Washington, DC DUI, DWI, and OWI Blog

Last summer, the D.C. council enacted a series of measures that would toughen penalties for DUI convictions, regardless of whether it was the first offense or fifth.

Our D.C. DUI defense lawyers recognize that this has significantly raised the stakes for those who are arrested, with sanctions effectively doubling for each offense.

Now, we see across the country that many other municipalities and states are taking on the issue, effecting a cultural shift that no longer treats a first-time offender as a bonafide criminal as opposed to someone who simply made a poor judgment call.

Let's start with the initiation of the traffic stop. In 42 states, plus D.C., there are administrative license suspension laws for even first-time offenders. These laws allow law enforcement to confiscate a person's license if he or she fails a chemical test. In D.C., that suspension can last anywhere from 2 to 90 days or until the case reaches a disposition. In some cases, work and school privileges may be later extended.

If a person refuses a chemical test, he or she may receive an automatic one-year license suspension.

Then there is the matter of ignition interlocks, a device that requires a driver to pass a breathalyzer test before a car will start. In D.C., the legislature has allowed judicial discretion in determining whether a first-time offender should be forced to have the devices installed.

However, strengthening these laws has become one of the main goals of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 2014. They want to make such action mandatory for all first-time offenders, thereby stripping judges of their discretion.

MADD is a powerful lobbying group, and many states are responding in kind.

In Pennsylvania, legislators are attempting to come up with a compromise. Under the current law, only repeat DUI offenders are mandated to have ignition interlock installed. There had been a proposal to require them first-time offenders shortly after their conviction. There was concern, though, that this let offenders off too easily. So now, the latest proposal involves forcing drivers to serve out half of their suspension before they have the option of obtaining and interlock device and driving again. A second proposal requires that drivers must not fail a breath test on the interlock for at least two months before they can petition to have the device removed - even if it's after their designated sentence.

In New York, a recent law mandates that those with a conditional license who are caught driving drunk will now face felony charges, where previously it was only considered a traffic infraction.

On a national level, the National Transportation Safety Board is pushing for a reduction in the blood-alcohol content cut-off standard, from 0.08 percent down to 0.05 percent.

In D.C., first-time DUi offenders face 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine - double what they did prior to last summer. If a first-time offender has a BAC of 0.20 percent or higher, he or she will receive a mandatory 10 days in jail (where it used to be just five days). A person with a BAC of 0.25 percent or higher will receive 15 mandatory jail days, up from 10. A person with 0.30 percent BAC will receive a mandatory 20 days of incarceration.

Those with children in the car of a DUI face a mandatory five days in jail if the child was belted in properly. If the child was not adequately restrained, that sentence is upped to 10 days.

Commercial operators are considered impaired if their BAC is at or above 0.04 percent, as opposed to the standard 0.08 percent for other drivers.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at 202-596-5716.

It was recently reported that Saturday Night Live alum Chris Kattan was arrested for DUI in California, where authorities soon after released a video of him appearing to botch a number of field sobriety tests.

Authorities would later report he crashed into an unoccupied Department of Transportation vehicle that was parked on the freeway and indicated Kattan revealed he had been using prescription drugs.

Kattan was quoted later as saying that he passed all the tests, was released without bail and still had a driver's license. He further explained he had just returned from a 15-hour flight after touring overseas and was "exhausted."

D.C. DUI defense lawyers would take particular interest in that last statement. If it is true that he passed all field sobriety tests (and a breathalyzer, if it was given), the only real evidence that could be used against him was his confession that he'd been using prescription drugs. Officers might be able to prove impairment by pointing to his supposedly reckless driving and also his own words.

But beyond that, it appears what the police may actually have here is a case of drowsy driving.

There is no question that driving while tired can closely resemble driving while drunk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one out of every six crashes is the result of a driver who is impaired by fatigue. Compare that to about one in every three crashes reportedly caused by drunk drivers.

The NHTSA reports there are about 100,000 crashes in the U.S. annually attributable to drowsy driving. Those result in approximately 1,550 deaths, more than 70,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in economic damages.

But there is a primary difference between drunk driving and drowsy driving, at least from a legal standpoint: One is against the law, the other is not (at least in most cases).

The National Conference of State Legislators issued a report in July 2013 that there are only two states that have approved drowsy driving laws. In Arkansas, a driver who causes a fatal crash after being without sleep for 24 hours can be charged with a class A misdemeanor. In New Jersey, a driver without sleep for 24 hours is considered to be "driving recklessly," and faces the same punishment as a drunk driver.

Other states have enacted days or weeks of recognition or awareness of the issue, but it's still not technically illegal to drive tired. The primary exception would be if you are a commercial driver, in which case you would be beholden to federal hours of service rules.

As of right now, there is no test to determine sleepiness the way there is for intoxication, so it's more of a subjective determination. Additionally, police tend to have little or now training in order to differentiate between drowsiness and chemical intoxication.

Fatigued driving is unquestionably inadvisable for everyone. However, from a criminal liability standpoint, it would be better to prove a person was merely drowsy as opposed to under the influence of a specific substance.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at 202-596-5716.

D.C. DUI defense lawyers have watched in recent years as local lawmakers have made it a point to crack down hard on drunk drivers. Those actions include the reinstatement of the breathalyzer during traffic stops and overall increased penalties for those who are convicted.

The primary focus of those laws has been alcohol use behind the wheel. But we may begin to see legislators turn their focus to drugged driving in light of new research by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Non-alcohol drugs detected in fatally injured drivers in the U.S. has risen sharply between 1999 to 2010, the study authors say, pointing to a dramatic spike in the number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana. This was the most commonly detected non-alcohol drug in drivers involved in fatalities, and the incidence rate has reportedly tripled just in the last decade.

Part of this, no doubt, can be attributed to the fact that the drug is now legal in many places - including D.C. - for medicinal purposes. In Washington state and Colorado, it's now legal for recreational purposes (though those measures were not approved until after the study period).

So what we have, then, are more people in general who are using the drug.

Culling information from federal traffic death statistics, researchers found that of nearly 24,000 drivers who died within an hour of a crash and had their toxicity levels immediately tested, 40 percent tested positive for alcohol. Another 25 percent tested positive for drugs.

What was interesting was that from 1999 to 2010, while the presence of alcohol remained stable, the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs increased from nearly 17 percent in 1999 to more than 28 percent in 2010. For marijuana specifically, the rates increased from a little more than 4 percent to a little more than 12 percent - three times as much.

What we must keep in mind, however, and as the researchers are careful to point out, detection of marijuana in one's system is not necessarily an indicator of intoxication. In fact, it's very likely that many of those included in the study who tested positive for marijuana were not actually impaired at the time of the crash. Perhaps they had consumed the drug a day or several days or even a week earlier.

And this is the difficulty for prosecutors in marijuana DUI cases as well. How can it be proven that the person was in fact intoxicated?

Alcohol is processed very quickly through the system, so detection of it in excess levels is a likely indicator of impairment. The same is not true for marijuana and for many other drugs.

Usually, what prosecutors will use to prove their case in these situations is a combination of the drug test results, witness statements regarding your driving behavior, witness statements regarding your alleged drug use - and your own statements to police and actions at the scene of the crash.

This is why we always advise defendants to keep their interactions with police to an absolute minimum. Avail yourself of the right to remain silent. Insist on speaking to a lawyer before you offer any statement to investigators.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at 202-596-5716.