DC Prosecutors and First Time DUI Charges

If you are facing your first DUI offense in Washington, DC here is what you should know about how your case will be treated by prosecutors. Call today to learn more about DUI charges or schedule a consultation today to discuss your case with a DC DUI lawyer.

Where Are First Time DUI Charges In DC Typically Heard?

There are 3 courtrooms in the D.C. Superior Court that initially handle DUI cases. Each one is staffed by a magistrate judge and any new DUI case will be sent at least initially to one of those three courtrooms.

How Do Prosecutors Handle First Time DUI Charges?

DUIs in D.C. are prosecuted by lawyers from the Office of Attorney General. That agency only handles traffic charges, juvenile charges and a few specific other misdemeanor charges. So in any DUI case, a prosecutor from that office who has been assigned to the traffic bureau will be assigned that case.

If it is a first time DUI the prosecutor will take a look at the specific facts of the case, as well as the defendant’s criminal history with a specific focus on driving or alcohol related offenses in their criminal history and decide whether or not diversion might be an option, or whether the government will seek mandatory jail time.

What Are The Penalties For A First Time DUI?

Well, in the District of Columbia a first time DUI has a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1000 fine and there is a mandatory fee of $100. Now the judge does not have to impose the fine and does not have to impose any actual jail time for a first time offense unless:

  • The defendant’s blood alcohol content reached a certain minimum level
  • There were children in the car
  • There were illegal drugs in the defendant’s system
  • The defendant was driving a commercial vehicle when the DUI occurred.

Those are circumstances in which a first time DUI defendant could be facing some mandatory jail if they were convicted, but otherwise there is no mandatory jail for a first time DUI offense.

Do DC Prosecutors Often Offer Some Sort Of Diversion Program Or Probation To First Time Offenders?

On a first time offense, it is extremely rare for the prosecution to seek straight jail time with no probation. There are options besides a guilty plea to a DUI that could be offered by the government, including what is called a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA), which is a type of diversion in a D.C. DUI case.

A deferred sentencing agreement is a program whereby the defendant is assigned to complete some alcohol education and testing, community service, and some other requirements. If they successfully complete those requirements they can come back and have their case dismissed.

The decision whether to offer a Deferred Sentencing Agreement to a first time defendant is based on some specific factors and is not automatic. The DC DUI lawyers at our firm always seek this program for our clients when it is available, since it is one of the best ways to avoid the significant penalties that can accompany a DUI conviction.

How Do Courts Treat First Time Charges?

There is no jury trial available for a first time DUI offense. Any DUI in the District of Columbia will be a misdemeanor by definition because D.C. does not have a felony DUI unlike a vast majority of other jurisdictions. For a first time DUI because the maximum penalty is 180 days, then the defendant does not have a right to a jury if they opted to go to trial so it would be a judge who would make the decision at trial as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

On a first time DUI, the government is typically not seeking a very onerous penalty, nor would you expect a judge to give a very onerous penalty, but there are exceptions. These exceptions typically arise when the alleged DUI occurs in conjunction with other criminal acts, such as:

  • Failing to stop for the police,
  • Resisting arrest
  • Being involved in an accident in which other people are harmed

Aggravating factors like these can certainly influence the prosecution and/or judge with regards to what the appropriate penalty would be. Typically, however, first time DUI cases will be looked at seriously, but not pursued as vigorously as if someone had a prior conviction.