Washington, DC DUI, DWI, and OWI Blog











I have done a lot consultations for prospective clients looking to hire a DUI lawyer in Washington, DC.  One of the most common things I hear from the person is that he or she did fine on the field sobriety test.  Unfortunately, I am fairly certain the police report will tell a different story.  The police report will probably say that the driver failed every part of every test.  This is the police report (PD-163) that you do not get to see until your first court date.  You can go the station and ask for a copy before your trial date but it will be a public copy that does not have many details other than the reason for the arrest.  It will probably just have the date and time of the arrest and state there was suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

You are probably wondering how the police could be saying you police you failed when you were there and know you did fine.  The problem is that the tests the police give you are not like a normal test.  When you were in high school you probably remember your math teacher telling your there was a pop quiz.  You got that sinking feeling in your stomach and your pulse started to race.  When you get the quiz, one of the two things will likely happen.  You will know most of the answers because you know how to solve the problems or you won’t.  For the most part you will know if you are getting the answers right (or close to right) and whether you are passing the test.  In other words, you know what is expected of you and you know the criteria on which you are being graded.  If your friend asked you how you did on the quiz you would have an answer.  If your friend asked you what you got for part 3, you could tell him.

The test given to you by the Washington, DC police is called the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) and was created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  This “battery of tests” is designed to determine if someone is under the influence of alcohol.  The only thing that makes the SFSTs similar to your math test is you didn’t see it coming.  Unlike your math test, you have no idea what you are being graded on.  Take the eye test for example, that is what NHTSA (pronounced “Nit-Sa”) calls the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN).  What they are looking for is an involuntary twitching (nystagmus) of the eye while you are looking (gazing) side to side to side (horizontally). There is no way you can tell if you are exhibiting nystagmus.  On the other hand, the police officer is not a properly trained medical professional so he or she probably can’t tell either.  However, their default response seems to be write down in the police report that you failed.

Specifically, they are looking for the three clues in on the HGN test.  They are looking for lack of smooth pursuit, distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation, and the onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees.  The officer is instructed to check both eyes for these clues making a total of 6 six clues of impairment, or three clues in each eye.  If you failed every part of the HGN test, the officer would write that the suspect demonstrated 6 out of a total of 6 clues of impairment on the HGN portion of the SFTS.  Almost every police report says the officer observed 6 out of 6 clues of impairment.  Unlike your math test, if your friend asked you how you did on the third part of the HGN test, you wouldn’t even know that there was a part three.

An experienced DUI defense attorney can interpret the results and often demonstrate to the court the officer’s lack of expertise on the administration and interpretation of the HGN test.  If you have been arrested for a DUI in Washington, DC, you should contact an attorney immediately.

In part two of this series, I will discuss Walk and Turn test used in the SFTSs.

As an attorney who regularly defends people being investigated for Hit and Run in Washington, DC, I often get calls from people have been contacted by an MPD Hit and Run Coordinator.  I generally hear one of two different stories.

The first involves someone who was not driving their car on the date and time of the incident alleged to by the hit and run coordinator.  Perhaps you were out of town when the collision occurred.  Perhaps you had lent the car to someone else.  Maybe a witness just gave a partial license plate number that was similar to yours but not actually your plate number.  When you get called by the police officer, it may be tempting to speak with them on the phone or come in for an interview.  After all, you did nothing wrong so why not talk to the police, you may be thinking. Regardless of how logical this seems, I strongly advise you to speak with a Washington, DC hit and run lawyer before speaking with any officer.  The officer is only interested in getting you to talk your way into incriminating yourself.  Even if your answers seem harmless, they may result in you being charged with a crime.  The actual name of a “hit and run” charge in the District of Columbia is Leaving after Colliding (LAC).  If the collision resulted in only property damage (the other person’s car), then it will charged as LAC-PD (Property Damage).  If the collision resulted in personal injury, then it will be charged as LAC-PI (Personal Injury).  These are misdemeanor criminal charges punishable but up to six months in jail and a fine.  Please note that if you are contacted by the Hit and Run Coordinator or another DC MPD officer, it is best not to deny anything either.  That may be just as bad as admitting guilt or confessing.  Simply tell the officer that you are not going to answer questions or make any statements without an attorney present.  I don’t care if you have to say this five times.

The second story I often hear from people who call were involved in a collision but left the scene because they were scared for their safety or unaware that any property was damaged, or a person was hurt.  This may be where two cars are in a minor collision.  You get out to the car and check that the other driver and their vehicle is okay.  You don’t see any damage, so you understandably drive away.  Later you are contacted by a Hit and Run Coordinator asking you about the accident.  Again, you should call a lawyer who represents people charged with criminal traffic violations in Washington, DC.  Even if you are planning on giving a reasonable explanation to what happened, it is best to call an attorney first.  This officer is only calling to get you to incriminate yourself.

There are a variety of things an experienced DC criminal defense lawyer can do to help you if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.  You may be able to avoid being charged with any crime in Washington, DC.  If you are charged, you may be able to seriously reduce the chances you are convicted.  However, I want to be clear that everyone’s situation is different and a lot will depend on the facts in your specific case.  

You are driving your car in DC.  The same car you have been driving for years with the same object hanging from the rear view mirror that you have had since high school.  It might be the tassel from your graduation cap, a religious medallion, maybe an air freshener as the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) officers seem to like to hand from their rear view mirrors.  All of a sudden you see red and blue lights flashing and get pulled over for driving with an “object hanging as to obstruct.”

According to the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations:

“No vehicle operated on the highways of the District shall have any object attached to or suspended from the rear view mirror or rear view mirror bracket; or have any object attached to or suspended from the windshield, the rear window, the front side windows, or the frame of the windshield, rear window, or any front side window.” ( DCMR 22-2213.7)

This means that the police in Washington, DC can stop you if you have anything at all hanging on your rear view mirror.  These types of stops have been the subject of a great deal controversy for years.  The police often use this or other seemingly minor traffic infracts as a pretext to search the car or question the driver.  It is very rare that a car is stopped solely for the purpose of issuing a ticket for having an air freshener handing in the window.  They police are hoping they will find drugs or guns, or find someone who is driving under the influence of alcohol.

While every situation is different, you should speak with your Washington, DC DUI attorney if you have been stopped for having something hanging on your rear view mirror.  You attorney may wish to file a motion to suppress evidence based upon an illegal search and seizure of your vehicle.  While it is true that this is an a real traffic infraction in the District of Columbia, the government still needs to prove that the police were really able to see that small object handing on your mirror, at night, from behind you, while traveling at 25 miles an hour.

If the court determines that your vehicle was stopped in violation for your Forth Amendment Right to free from unreasonable search and seizure, anything that stems from that illegal traffic stop is not admissible at trial.  This basically means that if your lawyer’s motion to suppress evidence is granted in a Washington, DC DUI case, the case against you is over because they government can’t introduce any evidence against you at trial connected with the stop of your vehicle.