Washington, D.C. actually has three separate charges for “drunk driving”: Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), Driving Under the Influence (DUI), and Operating While Impaired (OWI).
For a DWI charge a driver must have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher. You could even be charged with a DWI merely for having the ignition on while not even moving. If your BAC level is above 0.20% percent a mandatory minimum jail sentence applies.
A DUI charge applies where the prosecution proves that your ability to drive was “impaired” by alcohol or drugs but unlike a DWI charge it does not require proof that your BAC level was at .08% or higher. OWI is a lesser included offense of DUI, it is essentially the same but the penalties are theoretically lighter. OWI mainly exists so that the prosecutors can offer what they claim to be a “deal” if you plead guilty.
DWI/DUI prosecutions in D.C. usually begin with a traffic stop. If the police suspect (or needs to hit their quota) that you are under the influence, they will begin a series of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). If you fail one or more of these tests, this will likely be used as probable cause to place you under arrest for suspicion of DUI. Once you are arrested, you will be asked to undergo a chemical breath (breathalyzer) or blood test to determine your level of intoxication. If you refuse, your license can automatically be suspended for twelve months (Washington, D.C., has a decent mass transit system).
The reality is that there are many problems with both the SFSTs and breathalyzers. A knowledgable D.C. DUI lawyer can challenge the results of these tests as well as the basis for testing you in the first place. If these challenges are successful, it will be difficult for the prosecution to convict you.
Drunk driving charges in Washington, D.C. are a serious matter. A first-time D.C. DWI conviction can result in a maximum $1,000 fine and a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail. A driver with a BAC of .20-.25% faces a mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail. If your BAC is .25-.30% you are looking at a mandatory minimum of 15 days in jail and if your BAC is above .30% you face a mandatory minimum of 20 days in jail. Conviction of any of these offenses can also lead to losing your driver’s license, much higher auto insurance premiums, lower credit ratings, losing your job and losing your security clearance.
To survive drunk driving charges in Washington, D.C., you need an experienced lawyer who does his own investigation in order to fight every part of the prosecution’s case, using their mistakes against them.