To avoid a DWI in Washington, DC, it’s important to know at least six things. The same is true for a DUI or a OWI, which are defined later. The more you know about drinking and driving, the better you can protect yourself.
I. The Costs
II. DWI, DUI, or OWI?
IV. Field Sobriety Tests
V. Avoid Arrest
VI. Escape Arrest Entirely
I. The Costs
The cost of a DWI in Washington is expensive…very expensive. The same is true for a DUI, or an OWI (defined below). And this is true even if you’re innocent. But it’s even more expensive if you’re found guilty.
The exact cost of a DWI, DUI, or OWI defense varies widely. Competent lawyers charge more than “ambulance chasers.” Such cases in the District of Columbia are unusually time consuming to defend. That alone increases the cost.
In addition, the complexity of cases is highly variable. A first-time offense is easier to defend (takes less time) than that of a repeat offender. A case involving a crash involving injury or death is even more complex. As is one in which the offender had a small child in the vehicle.
So asking lawyers how much they charge per hour is not helpful. It’s like asking home builders how much they charge for building houses.
That said, the typical cost of a typical DWI in Washington appears to be in the range of $2,500 to $4,000. Ouch!
Unreliable Breathalyzer Tests.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Body?
The costs of fines, court costs, property damage, medical expenses, possible loss of employment, increased insurance rates, and other expenses can be high. They can easily exceed those of lawyer fees and expenses. This means that the total financial impact of a DWI in Washington can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars.
Of course there are other costs as well. They may include driving license suspension, pain and suffering, embarrassment, loss of friendships, and many others problems.
Knowing the high costs of a DWI, DUI, or OWI can help us try to avoid them. It’s a good motivation.
II. What’s DWI, DUI, & OWI?
The most serious “drunk driving” charge is driving while intoxicated or DWI in Washington. This is driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) 0f 0.08% or higher.
However, for drivers under age 21, DWI is driving with any measurable BAC. Most jurisdictions set the limit at 0.02. That’s because” breathalyzers” or alcohol breath testers are unreliable. In fact, they don’t actually measure BAC. They only estimate it. (BAC can only be measured by analyzing a sample of blood itself.) Because of their unreliability, not all states permit their use.
Another reason for setting the limit at 0.02 is because everyone of any age naturally produces alcohol within their bodies 24/7. Of course, that includes all young drivers. Yet another reason is that many medications and foods contain alcohol. Surprisingly, baked products, including bread does. And there are many others.
Ignoring these important facts means that innocent people under 21 can be falsely convicted of DWI.
Next most serious offense is driving under the influence (DUI). This is driving with a BAC of 0.05 but lower than 0.80.
The District of Columbia defines operating while impaired (OWI) in this way. “[I]t is a crime to operate (or be in physical control) of any vehicle while one’s ability to operate the vehicle is impaired by alcohol and/or any drug(s).”
OWI is insurance for law enforcement. If a person has a BAC lower than 0.05%, they can still be charged with OWI. Or if a driver has enough medication to effect their driving, they can be charged with a crime.
The exact penalties imposed for a OWI, DUI, or DWI in Washington vary. Many factors cause these differences. They include such things as these.
• Driver’s Age.
• Type of license.
• Estimated BAC.
• The impairing substance(s)
• Any prior DWIs.
• Consequences of the DUI, if any (property damage, injuries, etc.)
• Any minors in the vehicle.
• Skill of driver’s attorney.
• Characteristics of driver (demeanor in court, race, socio-economic status, etc.)
• Beliefs and personality of judge hearing the case. That’s just the luck of the draw.
The penalty for a first DWI in Washington is a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for up to 180 days. However, neither is required by law. But if the BAC is 0.20% or higher, the minimum mandatory incarceration is ten days. If it’s 0.25% or higher, the required imprisonment is 15 days. And if the BAC is over 0.30% or higher, it’s at least 20 days behind bars.
A second DUI within 15 years increases the penalties. The fine is$2,500 to $5,000 and 10 days to one year of imprisonment. But if the BAC is 0.25 or more, there’s at least 15 days days of mandatory imprisonment. For a BAC 0.30% or higher, it’s at least 25 days incarceration.
A third conviction within 15 years increases penalties. The fine is $2,500 to $10,000. And the driver must give up freedom for at least 15 days. If the BAC is at least 0.20%, it’s incarceration for at least 20 days. For a BAC of of at least 0.25%, it’s at least 25 days in the slammer. And if the BAC is at least 0.30, it’s loss of freedom for at least 30 days.
The penalty for a first DUI conviction is a fine of $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail. However, if the BAC is 0.20% or more, there’s a 10 day mandatory imprisonment of 10 days. It’s increased to 15 days if the BAC is at least 0.25%. And it increases to 20 days if the BAC is at least 0.30%.
A second DUI within 15 years is punished with a fine of $2,500 to $5,000 and incarceration of 10 days to one year. If the BAC was at least 0.25%, the sentence is at least 15 days in jail. And if the BAC was at least 0.30%, the imprisonment is at least 25 days.
If a third or subsequent DUI occurs within 15 years, the punishment increases. It’s a fine of $2,500 to $10,000 and 15 days to one year behind bars. But if the BAC was at least 0.020%, jail time is at least 20 days. When the alcohol concentration is at least 0.250, incarceration is for at least 25 days. If the concentration rises above 0.30, incarceration starts at 30 days.
A first OWI conviction is penalized with a $500 fine and imprisonment for up to 90 days. A second conviction within 15 years carries a fine of $1,000 to $2,500 and jail for five days to one year. If a third or subsequent OWI occurs within that period, it’s punished with a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and imprisonment for ten days to one year.
IV. Field Sobriety Tests
Although alcohol breath testers are unreliable, jurisdictions require drivers to submit to them. However, no jurisdiction in the U.S. requires drivers to submit to a field sobriety test.
Field sobriety tests are highly subjective and lack validity. For example, about one-third of completely sober people (0.00% BAC) fail them under ideal conditions. And taking one on an uneven street after being pulled over and frightened is far from ideal.
Therefore, lawyers urge drivers never to submit to any field sobriety test. Officers have tricky ways to convince drivers to take them. They may falsely say the the law requires it. An officer who pulls over a driver for suspected impairment is conducting a criminal investigation. The officer may legally lie to you. Remember that if you are a suspect in a crime, the police officer is your adversary.
Learn more about field sobriety tests. Also, learn What to Do if Pulled Over by police. Knowledgereally is power to protect yourself.
V. Avoid Arrest
Clearly, the best way to avoid a DWI, DUI, or OWI is not to drink, do drugs, or over-medicate. Another good choice is to use a Designated Driver or use public transportation.
Most drivers enjoy drinking alcohol, at least on occasion. So how can drivers drink before driving, yet avoid arrest? The answer is simple. Maintain a low BAC.
Following a few guidelines can help keep a low BAC.
- Remember that standard drinks of beer, wine and spirits contain the virtually same amount of alcohol.
- Drink no more than one standard drink per hour. Preferably less.
- Avoid non-standard drinks. This makes it easier to keep track of alcohol intake.
- Be sure to eat and snack while drinking. This is essential!
- Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
- Accept an alcoholic drink only when it fits your consumption schedule.
- Don’t play drinking games.
VI. Escape Arrest Entirely….It’s Easy, at least for Some!
It appears that dozens of members of Congress each and every year escape DWI/DUI arrests. They do so by invoking their congressional privilege of immunity (Article one, Section 6).
The privilege was originally provided over 200 years ago to protect members of Congress from politically-motivated arrests made in an effort to prevent then from voting or otherwise performing their official duties.
Of course, the privilege of immunity serves no useful purpose today. It’s an affront to law-abiding citizens.
Have fun. Get the scoop on politicians and alcohol. Visit
There are many pressures that could be applied to discourage its outrageous misuse. For example, the use of the privilege by a senator or representative from a state could be used to lower that state’s score used by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in calculating the state’s annual “grade.” However, the problem is being completely ignored by everyone and the travesty continues.
Arrested for a DWI in Washington?
This website strongly opposes impaired driving. But it also supports the U.S. Constitution and the rights it grants both the innocent and the guilty.
If you’re charged with a DWI in Washington, immediately contact a lawyer who specializes in defending drinking and driving charges. Even better is a lawyer whose practice is limited to that specialty.
The DC Bar (lawyer) Association provides free phone and e-mail lawyer referral. Also, Martindale-Hubbard provides a free on-line lawyer referal service. You can identify lawyers by specialty, geographic area, and both client and peer evaluations.
Don’t rely on this or any other site for legal information.
Resources on a DWI in Washington
Brezina, C. I’ve Gotten a DWI/DUI, Now What? NY: Rosen, 2016.
CDC. Teen Drinking and Driving. Atlanta: 2012. (website)
___. Impaired Driving. Washington: 2018. (website)
Gillespie, L. Police Encounters. Know Your Rights. Gillespie, 2014.
Hudson, T. The Drinker’s Guide to Driving: The Secrets of DUI, From One of America’s Top DUI Lawyers. Cork: BookBaby, 2013.
Keech, C. & Fairchild, C. Dude, What are My Rights? Kansas City, MO: Keechild, 2014.
Lauterjung, L. DUI law for Drivers. How to Avoid DUI Arrests and How to Handle a DUI Stop. Lauterjung, 2012.
Nevels, T. Avoid DWI and Marijuana Charges. Cork: BookBaby, 2015.
NHTSA. Drunk Driving. Washington: 2018. (website)
Sagsletter, R. Rights During a Police Stop / DUI in the United States. What Officers Can and Cannot Do. Denver, CO: Outskirts, 2012.
Specialized but Useful:
Alpert, R. DWI Investigation & Prosecution. Austin, TX: Texas District & County Attorneys Assn, 2005.
Taylor, L., and Oberman, S. Drunk Driving Defense. Frederick, MD: Aspen, 7th ed., 2010.