Washington, DC DUI, DWI, and OWI Blog

Three friends were recently arrested for DUI, all stemming from the same incident.

The first woman was pulled over after a traffic officer in New Jersey noticed her swerving. She was arrested on a charge of DUI and taken to the local police station for processing. There, she called a friend to come pick her up.

That friend drove to the station and was working to fill out the necessary paperwork when the officer in the lobby noticed she seemed intoxicated as well. She failed a field sobriety test in the lobby and was subsequently also arrested for DUI. She received an additional charge of drug possession for pills she had in her purse for which she reportedly did not have a prescription.

At that point, both women contacted a third friend to come get them both. The officer in the lobby noted that he too seemed impaired. He also failed a field sobriety test and was subsequently arrested.

In the end, a fourth friend was called to pick up all three. Thankfully, that person was deemed sober enough to drive.

The case has garnered national headlines in the "Weird News" section of many media outlets.

D.C. DUI attorneys know that the incident isn't so much "weird" as it is troubling. It underscores the fact that often, people are poor judges of the degree to which they may be considered intoxicated under the law.

This is an important point to drive home ahead of the many new year's celebrations that are soon to be held.

A study published earlier this year in The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that designated sober drivers were frequently not entirely sober themselves. While 65 percent had no blood-alcohol content, 17 percent registered somewhere between a 0.02 percent to 0.049 percent. Another 18 percent of designated drivers measured at 0.05 percent or higher.

What this revealed was that "designated drivers" were so chosen not necessarily because they were sober, but because they had drank the least within the group.

For those planning to imbibe this New Year's Eve, this is an important distinction.

There is nothing illegal about drinking alcohol before you drive, unless you are a minor. The problem arises when you begin to display evidence of intoxication or when your blood-alcohol level exceeds the statutory maximum of 0.08 percent.

Because everyone's metabolism works differently, there are cases in which a person's blood-alcohol level could exceed that 0.08 percent, yet he or she not actually intoxicated. However, that doesn't matter under the law.

It's worth noting that an officer can arrest you for DUI even if you have a blood-alcohol level that is below 0.08 percent, so long as the officer establishes that you appeared to be impaired. Usually, this is done through field sobriety tests. These cases don't stand up as well in court, but they do sometimes result in convictions.

The best way to avoid a DUI arrest this holiday season is to designate a driver who is 100 percent sober. But if you are arrested, make sure to clarify that the person picking you up hasn't been drinking as well. The next call you make should be to an experienced DUI defense lawyer.

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

When drivers refuse to submit to breathalyzer testing in D.C., it frustrates police and prosecutors to no end.

D.C. Code Ann. 50-1902 is the implied consent statute that holds anyone who operates a motor vehicle in the district is determined to have given consent to submission to a breathalyzer or blood analysis testing. However, a person can withdraw or negate the implied consent by refusing to take the test. But such a refusal will cost you: A mandatory 12-month revocation of your license. If you have no license, you will be denied issuance of one for a period of one year.

While your refusal can be used against you in criminal DUI proceedings, it is not in and of itself proof that you were driving under the influence. That's what makes it so tough for prosecutors, who then must prove their case absent any biological, scientific proof of your intoxication. (Police can forcibly extract a blood sample from you after arrest, but only after first obtaining a warrant.)

Still, many states are cracking down on refusals, making it tougher to use this as a defense.

A recent state supreme court decision out of Vermont raised interesting questions with regard to breathalyzer refusals relative to enhanced penalties for repeat DUI offenders.

In Vermont v. Wainwright, the state high court reversed the findings of two lower courts, ruling that someone with previous DUI convictions who refuses a breathalyzer can still face enhanced DUI penalties under the law.

In Vermont, the law says that for each successive DUI conviction, a person will face harsher penalties. This would be quite straightforward, but for the issue of breathalyzer refusals.

One of the defendants was convicted of DUI in 2008. He was subsequently arrested in 2012 for a second DUI after refusing to submit to a blood test when stopped by an officer. Prosecutors in the case argued that he should receive the tougher, second-offense penalty (a maximum two years behind bars and a $1,500 fine). However, the judge in that case found there was not enough evidence to support the second DUI conviction. (After all, there was no tangible evidence that his blood-alcohol level exceeded the state's 0.08 percent maximum.) As such, his penalties would only include those for refusal to submit to the test.

In the second case, the defendant had three prior DUI convictions when he refused to submit to alcohol testing during a stop. Prosecutors charged him with a fourth DUI. But again, the judge found a lack of evidence to support that charge.

Prosecutors in both cases still wanted the defendants to face the harsher penalties. In Vermont, those with prior convictions can not refuse a breathalyzer without facing criminal sanctions. While in most Vermont DUI cases, refusal of an alcohol test may be admissible as evidence in the criminal case, it is not a crime in and of itself - unless the person has a previous DUI conviction.

This is where it got confusing. The question was: Could that older DUI conviction be used to formulate the basis for a charge of criminal refusal as well as lay the foundation for harsher penalties?

The lower court said no.

The state supreme court, however, reversed the lower court rulings in both cases, reasoning that the legislative intent was to allow the same prior DUI conviction to be used as a basis for both an element of the criminal refusal case, as well as an enhancement to the penalty for refusal. The court determined that lawmakers had wanted for there to be increased punishments for multiple violations of the DUI law, regardless of how it was violated. That could include having a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer or some other means.

However, the court's decision was not unanimous. The dissenting justice argued that any lack of clarity in the law should be decided in favor of the defendants.

The bottom line for D.C. DUI offenders is that DUI law is not always crystal clear in its interpretation. If you aren't sure about your options following a DUI arrest, contact an experienced DUI lawyer to explain your rights.

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

Starting on New Year's Day, marijuana retailers in Colorado will begin legally selling the drug for recreational purposes. It will be the first state ever where this will occur, and it's a rarity even on a global scale.

But along with this new-found progressiveness is a troubling marijuana law pertaining to motorists. It's the state's marijuana DUI law, which holds that a person driving with five nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood will be deemed intoxicated and can thus be charged with DUI.

Many medical professionals contend there is not enough evidence to tie this level of THC to impairment. Advocates are continuing to press this issue, though as the deputy director of NORML pointed out in a recent interview, "Marijuana policy has never been driven by science in this country."

Here in D.C., as in Colorado, it's illegal to drive while you are impaired by any drug. But unlike impairment by alcohol, authorities have far fewer means by which to prove drug intoxication. While alcohol impairment for drivers is pretty universally accepted as when one has a blood-alcohol level greater than 0.08 percent. This is generally measured through either a breathalyzer test or a blood sample.

Because the body relieves itself of alcohol fairly quickly, the presence of it in high doses is a fair indication of intoxication (though D.C. DUI defense lawyers are adept at finding ways to challenge the methods of testing and the means through which they were procured).

The process by which the body relieves itself of marijuana and other drugs, however, is different. Certain substances can remain in one's system long after consumption - sometimes a month or more. Particularly in cases where one is a regular user of such substances, the amount of the drugs' active agents may be stored at high levels in the body. This does not mean that the person is still high days or even hours after consumption.

Still, this new law in Colorado has resulted in an uptick of marijuana DUI arrests, at least in the Denver area, according to local news sites. Some of those cases involve medical marijuana patients who use the drug regularly. Even though arresting officers had noted few if any signs of impairment by these drivers, their THC levels crossed the threshold, and they were subsequently arrested.

With the state now allowing the drug to be used recreationally, we can expect to see many more such cases.

But Colorado's law is not even the worst. In some states, like Arizona and Oklahoma, there are zero tolerance laws pertaining to drugged driving, meaning if you are caught with any amount of illegal drugs in your system, you can be arrested for DUI.

Sale and possession of marijuana is not legal in D.C. without a prescription, though possession is expected to be decriminalized by council sometime next year. However, the district does not have a law that specifies a THC-level at which a driver is deemed impaired. That means, for now at least, police and prosecutors have to rely on more subjective means of determining impairment. That means the evidence in these cases is less concrete, and it may be easier to have your case pleaded down or even dismissed entirely.

In any case, never assume that you're better off simply pleading guilty.

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