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What to Know About DC DUI Cases

The following is an excerpt of an interview with Shawn Sukumar, a DUI lawyer in Washington, DC. Here he answers questions about what people should know about driving under the influence in DC.

What Are The Main Things That An Individual Needs To Know About DC DUI Laws?

DC DUI laws became stricter in August 2012. They increased the maximum penalties that anyone can face for a DUI, and they also increased the minimum penalties that people face for either having previous DUI convictions or for having certain levels of blood alcohol content that are considered to be fairly high. For example, in DC, if you provide a breath sample or a blood sample upon being arrested and your blood alcohol content comes out at a .20 or higher, then you face a mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail, and that has to be served all at once.

The judge is required to sentence you to at least those 10 days in jail. It does not matter if you have a job. It does not matter if you’ve never been arrested. It does not matter who you are, or what else you’ve done, or any alcohol treatment programs that you do; the judge is required to give you at least 10 days in jail if your blood alcohol content is higher than .20. The same 10-day minimum also applies if you’re convicted of a second-offense DUI. Those are the most significant changes to DUI laws that have happened in the past couple of years.

The other very important thing to remember about DUI laws in DC is that DC only requires that you be in physical or operational control of the car, so you don’t actually have to be driving the car in order to be convicted of a DUI. You just have to have the ability to be in control of the car. That means if you are in the driver’s seat and the keys are in the ignition, then that is enough for you to be found guilty of a DUI, because you are in operational control of the vehicle. This is different for people who have cars that don’t require you to put your key in the ignition. For example, in a car with keyless ignition, a person could be in operational control of the vehicle as long as they’re inside the car even if the car is not on or the key is in their pocket, because all they have to do is push the start button to start the car.

What Should Someone Expect From A First-Time DUI Case?

When you first get arrested for a DUI, you will get a court date for about three to four weeks from the date of your arrest. The first court date is your arraignment date. On your arraignment date you should be there with your lawyer, and your lawyer will plead you not guilty and set you a second court date that would be in about another four or five weeks. At that point your lawyer will have the opportunity to go over the police reports and all the evidence the prosecutor plans on using and try to develop some defenses. Those defenses can then be used in negotiations to try to resolve a person’s case in a favorable way or to decide whether or not it’s a good idea to go to trial. A couple of things that you can expect before and on your first court date is that the judge will probably ask you to get assessed for an alcohol program through the court.

How Are The Laws Different For Drivers Under 21 Who Get Arrested For A DUI?

For people over the age of 21, which is the legal age for consuming alcohol, they need to be appreciably impaired by alcohol or have a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher to be deemed under the influence of alcohol. That’s not the same for people who are under 21. If someone is under 21 and driving, then having any alcohol in their system is grounds for a DUI. Even if they blew a .02, for example, that is deemed a DUI. If they refuse the breath test, then even having the smell of alcohol on their breath while driving can be enough to get them a DUI.

Can A DUI Conviction Be Expunged In DC?

In DC, a DUI or OWI conviction can never be expunged. If you are not convicted, so if your charges are dismissed through a negotiated agreement or because you were acquitted at trial, then you can get the DUI or OWI charge expunged through one of two ways. One way is by proving your innocence. If you can actually prove your innocence, then you can request an expungement right away and there is no waiting period. The other alternative is to request that the DUI or OWI be expunged through an interest of justice expungement. There is a four-year waiting period from the day that your case was dismissed to be able to request an expungement that way. You have to be able to show that you’ve had no subsequent arrests in that four-year waiting period and that there is no judicial interest in keeping an arrest on your record. Having an otherwise clean record is helpful and having a job that is dependent on having a clean record is very helpful. There are a lot of things that can be brought up in interest of justice expungement motions that can be useful in getting that arrest record expunged, as long as you were never convicted of the crime.  

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