall constitute a prima facie proof of intoxication.

Moreover, in addition to severe criminal penalties, there are administrative DC DMV consequences to a drinking and driving arrest.

There are enhanced penalties if transporting a minor under while impaired that is:

  • $500-$1000 fines per minor; and
  • Mandatory minimum sentence of five days per minor if the minor is property retrained and 10 days if unrestrained.


If the are reasonable grounds to believe a person was operating a vehicle under influence or the person’s ability was impaired then the law enforcement officer may without making an arrest:

  • Request the driver to submit to a preliminary breath test;
  • The testing in voluntary and it designed to aid the officer in determining whether the alcohol levels justify an arrest;
  • The results of the breathalyzer test may not be used in any future prosecution.


Although submitting to a breathalyzer test is voluntary prior to an arrest and along with the field sobriety test is designed to aid the officer as to whether an arrest is legally justified; post arrest, the statute requires the law enforcement to collect two specimens of chemical testing drawn from blood, breath or urine.

The chemical test results would be admissible and would serve as compelling evidence of intoxication and as described above penalties ration and correlate with the BAC levels proven.

Recently there has been new developments and technology put in place to detect marijuana use in the breath.  The marijuana breathalyzer is able to detect usage for up to two hours and provide a scientific evidence that is legally admissible.   Refer to the blog post below for more details on this developing technology.


In Washington DC, a refusal to submit to chemical tests upon the arresting Officer’s request will result in an automatic DMV license suspension and also might limit the plea bargaining process and increases the underlying penalties.

Specifically, the officer can put in motion via sworn report that the driving privileges should be suspended if there is reasonable grounds to believe the operator:

  1. Has been driving or
  2. Was in actual control of a motor vehicle upon the public street or highway and
  3. While the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.08 or while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug or any combination thereof, or
  4. While the person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by the consumption of intoxicating liquor; and
  5. Such person, having been placed under arrest, REFUSED to submit to the two chemical tests after having been informed of the consequences of such refusal.

 Revocation of the driving privileges due to refusal would be:

  • For a a period of 12 months; and
  • If the person is without a license, then request to issue license would be be delayed  for a period of 12 months after the date of the alleged violation.

Moreover, refusal to submit if have a prior alcohol related prior conviction would create:

  • A rebuttable presumption of intoxication and,
  • Evidence of such refusal shall be admissible in any civil or criminal proceeding ensued due to the acts alleged to have been committed by the person before the arrest.


With refusal, the government will be lacking a key piece of evidence to move forward.  Chemical test and results which along with the officers’ testimony would be compelling evidence of guilt.   So how does the government proceed in such case?  With whatever visual evidence collected at the scene such as sobriety test, red or blood short eyes, evidence of erratic driving or traffic violation, accident, smell of drugs or alcohol emanating from the vehicle or the individual, etc.

In such case because there is no BAC level triggering mandatory minimum sentences, the court has to impose a sentence that is fitting of the offense and that would be dictated by the government’s evidence in the case.   If there was a significant accident, prior convictions, and compelling evidence of intoxication, the court may impose even a harsher sentence than the minimum sentence guidelines.

Refusal also creates a presumption of guilt in most cases, and forecloses or limits the plea bargaining process.  So a decision to refuse to chemical test can significantly limit the defense options but also can significantly impair the government’s case.  The government still has the burden of proof and with no scientific evidence their cases may be weaker and defense chance of injecting reasonable doubt thus higher.

Our Washington DC DUI Attorney is equipped to detect and explore the weakness in the government’s case in order to secure a dismissal or a not guilty verdict.


In order to avoid an automatic suspension of the driving privileges then, if a DC resident, a revocation hearing shall be requested in writing and within 10 days, and within 15 days if a non resident.

During the revocation hearing, the hearing examiner will determine:

  • Whether there was a reasonable grounds to believe the operator of the vehicle was intoxicated or impaired,
  • Whether refusal to submit to chemical testing after arrest was knowing and voluntary and after being informed of the consequences for refusal.

It is important to note that all alcohol related arrests would result in an automatic suspension of the driving privileges if a hearing is not requested in a timely manner.

The hearing examiner is mandated to suspend the driving privileges for a period of 12 months if there is a refusal to chemical testing.

However, in cases where there is submission to chemical testing, the imposition of a suspension period is not mandatory and generally varies depending on the facts and circumstances of the individual case.

Keep in mind that the DMV administrative hearing would still need to be scheduled after any form of alcohol related offense and arrest, and at the show cause hearing the burden would be on the defendant to convince the hearing examiner a suspension period is not warranted.

A favorable outcome in the court involved criminal case, alcohol treatment and education course, employment history,  all would be factored considered by the hearing examiner.

Our seasoned and experienced DC DUI Lawyer can generally persuade the DMV administrative judges to forego suspension on first offenses with lower levels of BAC, and when there is either diversion of a favorable outcome in the court involved criminal case.


If a moving vehicle comes in contact with another vehicle, property, or other person or animal — there is a legal duty and requirement to stop and assist and to provide and share insurance and other identifying information.

Specifically, the Statute requires a vehicle that comes in contact with another vehicle or is otherwise involved in an accident to stop the vehicle immediately and:

  1. If there is injury to anyone to call for assistance/ambulance and to remain on the scene of the accident and render aid until such time that the police is at the scene and to provide all relevant identifying information as well as their insurance information to law enforcement and to the other party;
  2. If there is damage to property or domestic animal —  again provide identifying information to the injured party and if no one is at the scene of the accident  — to contact 911 and report the accident and share all identifying information with law enforcement;
  3. When a real or personal property or a wild or domestic animal poses a risk to others as a result of a collision — there is a legal duty to call 911 and to report the incident and to provide identifying information as well as a detailed description of the incident and the nature of the risk created to others.

It is not an affirmative defense to leaving and colliding charge if the defendant can prove by the preponderance of the evidence that:

  • His or other’s safety would have been compromised by stopping and reporting;
  • This belief was reasonable and well supported by the facts;
  • As soon as reasonably possible the reporting was made via calling 911 or otherwise reporting to the law enforcement

It is not on the other hand an affirmative defense if the defendant:

  • Was driving while intoxicated, impaired or under the influence; or
  • Claims not to be at fault for the collision and thus justifying not stopping at the scene.

Penalties for leaving the scene after colliding carried up to 180 days incarceration in addition to fines.


Alcohol related offenses are generally diversion eligible and the eligibility depends on various factors including but not limited to:

  • The chemical test results
  • Severity of the offense and whether accident involved
  • First offense or repeat offender
  • Professionalism with law enforcement during arrest and processing

Diversion programs are designed for first time offenders.  In limited cases, the government will offer diversion that is community service, fine, and possibly an alcohol program in lieu of prosecution.   Upon successful completion of the diversionary period, the government will dismiss the case and all that remains is the arrest recored.

Generally refusal to chemical tests takes the matter out of the diversion program.  Also a high blood alcohol level may be a disqualifying factor or cases involving an accident or destruction of property.

If diversion is inapplicable, then either deferred sentencing or deferred prosecution should be explored.

The Deferred Sentencing Agreement are commonly offered in DUI/DWI cases whereby a guilty plea is entered and alcohol classes and treatment, community service and possibly other agreed terms are enumerated.   Upon successful completion of the agreed items, the case is back in court where the guilty plea is withdrawn and case dismissed.  In an event of unsuccessful completion, the case directly proceeds to sentencing.

The caliber and capabilities of DC DUI Lawyer plays a significant part in exploring diversionary options.  In highlighting the weakness of the government’s case or pointing our irregularities in the chemical test procedures or police reports or even police conduct — the government may be persuaded to offer diversion when none there is technically no eligibility.

Contact our experienced and seasoned Washington DC DUI Lawyer to schedule an in-depth case evaluation.


Given the complexity of the statutory language and both stiff criminal and civil ramifications, it is essential to immediately after an arrest under to contact an experienced DC DUI lawyer to defend your rights and to minimize your criminal and civil exposure.

There are those lawyer who specialize in plea bargaining and disposition and a selected group who are experts in this area of law and prepared to litigate the hard issues.   We are the experts and are prepare to litigate the hard issues and cases.

Our DC criminal defense lawyer routinely litigate complex DC DUI or DC DWI cases often times accident involved with successful results obtaining either dismissals, non-guilty verdicts or other favorable outcomes such as diversion or probation.

Contact our Washington DC DUI lawyer for an initial case evaluation and analysis.