DUI in Washington D.C.

What is a DUI in the District of Columbia?

In the District of Columbia, 'DUI' is a term that refers to the offense of "driving under the influence". It is accrued to a person found in operation or active possession of a vehicle with a BAC above the acceptable value under the District of Columbia code. A DUI offense is charged against a motorist when a field sobriety test shows a BAC reading higher than permissible limits with observable impaired driving behaviors.

The DC Superior Court is responsible for penalizing DUI offenders except in cases with prior offenses where the courts of other jurisdictions are included. The Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) is saddled with the primary responsibility to plan, operate, manage, control, and maintain systems to ensure safe road use within state limits. The District of Columbia DMV ensures the safe operation of motor vehicles on District streets per applicable laws and regulations, while the DC Superior court charges penalties to road traffic offenders when convicted. Typically, records of DUI offenses are included in the offender's DC criminal record unless the offender is deemed not guilty or the offense is expunged.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in the District of Columbia?

'DUI' and 'DWI' are legal terms used to describe criminal offenses related to drunk driving charged under the District state law. Although DUI and DWI are used interchangeably in other states, their meaning is quite different in the District of Columbia road traffic law. 'Driving Under Influence' is a charge issued to a motorist when found in operation or active possession of a vehicle with a Blood Alcohol Concentration level of .07 or lesser with evidence that the offender's driving was impaired and has violated traffic regulations upon arrest. While 'Driving While Intoxicated' is an offense charged to the driver who has a BAC of .08% or higher upon arrest whether or not their driving was impaired. The District of Columbia considers a person intoxicated if he has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater.

District of Columbia DUI Laws

Subsection (b) and (c)§ 50-2206.11, § 50-2206.12§, 50–2206.14. Code of the District of Columbia outlines the drunk driving laws in Washington DC. Per this law:

  • Motorists shall not be in physical control of any vehicle in the District while intoxicated.
  • No person whose ability to drive or operate a vehicle is impaired either by the consumption of alcohol, drug, or a combination of both shall be in physical control of any car in the District.
  • The legal BAC limit in Washington DC is .08%. It is a crime to operate or be in physical possession of a vehicle with BAC at or above the percentage limit.
  • Any person found operating a motor vehicle under the age of 21 (minor) with any measurable amount of alcohol shall be placed under arrest and charged with a DWI.
  • A driver can be charged with a DUI offense if the officer has other signs of impairment from observations of the suspect's driving behavior and a structured field sobriety test result.

The District Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) works with the courts to penalize road traffic offenses. It suspends the driver's license of motorists that commit traffic offenses which include:

  • Violation of road traffic laws
  • Operating a vehicle while intoxicated
  • Driving while impaired
  • Refusal to submit to a chemical test

A motorist can consult the District of Columbia Driver Handbook for safe driving practices and a list of offenses that may result in the suspension of a driver's license. The DMV uses a point accumulation system to punish violators. A motorist gets points on record for every traffic violation, which may accumulate over some years. The DMV also works with the courts to revoke or suspend licenses when a driver accumulates too many points.

DUI Penalties in the District of Columbia

Drunk driving penalties are treated with severity. In the District of Columbia, the penalties charged are influenced by several factors, including the percent value of BAC found in the motorist's blood, breath at the time of the arrest, and the motorist's prior convictions. DUI is regarded as a misdemeanor except in circumstances involving death, serious injuries, or other aggravating incidents.

Subsection § 50-2206.13 of the Vehicle Code prescribes penalties for persons convicted of a DUI in the District of Columbia, and some of these penalties include:

  • A minimum fine of $1,000 but not more than $10,000.
  • A minimum mandatory jail term of 180 days.
  • Withdrawal of driving privileges and revocation of driver's license.
  • Higher insurance premium (SR-22 insurance).
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device.
  • If a driver is convicted of driving under the influence, they are required by the district law to submit to a blood alcohol analysis test. The officer may ask the driver to submit to a breath or urine test. Per the District of Columbia's implied consent law, motorists automatically consent to field sobriety tests when operating a vehicle within state limits. Offenders who refuse to submit to a sobriety test will have their licenses suspended, whether or not they are eventually found guilty of the DUI.

What Happens When You Get a DWI in the District of Columbia?

Driving while intoxicated in the District of Columbia has more severe consequences because the penalties for high BAC levels only apply to DWI charges. The Code Operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drug(s), or both is a criminal offense punishable by jail sentences and fines. If the officer and the courts provide evidence of impairment or a motorist's high blood alcohol level, the District can convict such a motorist. The motorist would then be required to get an attorney to contest the charges or pay the fines.

What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in the District of Columbia?

In the District of Columbia, a motorist is charged with a first DUI when no prior driving or alcohol-related offenses are in their driving history. According to DC law, when drivers are arrested for a first DUI offense, they are not eligible for a jury trial. Offenders typically face a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

When a motorist is charged with a first DUI, they are likely to be released the same day or a few hours later with a court citation.

The offender will be required to sign up for a suspension hearing at the DMV within 10 to 15 days, depending on whether the motorist has an out-of-state license. If the suspension hearing is not scheduled within this time, their driving privileges are automatically suspended by the District of Columbia. A law enforcement officer must provide evidence of a field sobriety test or traffic infractions committed by the driver before the vehicle was stopped. If the police officer is absent, the process is held until the court case is resolved.

A DUI is a misdemeanor, and a judge may penalize the offender with a jail term with a period of probation which may require the motorist to complete alcohol classes or be involved in community service in exchange for not receiving an additional jail time. The judge can charge a first DUI offender with one or all of the following:

  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • A jail time of 90 days
  • A license suspension for a period of 180days
  • Installation of an Ignition interlock device

What is the Penalty for a Second DUI in the District of Columbia?

In the District of Columbia, motorists are charged with a second term DUI offense when they have been convicted of a prior DUI within 15 years. DUI penalties are also influenced by the duration between the first and second DUI offense. When a driver is charged with a second DUI, they are granted a jury trial. Penalties for a second DUI offense include one year in jail, license suspension for a period not less than a year, a maximum fine ranging from $2500 to $5000, and observing the mandatory minimum term of incarceration of 10days served consecutively at the beginning of the probation period. However, the motorist may apply for a restricted Ignition Interlock License to drive to and from work or school. If it is a drug-related DUI, the motorist must complete a 12 months suspension period before being eligible for a restricted license.

What Happens After a Third DUI in the District of Columbia?

Third offense DUI charges are accrued to a traffic offender if they are convicted of multiple DUI charges within a period of 15years in their driving history. When a motorist has two prior offenses within five years, their driver's license or privilege to operate a motor vehicle in the District is revoked until the Department of Motor Vehicle may reinstate his driver's license or privilege to operate a motor vehicle. A driver convicted of a 3rd DUI within 15 years will have their driver's license revoked for three years, sentenced to a fine of not less than $2,500 and not more than $10,000, and an incarceration period for not more than one year, or both. The court may also impose a 15-day mandatory minimum term of incarceration and other penalties.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in the District of Columbia?

All DUI offenses and charges are recorded and kept with the District's Department of Motor Vehicles and can be accessed by law enforcement officials. A DUI in the District of Columbia stays as part of an individual's driving record for ten years. The District of Columbia operates a points system. Drivers with a DUI attract 12 points on their driving record and extra penalties.

DUI Expungement in the District of Columbia

Expungement means setting aside a criminal offense or sealing a conviction. A criminal offense, convicted and charged to the District of Columbia Official Code § 50-2201.05 or the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations can not be expunged or sealed. An offender can only file a petition of "actual innocence" if arrested or charged but not when convicted. An expunged DUI offense may still be available as proof of a prior conviction but are not visible to prospective employers, credit issuers, educational institutions, or any agency or body for conducting background checks. A judge may then review the petition to establish an expungement if the motorist is eligible for it. The court decides whether or not a DUI expungement would be granted in all cases.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in the District of Columbia?

A motorist convicted with a first DUI charge in the District of Columbia is not likely to face mandatory jail time. In DC, first-time DUI offenders are not likely to get jail time unless the offense is considered severe. DC Judges tend to issue less severe penalties where persons involved have no criminal history, do not have a significantly high BAC, and do not have severe cases of a major traffic accident that has resulted in injury. Generally, they might decide to place such persons on probation instead. However, a first DUI is likely to face jail time if:

  • If the offender has a BAC of .20 or higher at the time of arrest, in this case, the first-time offender will be eligible for a mandatory minimum of ten days of jail time. However, this is solely determined by the offender's BAC level upon arrest.
  • If the driver has a minor in the car upon arrest.

What is the Average Cost of DUI in the District of Columbia?

The average cost of a DUI in the District of Columbia is $10,000. It includes the minimum fine of the offense charged, a high insurance premium rate, the cost of installing an ignition lock device, and any other court charges as the court requires. This also includes the paid as to the DC DMV for license reinstatement. The motorist may also be required to take a driving course to improve their driving skills charged at the driver's cost.

How Much is Bail for a DUI in the District of Columbia?

A bail, also known as a bond, is an amount an offender pays to be released. The District of Columbia does not have a monetary bail given in exchange as a requirement for release while their case is pending. Instead, DC adopts a pretrial release system where people arrested for misdemeanor offenses are automatically released. An individual is only asked to put up money in exchange for being released when a judge imposes a monetary bond because such a person did not appear in court on the day required. When the driver fails to appear in court as promised, the judge issues a warrant for his arrest. This act is called a bench warrant, and the judge also charges a monetary fee of $100. This sum must be paid in cash for the offender to be released to enable them to appear on the following date given by the court.

How to Get My License Back After a DUI in the District of Columbia?

According to the Washington DC Vehicle Code, a license revocation involves the suspension of a driver's license and driving privileges for a stipulated time. The state DMV may revoke a person's license for different reasons, some of which are:

  • Driving under the influence or while intoxicated
  • Leaving the accident scene when an injury is involved
  • Refusal to submit to a chemical test
  • Road traffic violation
  • Driving without a valid insurance coverage

Whenever a license or privilege to drive is revoked or denied, the reasons are outlined in the order of revocation or denial. This order shall take effect in 10 days (15 days, if the person is a nonresident) after service of notice has been passed to the person whose license or privilege to drive in the District of Columbia is to be revoked or denied. A hearing on the revocation shall be held if the respondent files a request for a hearing within ten days (15 days if the person is a nonresident) of service of the notice.

These hearings by the Mayor shall cover the issues relating to the following:

  • Whether a law enforcement officer had reasonable grounds to believe that a motorist had been operating or was in physical control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated or while his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol or a drug or a combination of both.
  • Whether the offender has been placed under arrest or refused to submit specimens for chemical testing after having been informed of the consequences of such refusal.

If a request for the reinstatement of a license is granted after revocation, the DMV requires the motorist to obtain a license again and pay a fine. When a claim is revoked due to the violation of drunk driving laws, the DMV will usually require additional conditions, such as an alcohol/drug counseling program, a negative drug test, or installation of an ignition interlock device on the driver's vehicle.

How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in the District of Columbia?

A DUI in DC is viewed as a serious offense punishable by the law and can negatively affect the offender's life, including court costs and legal and high insurance consequences. A DUI conviction can affect a driver's freedom and nature of employment once it appears on the public record. This happens particularly when the motorist is convicted of a second or subsequent DUI charge with aggravating circumstances. Some of the major consequences of a DUI conviction are:

  • Bodily injury and charges carry up to five years in prison and a license revocation of 15 years.
  • Loss of employment
  • An increase in insurance premium rates because of the driver's risk involved.
  • Suspension of driver's license
  • Disqualification from educational and volunteer opportunities
  • Immigration
  • Eligibility for welfare benefits
  • Access to public housing
  • Loss of student loans and other educational benefits
  • Loss of the right to vote
  • Enhanced prosecution in future criminal offenses

Can You Get Fired for a DUI in the District of Columbia?

Yes. A motorist with a DUI offense or conviction on their driving record can lose their employment. Most employers conduct a background check for any criminal convictions on an employee's record or the online DC Courts Case Search. Driving under the influence is a misdemeanor offense, and specific jobs aren't open to an individual who has been convicted of a DUI in the District of Columbia. This does not mean a DUI conviction directly results in the termination of employment. Some jobs give attention to any criminal involvement, including arrests that did not result in convictions. For example, jobs that deal with sensitive information like healthcare or jobs that require security clearance take a DUI charge into cognizance. The policies depend on the type of work and the specific nature of the offense. A DC DUI penalty could affect an individual's ability to drive, find employment, or remain on a job. Even after fines are paid, and sentences are served, the conviction could still possibly haunt the driver for years.

How Do I Find DUI Checkpoints in the District of Columbia?

A DUI checkpoint is also known as a sobriety checkpoint. DUI Checkpoints in the District of Columbia are usually set up at intersections and during times when road traffic offenses are more prone to occur. Places such as nights, weekends, and during holidays are targeted as DUI checkpoints. Law enforcement officers instruct vehicles to stop at a DUI checkpoint and ask to see the motorist's license, registration, and proof of vehicle insurance. During the interaction, the officer observes motorists for signs of intoxication. These signs may include:

  • Scully speech
  • The strong odor of alcohol from the driver's breath
  • Bloodshot eyes or impaired vision
  • Violation of road traffic signs
  • Over speeding

Suppose the officer suspects a motorist to be under any influence. In that case, they conduct a field sobriety test on the driver using one or more of the following tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk-and-Turn Test, The One-Leg Stand Test. This may result in an arrest when a motorist is found to have driven under the influence.

Which is Worse, DUI vs. DWI?

The District of Columbia recognizes only a slight difference in the use of both terms. A DUI charge requires the law enforcement officer to prove that the defendant operated a motor vehicle while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs and that their ability to drive was impaired. The officer can use observation or a field sobriety test result or blood or urine tests to prove this. In a DWI, The officer is not required to prove that the driver was actually suffering any form of impairment upon arrest once the motorist's BAC is .08% or higher. Although the terms are used differently, the penalties are the same. DUI/ DWI are offenses changed to a motorist for violating the state's traffic laws. Charges apply to alcohol or drugs and any substance in a motorist's blood that can impair their vision and driving.