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DC DUI Charges Explained

In the Washington, DC area, there are three types of drunk driving offenses. Each type requires different elements and carries a different sentence if convicted. Read on to learn some general information, but don’t forget that every situation is unique.

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)


The most common drunk driving charge in Washington, DC is Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). If you have been charged with a DWI in the District of Columbia, the government is required to prove, through the use of blood, breath, or urine tests, that the defendant operated a vehicle while having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter of blood. The government is not required to prove that the driver was actually suffering any type of impairment.

Any BAC of 0.08 grams is sufficient for the DC police to make a DWI arrest. However, if your BAC is higher than the legal limit, there may be additional punishment such as mandatory jail time. You may also be ineligible for certain diversionary programs such as a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA). The punishment for a first-offense DWI based on blood or breath scores in the District of Columbia is as follows:

BAC Reading Fine DSA Status
0.08 to 0.09 Up to $1000 and a maximum of 180 days in jail – (can be suspended) eligible
0.10 to 0.19 Up to $1,000 and a maximum of 180 days in jail – (can be suspended) ineligible
0.20 to 0.25 Up to $1,000 and a maximum of 180 days in jail – Mandatory 10 days in jail ineligible
0.25+ Up to $1,000 and a maximum of 180 days in jail – Mandatory 15 days in jail ineligible

If you have been arrested and charged with a DWI, contact a Washington, DC DWI lawyer as soon as possible. You have a right to challenge the driver’s license suspension at the DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) before going to court, but time is of the essence. Please feel free to contact my office  for a free consultation.

You should contact a DC drunk driving lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case. Always remember that an arrest is not a conviction. There is more information posted in our DC DUI and DWI Frequently Asked Questions section.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)


The second type of drunk driving charge is Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Here, the government is required to prove that the defendant operated a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating alcohol or drugs and that their ability to drive was impaired.

The government can use a variety of methods including observation, blood or urine tests, or field sobriety tests. This is harder to prove than a DWI in some ways, but the officers will usually look at all of your actions and statements made during the DUI arrest.

As your Washington, DC DUI lawyer will explain, a DUI does not require any specific BAC reading for a conviction. The penalty for a first-offense DUI is the same as a DWI – a fine of up to $1,000 and a maximum of 180 days in jail.

If you have been charged with a DUI in the District of Columbia, a skilled DUI defense lawyer can question the arresting offer on the witness stand and look for any errors made when performing a field sobriety test or other police procedures.

Operating While Impaired (OWI)


A third type of drunk driving offense in Washington, DC is Operating While Impaired (OWI). An OWI is the easiest of the drunk driving charges for the DC Attorney General’s Office to prove. The sentence for a first offense OWI is a fine of $200 to $300 and up to thirty days in jail.

They are required to prove that the defendant operated a vehicle while being impaired in any way by alcohol. An OWI is not recognized by every state in the nation. This may mean that if you are an out-of-state driver, your driving privileges will be revoked in the District of Columbia, but your home state may allow you to keep your license. If you have a Washington, DC driver’s license, it may be suspended or revoked, preventing you from driving anywhere.

OWI can easily be proved because only minor alcohol or drug consumption impairment must be proven. The first OWI conviction carries a $500 fine and a maximum jail time of up to 90 days. A second offense can result in a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail. However, the second conviction also carries a mandatory 5-day jail sentence. For a third OWI offense within 15 years, an individual could spend from mandatory 10 days to one year in jail and pay a fine of up to $5,000.

DWI/ DUI Charges and Penalties


Although DWI and DUI offenses require different blood alcohol content measured at the time of the arrest, those convicted could face the same penalties.

For a second DWI or DUI offense, an individual could face a minimum jail sentence of 10 days to up to a year in jail, along with fines of $2,500 to $5,000. If the driver commits a third offense DUI/DWI within 15 years, the mandatory minimum jail time increases to 15 days.

Although the statutory mandatory minimum penalty a person faces increases, the maximum penalty is still one year. That means, under DC DUI laws, drunk driving charges are misdemeanor offenses. But, while a drunk driving offense is not considered a felony in DC, one can be charged with felony DUI if aggravating factors are involved.

A drunk driving conviction will trigger the driver’s license suspension by the DC DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). In addition, these drivers may be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) for six months (for a first offense), a year (for a second offense), or two years (after a third drunk driving offense).


Detailed Legal Consequences of DUI Charges in DC


In Washington, DC, the legal ramifications of DUI charges extend beyond immediate penalties, affecting various aspects of an individual’s life. The District of Columbia enforces strict DUI laws, where even a first offense can lead to significant legal consequences, including but not limited to:

  • Mandatory jail time: Depending on the BAC level at the time of arrest, individuals may face mandatory incarceration. For a BAC of 0.20% or higher, the law stipulates a minimum jail term, which escalates with the BAC level.
  • Fines and fees: Convicted individuals can expect fines up to $1,000 for a first offense, with the amount increasing for subsequent offenses. These financial penalties are in addition to any court costs and fees associated with the reinstatement of driving privileges.
  • License suspension: DUI convictions result in the automatic suspension of driving privileges. The duration of the suspension varies based on the offense number and specific circumstances surrounding the case.
  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID): Repeat offenders, and sometimes first-time offenders with high BAC levels, may be required to install an IID in their vehicles. This device prevents the car from starting if alcohol is detected in the driver’s breath.
  • Criminal record: A DUI conviction in DC is a misdemeanor offense that will appear on criminal background checks. This can have long-term implications for employment, housing, and educational opportunities.
  • Insurance rates: Convicted individuals often face higher auto insurance premiums. Some insurance companies may even refuse to provide coverage, considering the individual a high-risk driver.

Given these severe legal consequences, it’s crucial for anyone facing DUI charges in DC to seek competent legal representation. An experienced DUI attorney can navigate the complexities of the legal system, potentially reducing the charges or mitigating the penalties.


If you have been charged with any of these Washington, DC drunk driving offenses or any other DC crime, contact Attorney Christopher J. Mutimer by calling 202-630-0939 or by filling out an online contact form. Credit Cards Accepted


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