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The District of Columbia DWI Guide

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I just got arrested for a District of Columbia DWI / DUI charge.  What happens now?


ISSUE ONE:  The District of Columbia Implied Consent / Show Cause Proceeding:  Your D.C. drivers license (or your right to drive in the District if you're not a D.C. licensed driver) was most likely revoked for anywhere from three months to five years for failing or refusing to take a chemical (breath or blood) test. 


Read your paperwork carefully.  If you want to challenge the proposed revocation, you generally must do so within five days of arrest (10 days if you are licensed outside of the District of Columbia).  If you represent yourself at this hearing, make sure that you do not miss the deadline or you will waive your right to challenge your revocation.  If you hire an attorney in time, your DWI lawyer can make this request on your behalf. 


Once a timely request is made, a hearing will be scheduled.  If you prevail at the show cause hearing, your revocation will be overturned.  If you are unsuccessful, your revocation will go into effect.  If you do not make a timely hearing request, the license revocation generally starts on the fifth day following your arrest.


Speak to a D.C. DWI attorney for more information about challenging your implied consent revocation.


What is meant by the term "implied consent?" 

Under District of Columbia law, "Any person . . . who operates a motor vehicle within the District shall be deemed to have given his or her consent . . . to two chemical tests of the person's blood, urine, or breath, for the purpose of determining blood-alcohol content or the blood-drug content.  The arresting police officer or any other appropriate law enforcement officer shall elect which chemical test shall be administered to the person; provided, that the person may object to a particular test on valid religious or medical grounds."


ISSUE TWO:  The District of Columbia Criminal Case:  Separate from the implied consent revocation is the criminal charge for DWI / DUI / OWI.  Under the laws of the District of Columbia, you may not operate or be in physical control of any vehicle in the District: 

  • When your alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of testing is 0.08 percent or greater (DWI); or

  • If under 21 years of age, when your blood, breath, or urine contains any measurable amount of alcohol (DWI); or

  • While you are under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or any drug or any combination thereof (DUI); or

  • While your ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by the consumption of intoxicating liquor (OWI).

Important:  The implied consent license revocation / show cause proceeding and the criminal DWI / DUI / OWI case are completely separate from one another. 


Will my District of Columbia license to drive be suspended / revoked?


RELATED TO ISSUE ONE ABOVE:  Your District of Columbia driver license (or your right to drive in the District if you do not have a valid D.C. license) may be revoked in the implied consent proceeding for 90 days or more failing or refusing a chemical (breath / blood / urine) test.  Again, you may challenge (seek to overturn) this revocation by requesting a show cause hearing within five days of your arrest. 



RELATED TO ISSUE TWO ABOVE:  If you are convicted of the DUI / DWI charge, you will also lose your license for a specified period of time depending on your drunk driving history.  This revocation is separate and distinct from the revocation received for failing or refusing a breath, blood, or urine test.  Talk to your District of Columbia lawyer for possible revocation lengths for your situation.



Also keep in mind that your license can be revoked / suspended for a variety of reasons unrelated to a DWI / OWI / DUI arrest e.g. convictions for certain drug crimes, excessive points, unpaid fines, etc.


What happens if I get caught driving while my license is revoked / suspended?


Driving when your license is under revocation should be avoided as it is a new crime.  Penalties include probation, fines, and possible jail time.


I really need to drive.  Will I be able to get a restricted license / occupational / conditional / probationary permit?


Maybe.  A limited occupational license may be available upon a showing of extreme hardship.  Speak to your DWI attorney for more information about whether you qualify and how to apply for a limited license.  


Is a DWI / DUI / OWI in the District of Columbia a misdemeanor or felony charge?


In the District of Columbia a DWI / DUI / OWI charge is a misdemeanor offense.   


What type of penalties might I face if I am convicted of a Washington D. C. drunk driving charge?


Upon conviction of a District of Columbia DUI / OWI / DWI offense, a defendant can receive a variety of penalties including probation and substance abuse treatment / education.  A range of minimum penalties is set forth below: 


within 15 years
  • fine of up to $300;

  • possible jail time;

  • at least five days jail if BAC is 0.20 % or more;

  • at least 10 days jail if BAC is 0.25 % or more;

  • license revocation.

within 15 years
  • $1000 + fine;
  • at least five days jail or 30 days community service;
  • at least 10 days jail if BAC is 0.20 % or more;
  • at least 20 days jail if BAC is 0.25 % or more;
  • license revocation.
within 15 years
  • $2000 + fine;
  • at least 10 days jail or 60 days community service;
  • at least 15 days jail if BAC is 0.20 % or more;
  • at least 25 days jail if BAC is 0.25 % or more;
  • license revocation.
within 15 years
  • fine of between $200 and $300;

  • jail time possible but not required;

  • license revocation.

within 15 years
  • fine of between $300 and $500;
  • at least five days jail or 30 days community service;
  • license revocation.
within 15 years
  • $1000 + fine;
  • at least 10 days jail or 60 days community service;
  • license revocation.
  • The "look back" period for prior offenses is 15 years.
  • Penalties increase if a minor (child under 18) is in the car including an enhanced fine and mandatory community service.

Will my defense lawyer be able to plea bargain / negotiate my charge down to another (lesser) offense?

Possibly.  Your lawyer will discuss your case with the prosecutor and make every effort to minimize the consequences.  If this is your first offense, you may qualify for a pre-trial diversion program.  A successful diversion will result in the dismissal of the charge and possibly allow you to avoid a license revocation.  Generally, you will not be eligible for diversion if you refused a breath or blood test; if your BAC was more than 0.12 percent; or if you were involved in a collision / accident.  Speak to your lawyer about whether pre-trial diversion is an option for you and whether its in your best interest.

Will an District of Columbia DUI / OWI / DWI go on "my Driving Record?"

Yes.  A DWI / DUI / OWI conviction will go on your driving record and generally stay on your record for at least 15 years. 

Just how much jail / prison time will I have to do if I am convicted of a DWI / DUI in Washington D.C.?

The amount of incarceration (jail or prison time) received will depend on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the following:

•  your prior driving record especially your DWI / DUI / OWI history (including any drunk driving offenses outside of the District) within the past 15 years;

•  your level of intoxication / BAC;

•  whether there was an accident / collision involved;

•  whether there was bodily injury to another person in the accident;

•  what judge you are sentenced by;

•  whether there was a passenger / child (17 years or younger) in your car;

•  whether the judge feels you have accepted responsibility for your actions.


I am licensed to drive outside of the District and I was cited for a DWI / DUI in the District of Columbia.  Will my driver license be suspended?

Washington D.C. only has the authority to revoke your right to drive in the the District of Columbia.  However, the District and 44 states have adopted an agreement known as the "Driver License Compact."  The District will report a DWI / DUI / OWI conviction to the home state of the driver (assuming your home state has also adopted the Compact).  Your home state will then generally take action to suspend or revoke your license.

This also works in reverse.  If you are a D.C. licensed driver and you are convicted of a DWI type charge in another state, the District will revoke your license if it learns of the conviction. 

Will I have to install an Ignition Interlock Device in my car?


An ignition interlock device (IID) is an alcohol breath screening device that is connected to the vehicle's ignition system to prevent the vehicle from starting if it detects a blood alcohol level above a preset limit.  The District of Columbia does not require installation of an IID; however, if you're licensed in another state, your home state may require you to install an IID if your home state suspends your license after learning of your conviction.

What will a District of Columbia DWI / DUI do to my insurability?

If your insurance company finds out about your DWI / DUI / OWI one of two things are likely to happen.  Either your insurance company will raise your rates or your policy may be cancelled or not renewed. 

I'm not a United States citizen.  Will a DWI / DUI conviction result in my removal from this country?

Probably not.  Typical DUI / DWI / OWI offenses are not considered crimes of moral turpitude or aggravated felonies resulting in removal.  It is important to consult an experienced immigration attorney about your situation just as you should consult with an experienced District of Columbia criminal defense lawyer about your pending DUI / DWI / OWI charge. 

Keep two points in mind.  First, it is very important to answer honestly all questions about prior arrests / convictions on immigration and Visa applications and other forms.  Lying on these documents is often considered more serious than any DUI conviction.  Second, non-citizens must take extra care not to drive on a suspended or revoked license.

Are there special concerns for licensed pilots who get a D.C. DUI / DWI / OWI?


Yes.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strict reporting requirements for certain Motor Vehicle Actions including District DWI / DUI / OWI convictions and certain implied consent license suspensions.  Learn more here.

I missed my District court appearance.  What do I do now?

Failing to appear for court must be avoided.  When you miss court, bad things happen.  At a minimum, the court typically issues a warrant for your arrest (commonly known as a bench warrant).  Sometimes, failing to appear will result in a new criminal charge as well.  Talk to your lawyer as soon as possible.  Often, your only option is to turn yourself in on the outstanding warrant.  A new court date will then be scheduled for you to appear.

Can I represent myself in court on my District of Columbia DUI / DWI or other criminal charge(s)?

Yes.  You have a constitutional right to represent yourself on any criminal charge no matter how serious including a District of Columbia DWI.  Keep in mind that D.C. DUI / DWI defense is a complex area of the law as shown by the information in this site.  If you cannot afford to hire your own lawyer, you definitely should apply for a court appointed attorney to represent you.  You have no right to court appointed counsel at the implied consent license suspension proceeding.

Copyright 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009


Websites, including this one, provide general Washington D.C. DWI - DUI - drunk driving information but do not provide legal advice or create an attorney / client relationship.  General information cannot replace legal advice specific to your case, problem, or situation.  Consult qualified D.C. DWI lawyers for advice about any specific problem or District of Columbia DWI / DUI charge that you have. 


This website may be considered an advertisement for services.  Information contained in this informational website is believed to be accurate but is not warranted or guaranteed in any way.  No lawyer associated with this website is specialized or certified in any way.  Not board certified.  This site is not a solicitation.


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