The District of Columbia DUI laws codify three separate crimes related to drinking and driving, all of which are misdemeanors. The most serious offense is called Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). By statute, a person will be charged with a DWI if they were driving or operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

A person is deemed intoxicated if, at the time of testing, the person had an “alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more either per 100 milliliters of blood or per 210 liters of breath or 0.10 grams or more per 100 milliliters of urine.” In other words, a driver is deemed “intoxicated” if his/her BAC is 0.08 or more.

Therefore, if the results of a person’s chemical tests show an alcohol concentration at or above these amounts, the driver is deemed to be intoxicated. This is regardless of whether the person’s driving was actually impaired by the consumption of alcohol. If you have any further questions, you should contact an experienced DC DUI lawyer at our firm.

This section explains the criminal penalties associated with driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, and operating while imparied. Please refer to our DC DMV Hearing page to review the administrative penalties (including license revocation) levied by the DC Department of Motor Vehicles.

DC DWI and DUI Laws

To be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in DC, a driver must have allegedly operated a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. No further evidence of intoxication is necessary due to the “per se” provision in the DWI law (DC Code Section 50-2206.01).

Under the same law, a person can be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) by operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08, or “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug or any combination thereof.”

No evidence of a BAC is required for the prosecution of a DUI charge; rather, a prosecutor can call an arresting officer to testify to circumstantial evidence including watery eyes, slurred speech, or bloodshot eyes, and failed sobriety tests to prove a driver was under the influence.

Your DC DUI attorney can help contest this evidence and provide additional evidence and testimony to counter these claims. Driving while intoxicated and driving under the influence have the same penalties.

Penalties in DC

If this is a person’s first DWI or DUI charge, if convicted, the person may face a fine of up to $1,000 and may be sentenced to serve up to 180 days in jail. However, if a person’s BAC is between .20 and .25, they will face a mandatory ten-day jail sentence. Furthermore, if the BAC is between .25 and .30, the driver will face a mandatory fifteen days in jail. Lastly, a BAC above .30 will result, in the case of conviction, in a mandatory twenty days in jail.

If a person has been charged with a DWI or DUI and has received a prior drunk driving conviction within the past fifteen years, she may face a fine of $2,500 to $5,000, and may be imprisonment for at least ten days and up to one year. More than one prior drunk driving conviction in the preceding fifteen years carries a $2,500 to $10,000 fine, and a jail sentence of no more than one year and no less than a mandatory minimum 15-day jail sentence.

Moreover, if one has been charged with driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence and has prior drunk driving convictions (DUI, DWI, or OWI), the enhanced penalties for driving with a high BAC include a longer mandatory jail sentences.

DC DUI laws include additional penalties for impaired drivers transporting a minor. A fine of $500 to $1,000 will be imposed, along with the mandatory jail sentence of five days if the minor was wearing a seat belt or in a car seat.

Conversely, if the minor was not wearing a seat belt or in a car seat the driver will face a mandatory ten days in jail. Please contact a DUI lawyer in DC if you have questions about how these enhanced penalties may apply to your specific case.

DWI Under 21

DC has a “zero tolerance” law for DWI or DUI drivers under 21. If an underage driver has any measurable amount of alcohol in their system, she will be charged according to DWI standards.
In addition, the driver faces charges for using a Fake ID. An attorney in DC can further explain how DUI and fake ID charges may interact in your case.


A person can also be charged with Operating While Impaired (OWI) in DC for operating a motor vehicle “while impaired” by alcohol and/or drugs (DC Code Section 50-2206.14). An arresting officer can use circumstantial evidence, including bloodshot or watery eyes, slurred speech, and failed field sobriety tests to prove a driver was impaired. As with a DUI charge, no chemical test result is required to obtain an OWI conviction.

A first-time OWI conviction can carry up to ninety days in jail, and up to a $1,000 fine. The second conviction for an OWI within a 15-year period carries penalties of up to one year in jail, along with a $1,000 to $2,500 fine. The third or more conviction for an OWI will result in a mandatory ten days in jail, which can be extended up to one year, plus a fine of $1,000 to $5,000. Any prior conviction for operating while impaired, driving while intoxicated, or driving under the influence within the past fifteen years is considered the same for purposes of triggering the additional “repeat offender” penalties.

Any prior conviction for operating while impaired, driving while intoxicated, or driving under the influence within the past fifteen years is considered the same for purposes of triggering the additional “repeat offender” penalties.

Enhanced Penalties for Drugs

If there are certain drugs in a driver’s system, new enhanced penalties will accompany the other penalties the driver is facing. Specifically, if the drugs tested for include any Schedule 1 controlled or chemical substances, phencyclidine (PCP), methadone, morphine or cocaine.

If a blood or urine test identifies these substances in a driver’s system, the driver will face an additional mandatory fifteen days in jail for a first offense. For a second offense, the driver will serve twenty days in jail, and twenty-five days in jail for a third or subsequent offense (DC Code Section 50-2206.13).

This page is adapted with permission from a publication co-authored by David Benowitz, Jason Kalafat, and Shawn Sukumar.

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