The Danger of Blowing in DC

The holiday season provides a lot of reasons for people to visit the District of Columbia.  Be it shopping, gatherings with friends or family, or attending any type of holiday party, people tend to flow into the District around holiday time.  And along with these celebrations, often times alcohol tends to flow a little heavier than usual.  Folks who are planning to head into the District need to take extra precautions to avoid getting behind the wheel.  That goes without saying.  But for those who do get behind the wheel and find themselves the unfortunate subjects of a DUI stop in DC, it is the information that they DO NOT know which can lead to potentially serious consequences.  What is my motive behind that somewhat cryptic statement?

Consider this:  there are three separate police agencies that are actively looking to arrest drivers for suspicion of DUI.  The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) and the U.S. Park Police (USPP) all patrol the city for possible DUI arrests.  And all three agencies seek to do one thing: gather as much evidence as possible in order to convict a driver of DUI.  This evidence comes from many sources, such as statements from the driver, observations of the driver’s physical appearance, performance on standardized field sobriety tests, and chemical testing in the form of breath tests or urine tests.

A driver who is stopped for suspicion of DUI always has choices to make.  The driver can…and should…decline to answer any questions from the officer (questions such as “have you been drinking?”) and should decline to perform standardized field sobriety tests.  If the driver participates, then the driver is only providing information to an officer that can and will be used to convict the driver at trial.  The driver will likely be arrested no matter what…it is better to be arrested and provide no evidence vs. being arrested and providing lots of evidence!

But the most pressure from law enforcement will come when it is time for the driver to submit to chemical testing…and the most danger to the driver lies there as well.  Under DC law, known as the “DC Implied Consent Act,” drivers who are suspected of DUI are presumed to have consented to submit to two chemical tests.  These tests typically come in the form of breath tests (drivers arrested by MPD will be asked to submit to urine tests).  The law requires the police officer to advise the driver of their rights under the Act, and to inform the driver of the consequences of a refusal.  These refusal consequences include suspension of the driver’s DC driving privileges for a year, the fact that the driver’s refusal may be used against the driver at trial, and how the driver’s refusal may render the driver ineligible for a plea deal that could result in the dismissal of the charges.

The driver will no doubt feel enormous pressure from the officer to submit to chemical testing.  There will be threats to the driver’s license, promises that the refusal will lead a conviction, and perhaps assurances that the officer won’t try to “help” get a lesser charge against the driver.  Here is what the officer is not telling the driver. Under DC law, if a driver submits to chemical testing and the tests are above a certain level (.20 for breath and .25 for urine), and if those scores come into evidence as part of the driver’s conviction, then the driver faces a mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least 5 days.

The judge will not have any discretion regarding the jail time.  It will not matter if it is the driver’s first offense, or if the driver completed alcohol counseling.  If the driver blows a .20 or above (or .25 or above on a urine test) and the driver is convicted based on those scores, then the driver goes to jail for at least 5 days.  End of story.

At no time will the officer advise the driver of this consequence.  The police will advise the driver of the consequences of refusal. But they do not advise of the consequences if the driver submits to testing.  And those consequences, which include jail time, are far more severe than the consequences of refusal.  And that leaves drivers with the only clear choice.  If a driver is arrested on suspicion of DUI in DC, then the driver should refuse chemical testing.  If the driver submits, the driver succeeds only in providing more evidence to the officers…and also will be subject to the risk of mandatory jail time if convicted.

Drivers should always play it safe by not getting behind the wheel if a driver has been drinking.  But if the driver is arrested for DUI, then the safest option is to refuse.  Do not blow in DC.

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