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D.C. DUI Laws Challenged by Feds, Advocates

by | Dec 21, 2013

Federal authorities have teamed up with anti-drunk driving advocates to launch an aggressive campaign to alter DUI penalties in D.C. and elsewhere across the country in 2014.

Specifically, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Mothers Against Drunk Driving are pushing states to pass legislation that would make the installation of ignition interlock devices mandatory even for first-time DUI offenders.

If you are not familiar, these expensive devices are installed into vehicles and require drivers to submit to a breath test before the vehicle will start. If the machine registers over a set amount of alcohol (usually 0.02 percent), it will prevent the vehicle from starting. Further, the attempted violation can be recorded and reported back to the court, resulting in additional sanctions for the offender, depending on the terms of his or her probation.

D.C. DUI offense laws were toughened in January, when officials bolstered maximum penalties for first-time offenders, increased mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders and drivers with high blood-alcohol levels and established a new law increasing punishments for those who drive commercial vehicles while impaired.

Formally in effect as of July, the law increased the amount of jail time a first offender faced from 90 days to 180 and upped the maximum fine from $300 to $1,000. If a first-time offender has a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 percent or more, he or she will receive a mandatory 10 days in jail. Someone with a blood-alcohol level of 02.5 percent will receive a minimum 15 days and for a 0.30 BAC, it’s 20 days.

If you have a child in the vehicle, that’s another 5 days mandatory jail time. That’s if the child is properly restrained in a car seat. If not, your mandatory jail time for that offense is upped to 10 days.

Commercial drivers also now face a BAC threshold of 0.04 percent – half of what is considered legally drunk for other adults.

And let’s not forget that for any of these situations, the judge has the discretion to implement an ignition interlock program. It’s just that it doesn’t become mandatory until the second offense or if the driver had an extremely high BAC.

What the NHTSA and MADD are proposing is to strip D.C. judges of their power of discretion.

In Virginia this summer, state officials passed a law mandating ignition interlock for all DUI offenders. It quadrupled the number of people who were required to use it – up to 18,000 – with each having to pay an average of $480 for a typical six-month term.

While advocates say this reduces drunk driving deaths, the studies they site to back this don’t show any reduction once the device is removed.

Further, if such a measure were to pass in D.C., the court system would become bogged down with more cases going to trial. Also, lower-income drivers are going to be disproportionately affected for non-compliance sanctions, as many likely wouldn’t be able to pay. We would expect to see a spike of non-licensed (and therefore non-insured) drivers as a result of such a measure.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.