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DC DUI Myths

The following are seven common myths believed by people that have been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in the District of Columbia. DC DUI lawyer Shawn Sukumar and others have often heard clients espouse these myths.

Myth 1: DUI is a “Simple” Charge

A DUI charge is serious business. The consequences of a DUI conviction can affect a person for her entire life. Over months and years, a person convicted of driving under the influence can expect to pay thousands more in insurance premiums. There is also the possibility of being turned down for a job or a commercial driver’s license. An experienced attorney is prepared to fight for your rights and to help avoid the many hidden costs of a DUI conviction (see Section 2).

Myth 2: If an Officer Did not Read me my Miranda Rights, the Case Will be Dismissed

A common misconception, based upon countless movies and television shows, is that the police must always advise a suspect of her rights and allow her to call an attorney. Under the Miranda doctrine, the government cannot use a defendant’s statements against her if such statements were the result of custodial interrogation without prior warnings as to the defendant’s rights. Courts have held, however, that this principle generally does not apply to pre-arrest traffic stop interrogations, including field sobriety testing.

Myth 3: Any Attorney Can Handle a DUI Case

False. All attorneys are not created equal. DUI defense is a complex field. It involves physical, mental, emotional, scientific, technical, and factual issues that are unique to each case. Timing is of vital importance in DUI cases. If certain defenses are not explored and raised within a certain time, they may be forever lost. A quality DUI attorney will give each case the close attention it deserves, working diligently to gather evidence to develop the strongest defense possible. Anyone charged with a DUI should seek out an experienced, qualified DUI attorney immediately.

Myth 4: I Should Hire the Cheapest Lawyer Available

A low fee often leads to low-quality service because the lawyer’s goal is to retain as many clients as possible. Lawyers who charge unusually low fees have an incentive to push their clients to accept the government’s first plea offer and take on the next case for a discounted fee. Low fees up-front often cost a client more in hidden costs later. Be wary of bargain prices with DUI attorneys. Remember, as with most things in life, you usually get what you pay for.

Myth 5: Administrative Hearings Aren’t Important

After an arrest for DUI, time is of the essence. Requesting a hearing immediately after your arrest is the only way to save your driver’s license. If you choose not to act or fail to act quickly, you may not be able to protect your driving privileges, which can have a host of negative effects on employment and quality of life.

Myth 6: Driving After Your License Has Been Suspended is No Big Deal

Driving after your license has been suspended is no big deal. Driving under any circumstances after your license has been suspended could land you in jail. Not only will another driving-related arrest make it harder to defend yourself in the DUI case but it will also lengthen any suspension period. In fact, license suspensions from the Department of Motor Vehicles in DC can sometimes be a whole other ordeal.

Myth 7: The Government’s First Plea Offer is the Best Plea Offer

The government’s first plea offer is usually not the best deal. Some attorneys will urge clients to accept the first plea offer to dispose of the case with as little effort instead of requiring the government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If you work with a DUI lawyer who understands how to negotiate with the prosecution based on years of experience, he or she may be able to more effectively negotiate in your favor, compared to an attorney who has less experience or tends to be less aggressive.

Myth 8: Blood Alcohol Content is a Reliable and Consistent Indicator of Driver Impairment

So, it could be argued that blood alcohol content is not a consistent indicator of impairment because the legislators continuously lower the level at which a person’s blood alcohol content presumes their impairment. What that means is that one person with a .05 could be completely fine to drive and nonetheless concluded to be impaired or another person with a .05 can be completely drunk and obviously impaired even if they didn’t have a blood alcohol content score above a .05.

But the way the laws are going, the presumption of impairment based on certain blood alcohol content levels is most likely going to be getting lower, not higher.

Under DC laws, the per se level for impairments when it comes to a person’s blood alcohol level is .08. What that means is that if a person is arrested and provides a breath sample and the person’s breath alcohol content is .08 or higher, then that person is presumed to be an impaired driver even if the person shows no actual signs of impairment.

That level has been consistently getting lower and lower as time goes on and most likely will be lowering again down to .05 in the coming years.

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

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