Is a DUI a Criminal Offense or a Traffic Violation? Guide | Ervin Kibria Law

April 17, 2019by Chris Lovos

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Is a DUI a criminal offense or a traffic violation? When someone operates a vehicle in the District of Columbia with alcohol in their body, and that alcohol level is well above the legal limit, they are committing a dangerous and serious crime- DUI (driving under the influence), OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) or DWI (driving while intoxicated). Many times, in DC, one individual can find themselves charged with one or all three of these at the same time.

is a dui considered a criminal offense or a Traffic Violation
Is a DUI considered a criminal offense or a traffic violation?

The legal limit for a breath alcohol content (BAC) score is between 0.05% and 0.08% in many states.  However, Washington, DC has a “Zero Tolerance” policy when it comes to drunk driving charges. What this means is that in DC you may be arrested and charged for a DUI or OWI if your blood alcohol score is anything above 0.00. So those who choose to drink and drive with ANY amount of alcohol in their bodies are risking a DUI any time they get behind the wheel in DC.

Usually, law enforcement officers in almost every state and the District of Columbia administer a breathalyzer test (an instrument which measures blood alcohol levels through breath) during stops or arrests of a vehicle when the driver is suspected of DUI. Anyone who is found with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit is usually arrested and charged with a DUI. To prove guilt and secure a conviction for a charge of DUI, OWI or DWI the government must establish, through evidence, that the driver did drive or operate a vehicle while being intoxicated. Usually, if the government can provide verified results of a breathalyzer test, that the defendant provided, with a score that is above the legal limit, then there is sufficient evidence for a conviction.

However, it is important to remember that many times, even if a driver does not submit to a breathalyzer test, they may still have performed field sobriety tests (FST), which can provide the police with probable cause to make a DUI arrest. The results of the FST’s can also serve as circumstantial evidence which can help make the governments case for a conviction on a DUI, OWI or DWI charge.  One of the most common questions asked by those charged with drunk driving is whether the charge is considered a traffic offense or a criminal offense in DC?

In places like New Jersey and Wisconsin, DUIs or DWIs aren’t considered a crime. The DUI or DWI is simply treated as a severe traffic violation in these jurisdictions. As such, the punishment for committing a first-time DUI or DWI in these places normally does not involve going to jail.

States like these are considered exceptions and are not the norm. DUI, OWI or DWI are criminal offenses in most places and they are most definitely a serious criminal offense in Washington, DC.  In the District, a first-time drunk driving charge comes with the possibility of up to180 days in jail and or a fine of up to $1000. Most cases, a first-time DUI or OWI offender in DC will be facing fines, community service, alcohol, and driver’s education, and perhaps license suspension, or even some jail time depending on the severity or particular facts and circumstances of the DUI arrest.

Also, in DC, the number of DUIs that a person has committed in a 15-year period can drastically affect the punishment that is imposed on someone convicted of a drunk driving charge.  Upon getting a second DUI charge, the penalties become harsher. Washington DC prescribes a minimum of 10 days of jail time for a second DUI conviction within 15 years. Fines and jail time continue to rise with each successive drunk driving charge. Higher BAC (blood alcohol content) scores also bring with them greater fines and jail times.

There are quite a number of factors that can affect how a person is sentenced for their DUI. A period of 15 years will be examined for any offenses that a person may have committed. Therefore, it is highly recommended that a driver thinks twice before getting in their vehicle in DC with any amount of alcohol in their system. If you do find yourself charged with a DUI, OWI or DWI in Washington, DC, remember that it is a serious criminal offense which can drastically damage your life and career but the expert drunk driving attorneys at Ervin Kibria Law in DC can help you successfully navigate the charges to keep your life and career intact.


Chris Lovos