You started off the night at a local D.C. hangout with just a few glasses of wine with co-workers. Then, things got real. Too real. So real that you can't remember what happened. All you know is that you ended up behind the wheel of your car and slammed into a telephone pole.
The Metro Police Department got involved and you're in a whole lot of trouble. This is your third DWI in the past 15 years. As you sit in a D.C. Jail cell sobbing, you wonder what is your wife going to say? Will you lose your license forever? Do you need a lawyer, again? Okay, calm down and start with getting informed. Here's what may happen in a typical Washington D.C. DWI/DUI case.
In the District of Columbia, there are two main ways drivers are charged with being impaired by drugs or alcohol. These are referred to as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and are defined as follows:
Under 21 Drinking and Driving
We are going to give it to you straight. Do not drink and drive if you are under 21. The District of Columbia doesn't mess around here. The law is one of zero tolerance. You can't have any amount of alcohol in your system. If you do, you'll be charged with a DWI and have your license revoked for six months.
Washington D.C. DWI / DUI's Are a Two-Part Process
Most people don't realize that when they are arrested for a DWI/DUI in the District, they'll have to deal with two historically unpopular government agencies: the District of Columbia DMV and the Washington D.C. criminal courts. Why? Because the DMV will handle your license suspension pursuant to the implied consent laws and the courts will deal with your criminal case.
Your License Suspension
Let's begin with your driver's license. Your District of Columbia driving privileges will be automatically suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles once you get arrested. It doesn't matter whether or not you are later convicted of the crime in a D.C. courtroom.
To get your license reinstated after a suspension, you must wait for the suspension period to expire and pay a reinstatement fee. You can't get back a license that was revoked, however. Instead, you must apply for a brand-new license, and will only happen after a hearing has been held to determine whether you are eligible to be allowed back behind the wheel.
As a Washington D.C. driver, you've already given your implied consent to take a chemical test. If you refuse the test, it will result in an automatic twelve-month driver's license suspension. This is in addition to any penalties you'll receive if you are convicted or plead in the criminal case.
License Suspension After a Conviction
The following are the periods of revocation that result based on how many times one has committed the offense:
Possible DUI Criminal Penalties
The length of a sentence largely depends on your BAC and any prior DWI/DUI convictions on your record in the past ten years.
For first time DWI/DUI offenders, there is no minimum jail sentence, but you're looking at a maximum of 180 days in jail, a fine, and a six-month license revocation. If this is your second, it'll be between ten days to one year in jail, a fine and a one-year license revocation. If this is your third, the court can sentence you to between 12 days to one year in jail, impose a significant fine, and issue up to a two-year license suspension. If you're on your fourth or more within 15 years, you'll face between 45 days to one year in jail, a stiff fine, and a two-year license revocation and community service.
Enhanced DUI/DWI Situations
In addition to the penalties mentioned above, if you are caught in any of these scenarios you are likely to face enhanced penalties:
Minor in the Vehicle: You will receive a five days mandatory minimum sentence for each minor that is properly restrained in an appropriate car seat, booster seat, or seat belt and 10 days mandatory minimum sentence for each minor that is not properly restrained. In addition, the possible maximum fine is increased by $500 for each properly restrained minor and $1,000 for each improperly restrained minor.
Prohibited Drugs: If you have a Schedule I chemical or controlled substance or PCP, Cocaine, Methadone, Morphine, or one of its active metabolites or analogs in your blood or urine, you'll receive an additional mandatory minimum sentence of at least 15 days for a first offense.
The Bottom Line
Remember, it's best to never drink or use drugs and drive. Select a designated driver ahead of time who will stay sober. You can also ask someone else to give you a ride, call a taxi, or use public transportation. D.C. also has a seasonal SoberRide program. If you've been arrested and charged, you may wish to consider speaking to a Washington D.C. DUI lawyer about your options.
Contact a qualified attorney.