First Time DUI Charges in DC

Even if a person has never been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or any criminal offense before, prosecutors in Washington, DC handle DUI charges vigorously. This means that prosecutors will file charges on nearly every single DUI allegation and will move forward on prosecuting every single case. Contact

Contact a DC DUI lawyer if you are facing driving under the influence charges for the first time.

Penalties for a First Time DUI Conviction

The maximum penalty a person will face for a first time DUI is 180 days in jail. For most first-time DUIs, defendants do not face mandatory jail time. However, if a person provides a sample of their blood, breath or urine upon their arrest, and the result of the test demonstrates a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .20 or higher, that first time offender will be eligible for a mandatory minimum ten days of jail time based solely on the high BAC level.

In the event the person provided a urine sample upon their arrest, and the result in urine alcohol content was a .25 or higher, then that person would face a mandatory minimum of ten days in jail. The mandatory minimum level of jail time increases as the blood, breath or urine alcohol content increases past .20.

There are also other circumstances when a first-time DUI offender can receive mandatory jail time. This can be true if a first time DUI defendant is convicted of a DUI and the person’s blood or urine contained certain serious drugs including heroin, PCP, or cocaine. When serious drugs are involved, even if a person’s alcohol content was below .20 and they face a first offense conviction, the defendant would be eligible for mandatory jail time. There is also a possibility for mandatory jail time if a person is convicted of a DUI and had a minor in the car with them. In any of these circumstances, a person’s maximum penalty is still 180 days in jail.

Diversion Programs

There are sometimes diversion program options available in first offense DUI cases. Through negotiations with prosecutors, someone with a first time DUI charge may be eligible for the deferred sentencing agreement between prosecutors and defense lawyers. The person pleads guilty and has their sentencing date pushed back by a specified period of time. During the time the person is on probation, if they fulfill certain conditions which may include not being arrested again, taking alcohol programs or alcohol classes, and doing community service, they can withdraw their guilty plea so their charges are dismissed and there is no conviction on their record at the end of the deferral period.

Not every first time DUI case in DC is eligible for deferred sentencing. DUI defense lawyers in DC who are familiar with DC rules and procedures can discuss with prosecutors to put their client in the best possible position to make them eligible for that kind of favorable treatment.

First Time DUI Hearings

First time DUI cases are heard in the same courthouse as second offense DUIs or subsequent DUIs. Every criminal charge prosecuted under local DC laws is heard in DC at the District of Columbia Superior Court. The DC Superior Court is the court of the general jurisdiction in the District that handles local criminal cases, civil cases, juvenile matters, family matters and other kinds of local District of Columbia matters.

Federal crimes are handled at the United States District Court in DC, which is separate from the DC Superior Court. DUI cases in DC, even those that take place on interstate highways or in nearby federal buildings are almost never handled in the federal court. For the most part, first, second, third, or fourth time DUI offenses, regardless of where they happened in DC, are typically handled in the DC Superior Court.

Alternative Sentencing in DC DUI Cases

There is no diversion program for DUI cases. However, in some circumstances, the Attorney General’s Office extends deferred sentencing offers to first-time offenders. The eligibility requirements for deferred sentencing can be very strict. They can include having a blood alcohol content of .10 or lower and that the DUI case does not include a traffic accident.

These are not necessarily strict policies but they are the standard requirements for the Attorney General’s Office to make a deferred sentencing offer to a defendant who is facing a first offense DUI.

Deferred Sentencing

Deferred sentencing is an agreement whereby someone enters a guilty plea but is not sentenced right away. The sentencing day is pushed back by several months. In the meantime, a person can complete certain requirements including community service, alcohol programs, a Victim Impact Panel, traffic safety programs, or various other requirements. If a person completes all of the requirements at the end of the deferral period, they will have the opportunity to withdraw their guilty plea and their charges will be completely dismissed, so their record remains clean.

The prosecutor’s offices have increasingly narrowed the types of cases where they make deferred sentencing agreement offers. This is why it is important for a DUI defense attorney to negotiate aggressively with prosecutors to try and get over the several hurdles that the prosecutor’s office has erected to make fewer and fewer people eligible for these kinds of favorable agreements.

Negotiating DC DUI Cases with Prosecutors

The options available for negotiating first time DUI charges with a defense have decreased over time. Several years back in nearly every first time DUI offense, prosecutors would make diversion offers for first time DUI offenders. Most of the time, first time DUI offenders could take an alcohol class in exchange for having their charges dismissed.

These options have been eliminated over the past several years in exchange for a much stricter prosecution of first-time DUI cases. This means that over the past several years, defense attorneys have pushed back against increasingly strict DUI prosecutions, even on first offense cases, and have developed more vigorous challenges to DUI cases.


If a person is not eligible or the prosecutor declines to extend a diversion agreement and the person is found guilty of driving under the influence, the judge is not necessarily required to send the person in jail. The person may be eligible for some kind of suspended sentence. Instead of serving any jail time, that jail time is suspended in exchange for being placed on probation. Probation means the person has a specific period of time in which they must stay out of trouble, complete any conditions of probation the judge thinks appropriate such as alcohol classes, driver courses, and community service.

If they successfully complete those requirements and are not arrested during the probation period, they do not serve any of the suspended jail time. However, if they violate their probation by getting rearrested or not complying with other conditions, the judge can bring them into court and give them whatever jail time the judge originally thought would be appropriate.

Judge’s Role

Under DC procedural rules, judges for the most part have a limited role in DUI cases. Judges in DC cannot dismiss cases or reduce charges. That all takes place between prosecutors and defense lawyers. Judges can be involved if the case goes to trial or if there are legal issues that must be resolved, such as the prosecutor’s failure to turn over certain kinds of evidence, a failure to preserve evidence so that it can be turned over, or situations where there may be a constitutional violation of a person’s rights.

Judges may be involved in these kinds of limited legal situations. They may be involved if a person is found guilty of driving under the influence and proceeds to a sentencing hearing. A judge has the final say on the person’s sentence.

For example, if a person is found guilty of a first offense DUI, their range of sentences is between zero days of jail and 180 days of jail with fines ranging up to $1,000. The person can receive some combination of jail time and a fine, but a judge is not required to give a person any specific amount of jail time or any specific fine. A judge could give a person some jail time along with a probationary period which could include the requirement that a person completes alcohol classes or community service in exchange for not receiving any additional jail time.