DUI, DWI, and OWI Laws and Conviction Penalties in Washington D.C.

The consequences of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DUI, DWI, and OWI in Washington, D.C.

Each state has its own laws that govern drinking and driving. Although Washington, D.C. isn't a state, it too has laws that make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of, intoxicated by, or impaired by drugs or alcohol.

D.C. actually has three separate impaired driving violations: driving under the influence (DUI), operating while impaired (OWI), and driving while intoxicated (DWI). This article covers how these three offenses are defined, some possible penalties for convictions, and some options for drivers facing an impaired driving charge in Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C.'s DUI, DWI, and OWI Laws

To convict a driver of drugged or drunk driving in court, D.C. prosecutors must prove the driver was:

  • operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle, and
  • intoxicated, impaired, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The legal definitions of "operating" and "physical control" apply equally to OWI, DUI, and DWI charges. However, the level of impairment the prosecution must prove varies for each offense.

What It Means to be Operating or in Physical Control of a Vehicle

Most impaired driving offenses involve a standard traffic stop of a moving vehicle. In these situations, where the person is caught actually driving, there's no debate about whether they were operating the vehicle—they clearly were.

However, D.C.'s definition of "physical control" goes beyond just driving. Generally, a driver is considered to be in physical control of a motor vehicle if he or she is capable of putting the vehicle into movement.

What It Means to be "Under the Influence," "Intoxicated," and "Impaired"

Under the influence (DUI). A driver is considered "under the influence" (for a DUI offense) if he or she is less able to exercise clear judgement necessary for operation of a vehicle.

Intoxicated (DWI). A driver is considered to be "intoxicated" (for a DWI offense) if he or she has blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more.

Impaired (OWI). An OWI is a less serious offense than a DWI or DUI. To prove a person was "impaired," the prosecutor need only show that the driver's ability to operate a vehicle was noticeably affected by drugs or alcohol.

Penalties for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DUI or DWI in D.C.

The penalties for DUIs and DWIs are identical. The statutes set out ranges of penalties for each offense based on the driver's BAC at the time of arrest as well as the number of prior offenses.

How Long DUI and DWI Convictions Stay on Your Record in Washington D.C.

DUI and DWI offenses stay on your record and count as priors for 15 years.

When you're being sentenced for a DUI or DWI offense, prior OWI convictions aren't counted.

Jail and Fines for D.C. DUI and DWI Convictions

The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a first, second, and third DWI or DUI conviction in D.C.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense


Up to 180 days

10 days to 1 year

15 days to 1 year



$2,500 to $5,000

$2,500 to $10,000

Substance Abuse Evaluations for D.C. DUI/DWI Offenders

Prior to sentencing for a DUI or DWI conviction, the driver must generally complete a drug and alcohol evaluation. Normally, the judge will review this report and order the offender to complete a treatment program that properly aligns with the offender's needs. Evaluation and treatment are mandatory for repeat offenders.

Aggravating Factors for D.C. DUI/DWI Sentencing

Certain factors such as excessively high BAC, illicit drug use, and having minor passengers can lead to increased penalties.

Elevated BAC. A driver with a BAC of at least .20% will receive an additional five days of mandatory jail time. This additional penalty increases to ten days for a BAC of .25% or more and 15 days for a BAC of .30% or more.

Illegal drugs. A driver convicted of DUI or DWI who had any amount of schedule 1 drug (such as methamphetamines or cocaine) in their system will receive an additional ten days of mandatory jail.

Minor passengers. A convicted driver who was transporting minor passengers will face additional fines and jail time. For each minor passenger, the court will assess an additional $500 to $1,000 in fines and an extra five days of mandatory jail time. For each minor who was not properly restrained, the judge will order an additional ten days of jail.

District of Columbia DUI/DWI Probation

After serving the minimum jail requirement, offenders will generally be placed on supervised probation for up to a year. Probation generally requires the offender to submit to random drug and alcohol tests, stay in contact with the probation officer, and refrain from criminal conduct. Failure to comply with these rules can result in additional jail time.

Penalties for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd OWI in Washington D.C.

Although an OWI is less serious than a DUI or DWI, the penalties for an OWI still include jail and fines.

How Long OWI Convictions Stay on Your Record in Washington D.C.

OWI convictions stay on your record and count as priors for 15 years in Washington D.C.

When a driver is being sentenced for an OWI conviction, prior OWIs, DUIs, and DWIs count as prior convictions.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense


Up to 90 days jail

5 days to 1 year

10 days to 1 year



$1,000 to $2,500

$1,000 to $5,000

Having minor passengers can increase the fines and jail time a driver faces for an OWI conviction.

Substance Abuse Evaluations for D.C. OWI Offenders

A second or subsequent OWI requires the offender to complete an alcohol and drug evaluation and to follow any recommended treatment as ordered by the court.

License-Related Penalties for D.C. Impaired Driving Offenses

Generally, an arrest for a DWI, OWI, or DUI will result in driver's license penalties. However, the penalties will depend on the driver's compliance with test requests and the number of prior offenses the driver has in the last 15 years.

License-related penalties can result from a DUI/DWI/OWI arrest and/or conviction.

D.C.'s Implied Consent Law

Under D.C.'s "implied consent" law, any driver who is lawfully arrested for DUI, OWI, or DWI must submit to and complete two chemical tests. The tests can be of the driver's breath, blood, and/or urine and are designed to measure the amount of drugs or alcohol the driver has consumed. While drivers are allowed to refuse testing, refusing a test carries certain consequences.

Refusing a Chemical Test in D.C.

A driver who refuses a lawful chemical test request will face license revocation. Generally, the officer will submit a notice of the refusal to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV will then revoke the driver's license for 12 months. Refusal revocations are administratively imposed by the DMV and don't require a conviction.

Failing a Chemical Test in D.C.

A chemical test that shows the presence of drugs or alcohol will not lead to immediate administrative license penalties as would a test refusal. Instead, the test results will be sent to the prosecutor and, depending on what the results show, might result in criminal charges.

License Revocation for DUI/DWI/OWI Convictions in D.C.

Ignition Interlock System Program. For a DUI, a DWI, or an OWI conviction, the DMV will generally revoke the driver's license and immediately enroll the offender in the state's Ignition Interlock System Program.

In order to reinstate driving privileges, the offender must install an ignition interlock device (IID). Generally, the driver must maintain the IID for:

  • six months for a first offense
  • one year for a second offense, and
  • two years for a third offense.

By completing the program, the offender can effectively avoid losing driving privileges. However, drivers who fail to install or maintain an IID will face license revocation.

Mandatory revocation for certain repeat offenders. A driver who is convicted of a third DUI, DWI, or OWI within a five-year period will be revoked for at least five years without the option for an IID restricted license.

D.C.'s Underage UDD (Underage Drinking and Driving) Laws

Drivers who are under the age of 21 are subject to the same laws governing OWI and DUI. However, under D.C.'s zero-tolerance law, an underage driver can be convicted of a DWI for having any measurable amount of alcohol in their system.

Generally, underage drivers who are convicted of a DUI, DWI, or OWI face the same penalties as other offenders.

Diversions and Plea Negotiations

Accused drivers with relatively clean records can typically apply for a "diversion." A diversion requires the accused to admit to wrongdoing and agree to take steps to better themselves. Generally, diversion participants must complete substance abuse treatment, community service, and pay a fine. Successful completion of the program will result in the dismissal of the criminal charges and a clean criminal record.

Depending on the circumstances, a prosecutor might also be willing to reduce a DUI or DWI charge down to an OWI.

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