On Wednesday, D.C.’s new, tougher laws for DWI and OWI kicked in. The new laws stiffen mandatory-minimum jail terms, punish young drivers, and give the police new powers to arrest and prosecute. This emergency legislation passed by the D.C. Council was meant to address last year’s scandal, where the police department submitted inaccurate breathalyzer results and the Attorney General’s office failed to reveal the errors. The result, dozens of innocent people went to jail.
Instead of addressing the serious problems with the breath tests, and holding those who officials responsible who submitted inaccurate breath results to the Court, the Comprehensive Impaired Driving and Alcohol Testing Program Emergency Amendment Act of 2012 simply increases the punishment for driving while intoxicated and operating while impaired and gives the police more powers to arrest and prosecute.
But not without a fight.
First, the bad news. And there’s plenty of it, if you are stopped for suspected DWI on or after August 1, 2012:
First offender maximum sentences doubles from 90 days to 180 days and a $1,000 fine.
There are new mandatory minimum jail sentences for first offenders as well.
- For a score of .20 or above there is a ten day (10) mandatory minimum.
- For a score of .25 or above there is a fifteen day (15) mandatory minimum.
- For a score of .30 or above there is a twenty day (20) mandatory minimum.
- There is a fifteen (15) mandatory minimum for a blood or urine content of a Schedule I drug, that is, Phencyclidine, Cocaine, Methadone, or Morphine.
For repeat offenders, it gets worse:
- Up to one year (1) in jail, with a mandatory minimum of ten days.(10).
- For a score of .20 or above, there is a fifteen day (15) mandatory minimum jail sentence.
- For a score of .25 or above, there is a twenty day (20) mandatory minimum.
- For a score of .30 or above, there is a twenty-five day (25) mandatory minimum.
- There is a 15 day mandatory minimum for a blood or urine content of a Schedule I drug, that is Phencyclidine, Cocaine, Methadone, or Morphine.
For third and forth time offenders gets even worse, culminating with a 120 mandatory minimum.
Penalties for Operating While Impaired (“OWI”) also go up to 90 days or $500 for a first offender, with mandatory minimums for repeat offenders.
Plus these highlights:
- There is an additional mandatory minimum of five (5) days for the driver of a commercial vehicle.
- There are mandatory penalties if there are minors in the vehicle: five (5) days per child if they are restrained in a seat, ten (10) if not.
- Commercial vehicle drivers will be in violation of the law if their blood alcohol limit is found to be at 0.04, half the 0.08 of regular drivers.
The law on refusals (i.e. you refuse to take the breath test) has also changed, and for the worse:
- For first offenders, if the person refuses to submit a test after a police warning of the consequences, the officer can submit an affidavit based on to the Mayor who shall suspend the driver for a year. No hearing required – just an affidavit.
- For a person with a prior DWI conviction who refuses, the new law creates a rebuttable presumption that he is under the influence. Wow.
Some good news:
- A driver can still object to a blood test on religious or medical grounds. In such cases, a breath or urine test is authorized.
- A driver may also obtain his own test, in addition to the one the police administer. Great, so long as you carry a portable breathalyzer in your car.
- The new DWI does not apply to “Personal Mobility Devices” (PMD’s”), also known as Segways, but does appear to cover battery operated wheelchairs! It looks at first reading that you could get toasted and take your Segway out for a spin, but disabled veterans and others using battery operated wheelchairs better not have more than 2 drinks.
- Watercraft, including boats, sailboards, and personal watercraft are covered. Even water skis are covered. You can’t water ski in the District if you have had over two drinks.
Some weird provisions:
- Horse drawn carriages and wagons are covered by the new law. So don’t think you can avoid prosecution by taking old Bess out of the barn and hitching her up. Even oxen and mules are covered, so if you have had more than one drink, don’t try those either.
- But while you can’t hitch a horse, ox or mule to a wagon while intoxicated, there is nothing in the Act that says you can’t ride one. There is no law against horseback riding while intoxicated.