Challenging a DUI in Washington, D.C.

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Washington, D.C. law enforcement takes DUI offenses seriously and is known for rarely offering favorable plea bargains. The Office of the Attorney General is responsible for prosecuting these offenses within the district. If you are facing DUI charges, it is important that you contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in the district for assistance.

Elements of DUI

In Washington, D.C., the prosecutor must show two elements in order to secure a conviction for DUI. The first element is that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle. This may seem obvious, but there may be times when a legitimate challenge can be made to this element. The second element is that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating the vehicle.

Challenging the Elements

There are various ways that a criminal defendant can challenge the elements in order to avoid a conviction. Operating a vehicle is defined as having actual physical control over the vehicle. This means that the defendant is capable of putting the vehicle into motion or stopping the vehicle. If police witnessed a criminal defendant driving, there may be little to challenge this assertion. However, if a person is behind a wheel, passed out without the keys, this element may be challenged because the defendant may not have been able to put the vehicle into motion.

A criminal defense lawyer may argue that the defendant was not operating the vehicle or that the state cannot prove that he or she was operating the vehicle, depending on where the vehicle, the defendant and the keys were. A defendant may have been waiting in a parked car with the engine off, waiting for a safe ride. He or she may have been trying to sober up by sleeping his or her car. If the defendant was leaning against his or her vehicle with the keys in his or her hands, his or her criminal defense lawyer may argue that he or she was not in physical control of the vehicle. If the state is unable to establish this element by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant cannot be convicted of the crime.

The next element is more often challenged than the first. To establish that the defendant was impaired, the prosecution must provide evidence that the defendant was impaired. This evidence may include the results of a breathalyzer test, field sobriety test results, the observations of law enforcement officers and similar evidence. This evidence may be challenged by the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer.

The criminal defense lawyer’s strategy to attack the evidence will be based on the evidence against the defendant and the circumstances surrounding the DUI investigation. If the defendant tested above a 0.08 blood alcohol content, the law presumes that the defendant is intoxicated. However, a person’s lawyer may challenge the results to show that the driver was not impaired. He or she may challenge the reliability of the breathalyzer machine. Sometimes these machines may not be properly calibrated, or the person administering the test may not do so properly. The criminal defense lawyer may establish that the law enforcement officer failed to take the proper steps when administering the test.

If the defendant refused to submit to a breathalyzer, the prosecutor may be left only with field sobriety test results to establish evidence of impairment against the defendant. These types of tests are notorious for being unreliable and geared to find impairment. Many sober people have failed a field sobriety test. A law enforcement officer may not have administered these tests correctly. These tests must be very carefully administered to have any indicia of reliability. A criminal defense lawyer may challenge the validity of these tests. He or she may also present alternative reasons for why a defendant did not perform well on these tests, such as the defendant suffering from an illness or having to walk on uneven roadway that affected his or her balance.

Without breathalyzer or field sobriety results, the remaining form of evidence may be the officer’s subjective observations. The officer may testify to such factors as the defendant having bloodshot eyes, having slurred speech or stumbling.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

A criminal defense lawyer can carefully review the evidence against the criminal defendant to lodge a legal strategy that is tailored to the particular circumstances of the case. A criminal defense lawyer will try to challenge the allegations against a criminal defendant in all possible ways and may also try to negotiate a plea bargain.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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