Washington, DC Alcohol Laws: Constitutional?

Washington, DC alcohol laws apply to its residents. But also to those working or visiting the capital. Breaking the laws isn’t a capital offense.  But it’s still best to know them. And to follow them.

I. Minimum Age Laws


I.   Minimum Age Laws
II.  Alcohol Violations
III. Resources
IV.  Seek Good Health

Young people may want part-time jobs. Hospitality has many of them. But how old must one be to serve alcohol for on-premises consumption? For tending bar? For selling alcohol for off-premises consumption? What do Washington, DC alcohol laws permit?

Adults of any age to hold those jobs. That is, anyone age 18 or older is an adult and may be so employed.

But it is illegal for those under 21 to drink. Any amount. Any time. For any reason. Period. They may not be prescribed alcohol by a doctor. They may not have sacramental wine from a priest. Nor may they be given wine for Seder by a parents.

washington, dc alcohol lawsIt appears that young people are denied their right of religion. This includes adults aged 18, 19 and 20. It is not clear that any presumed harm from the use of wine for religious purposes justifies this. Nor is it clear what public good is served by making criminals of priests and parents doing their duty.

Under Washington, DC alcohol laws, using a false ID to buy alcohol is a criminal act. It is also illegal for those under 21 to drive with any detectable alcohol in their systems.

II. Alcohol Violations

Selling Alcohol

Licensed businesses may serve alcohol between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. They may do so between 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The hours are between and 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Sundays.

washington, dc alcohol lawsThey may serve alcohol between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. the day before a federal holiday. On New Year’s Eve they may serve between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.

Some businesses sell alcohol for consumption off-premises. They include grocery, convenience, and other stores. They may sell alcohol between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. seven days a week.

Alcohol beverage producers may sell their products between 7:00 a.m. and midnight, seven days a week.

It’s a violation of Washington DC alcohol laws to sell alcoholic beverages to anyone under 21. That includes adult active members of the U.S. military.

Buying Alcohol

It’s illegal under the District of Columbia’s alcohol laws for anyone under 21 to buy alcohol. Or attempt to buy it.

A customer must show a valid ID if the alcohol seller asks to see it. It’s illegal to use a false ID to buy or try to buy alcohol. Violators face fines and license suspension.

It’s also illegal to have an open alcohol container in public place that’s not part of an alcohol retailer’s business. Violators face fines of up to $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.

Driving and Alcohol

washington, dc alcohol lawsWashington, DC alcohol laws prohibit driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%. That’s driving while intoxicated (DWI). A BAC of 0.05 to 0.8 is a driving under the influence (DUI). For commercial drivers, a DWI is a BAC of 0.04% or higher. For drivers under age 21, the District has a zero tolerance policy.

The exact penalties for DUI/DWI drivers depend on many factors. They include age, driving history, type of driving license, BAC level, legal representation, and consequences of the offense. Also of importance is the specific judge who hears the case.

Drivers 21 and Older

Officers have the discretion to arrest even drivers 21 or older with a BAC as low as 0.01%. Such drivers may have an option. If they agree to undergo counseling for $400, a judge might decide to drop some penalties .

  • Depending on BAC level, imprisonment from five days to three months and/or a fine from $300 to $10,000.
  • Twelve points added to driving record.
  • License suspension for six months.
Second DUI/DWI within 15 Years

Depending on BAC level, imprisonment from five days to three months and/or a fine from $300 to $10,000.

  • washington, dc alcohol laws

    Community Service

    Twelve points added to driving record.

  • License revoked for one year.
  • Mandatory community service for one month after release from prison.
Third DUI/DWI within 15 Years
  • Depending on BAC level, imprisonment for up to five years and/or a up to $10,000.
  • Twelve points added to driving record.
  • License revoked for two years.
  • Mandatory community service for two month after release from prison.
Drivers Under 21

washington, dc alcohol lawsThe DC’s alcohol laws prohibit those under 21 from driving with any measurable alcohol in their bodies. Virtually all states set the limit at 0.02. They do that for several reasons. One is that alcohol breath testers are unreliable. In fact, they don’t actually measure BAC. They only estimate it. Another reason is because of endogenous ethanol production. That is, everyone produces alcohol naturally within their bodies. And they do it 24/7.

A third reason is that many medications and some foods contain alcohol. Even bread does. Therefore, by setting the illegal limit at 0.02, states reduces the chances of falsely convicting innocent people.

Drivers under 21 are subject to the same penalties listed above for those 21 or older. The actual penalties imposed depend on the specific judge

Driver Rights

All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline submitting to any chemical BAC tests. However, the the District’s alcohol laws punish them for using their right. Punishments include license revocation for one year and addition of points to driving record.

Washington, dc alcohol lawsHowever, there is no legal penalty for refusing to take a field sobriety test. These are highly subjective and notoriously unreliable. For example, about one-third of completely sober people fail them. That is, about one in three people with zero alcohol (BAC of 0.00) can’t pass.

Lawyers strongly urge drivers never to take one. Officers often falsely tell drivers that the law requires taking it. But it does not. They use clever arguments to talk drivers into doing what lawyers tell them not to do. Lawyers say to politely decline and as many times as necessary.

When officers pull over drivers for suspected DUI/DWI, they’re conducting a criminal investigation. It’s perfectly legal for them to mislead, be dishonest, and to lie to suspects in a criminal investigation. If you are a suspect in a crime, the police officer is never your friend or ally.

Discover much more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.

Boating and Alcohol

Washington, DC alcohol laws prohibit boating under the influence (BUI). The penalty for a first BUI is a fine of $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 180 days. A second offense brings a fine of $2,500–$5,000 brings and/or imprisonment for one year. Any later offense trigger a fine of $2,500–$10,000 and/or imprisonment for one year.

Any of these, among many other things, may lead to suspicion of BUI.

Boat registration problem.
Boating violation of any type.
Erratic operation of the boat.
Slurred speech.

When it comes to boating, alcohol and water don’t mix.

III. Washington, DC Alcohol Laws


IV. Seek Good Advice

Law is complex. It changes. Courts reinterpret them. Not surprisingly, lawyers devote years to studying it. Do not rely on this or any other site. And beware. Family and friends may offer advice. Neighbors may give opinions. Coworkers may offer ideas. Smile and thank them. Then ignore what they say.

Get information and advice about Washington, DC alcohol laws from an expert. That’s a lawyer holding a license in the District of Columbia.