DC DUI Traffic Stop Lawyer

District of Columbia Code Section 50-2205.02 states that a driver is guilty of driving under the influence when operating or having physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated. District code goes on to state that having physical control of a vehicle can be as simple as sitting in the driver’s seat, while operating a vehicle involves actual driving. Per the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government can’t conduct an unreasonable search and seizure. In other words, federal authorities can’t stop you merely because they don’t like the look of you and then search through your belongings. The 14th Amendment extends this protection. According to the amendment, a police officer can’t conduct an unreasonable search and seizure either.

Therefore, any Washington, DC police officer or authority who conducts a DC DUI traffic stop must have reasonable suspicion that a crime or infraction, such as driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, has occurred. If you have questions about a DUI stop, contact a DC DUI traffic stop lawyer today. A DUI lawyer in DC will able to look at the circumstances of your stop and develop a defense.

What Constitutes Probable Cause?

Probable cause in a DC driving under the influence traffic stop is broadly defined as a belief which leads a reasonable person to suspect a driver is committing a crime. The belief must be based on facts which would cause anyone in the same or similar circumstance to believe a crime, such as driving under the influence, was occurring. An attorney can provide you with a more in-depth explanation of probable cause standards in DC.

A DC DUI traffic stop may be based on a reasonable belief that you have been drinking. However, a DC DUI traffic stop is typically prompted by a traffic violation, or perceived traffic violation. Typical traffic violations that may lead to a stop can include, but are not limited to:

  • Speeding.
  • Driving significantly below the speed limit.
  • Failing to stop at a stop sign or traffic signal.
  • Failing to stay in one lane (swerving).
  • Inoperable parts on the vehicle, like a broken tail light, brake light, or head light.
  • Having problems controlling the vehicle.
  • Turning too wide.
  • Hitting or almost hitting an object.
  • Driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

If you were stopped by an officer who did not provide a reason for the stop, you should note this and discuss it as soon as possible with a DC DUI lawyer. Lack of reasonable suspicion for a stop could be used to argue against any driving under influence charges filed in your case.

What Occurs in a DC DUI Traffic Stop?

It is generally considered unlawful for an officer to detain you for an excessive period of time without a valid reason. What constitutes as excessive is somewhat open to legal interpretation. For most people, a traffic stop that turns into a DUI investigation will feel like an interminable amount of time. However, it is important that the officer takes the time to establish the evidence necessary to validate a driving under influence charge. That includes numerous requests and efforts on the part of the officer, such as:

  • Asking that you to step out of your vehicle.
  • Requesting your driver’s license and proof of registration.
  • Conducting a search for any outstanding warrants.
  • Looking at all visible areas of the vehicle, like the floorboards, dashboards, and seats.
  • Asking if he or she can search non-visible areas of the vehicle.
  • Inquiring if you’ve taken any medications or drugs or have consumed any alcohol.

Your answers to these questions and the officer’s observations can be used to establish probable cause for suspicion of DUI.

Signs and Signals of a DUI

During a DC DUI traffic stop, you will likely feel as though you are being scrutinized. That is because the officer is closely watching everything you do to establish probable cause and a valid reason for citation or arrest. Signs and signals that a driver may be intoxicated, and that an officer will be looking out for, include:

  • Slurring your speech.
  • Repeating comments or questions.
  • Fumbling with your registrations or license.
  • Having any balance problems, whether it’s swaying or being unsteady on your feet.
  • Leaning on your vehicle or another object.
  • Providing a slow response to questions.
  • Providing incorrect information.
  • Smelling alcohol (either emanating from your body or the vehicle).

Field Sobriety Tests

If there is reason to believe you are under the influence of alcohol, the officer will most likely request that you submit to a field sobriety test. The three standardized field sobriety tests are:

  • Walk-and-turn test: taking nine heel-to-toe steps, turning in a pivot manner, and nine heel-to-toe steps back
  • One-leg-stand test: balancing on one leg without raising your arms for 30 seconds.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test: Officer looks for involuntary jerking in your eyes while passing a stimulus back and forth across your field of vision.

If the officer determines that you failed the field sobriety test, you may be required to take another test to check your blood alcohol content (BAC) level. Testing methods includes samples of your breath, blood or urine.

DC law essentially prohibits you from refusing to take an alcohol content test under the doctrine of implied consent. While you can technically refuse such tests, if you do so you driver’s license is automatically suspended for one year.

What is Considered Legally Drunk in DC?

According to Section 50-2206.01, you are considered intoxicated if your blood alcohol content (BAC) measures 0.08 or higher. Furthermore, according to Section 50-2206.51, you can be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs if your BAC is 0.05 or more. However, even if your BAC is below 0.05, you may still be charged with DUI if there is separate, or additional, evidence that you are impaired by alcohol and/or a drugs, such as driving erratically.

Potential DUI Penalties in DC

If you are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in Washington, DC, the following penalties may apply.

First Offense:

  • Up to 180 days in jail.
  • A $1,000 fine.
  • License revocation for six months.

A mandatory minimum for a BAC more than 0.20 percent (blood or breathe) or 0.25 percent (urine) is 10 to 20 days in jail.

Second Offense:

  • Up to one year in jail.
  • A $2,500 to 5,000 fine.
  • License revoked for one year.

The mandatory minimum is 10 to 35 days in jail, depending on your blood alcohol content.

Third Offense:

  • Up to one year in jail.
  • A $2,500 to $10,000 fine.
  • License revoked for two year.

Mandatory minimum is 15 to 45 days in jail.

Fourth and any subsequent offenses:

  • One year in jail.
  • A $2,500 to $10,000 fine.

Mandatory minimum is 45 to 75 days plus an additional 30 days for each subsequent DUI conviction.

Contact a DC DUI Lawyer Today

The penalties, and potential fallout they can create in your professional and personal life, are obviously serious and should make clear the fact that anyone charged with DUI in the District of Columbia should contact a well-qualified DUI defense attorney. It is important to remember, however, that you are not automatically guilty of driving under the influence simply because an officer arrests you for suspicion of being under the influence. The evidence the officer relies upon for your arrest must still be proven in court.

That is where retaining skilled and aggressive counsel can provide the maximum possible benefit as you fight to preserve your rights and reputation. Peter Odom has extensive experience successfully fighting DUI charges. He will investigate all aspects of your traffic stop and ensuing arrest to determine whether the officer violated any policies or procedures and explore any potential weaknesses in the blood alcohol content testing process. All of these issues could be used to make an argument for the reduction or elimination of your charges. If, however, that is not possible, Mr. Odom will work to mitigate any possible penalties that you could face. Call his Washington, DC law office today to schedule a no-cost initial consultation.