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Impaired Driving Charges

There are generally three separate and distinct types of impaired driving charges in Washington, DC. Any one of these charges can result in the loss of liberty with a possible jail sentence, fines, and driver’s license suspension. Understanding the elements impaired driving charges can help you fight a criminal conviction and keep your license to drive.


While DWI charges and DUI charges used to be codified in different statutes in DC, they currently are included in the same statute, under District of Columbia Code § 50 – 2206.11. “No person shall operate or be in physical control of any vehicle in the District:

  1. While the person is intoxicated; or
  2. While the person is under the influence of alcohol or any drug or any combination thereof.”


A person is guilty of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) if he or she operates or is in physical control of any vehicle in the District while intoxicated. DC law defines “intoxicated” as having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more in a blood or breath test, or 0.10 grams or more in a person’s urine. Under this charge, the only question is what amount of alcohol is present in the blood, breath, or urine, as well as whether the person was driving or in physical control of a vehicle.

Whether they were affected by the alcohol they consumed is not at issue. This means that even if a person can drive perfectly safely with a blood alcohol concentration over the limit, the driver can still be charged with a DWI.


DUI charges require different proof than DWI charges. It is illegal to Drive Under the Influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol. The statute states, “No person shall operate or be in physical control of any vehicle in the District while the person is under the influence of any alcohol or drug or any combination thereof.” DUI is, in some respects, a “middle ground,” where a person isn’t so intoxicated they meet the legal limit of 0.08 or 0.10, depending on the test involved, but they are more than simply affected by the use of drugs or alcohol.


The Code for the District of Columbia § 50 – 2206.14 states, “No person shall operate or be in physical control of any vehicle in the District while the person’s ability to operate or be in physical control of a vehicle is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or any drug or any combination thereof.”

In other words, if a person’s judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs, even if they are not over the legal limit, they can be charged with Operating a Vehicle While Impaired (OWI). DC law defines “impaired” as where a person’s ability to drive or be in physical control of a care is affected in a way “that can be perceived or noticed.”

Many people experience the effects of taking prescription drugs or even over the counter medication. Driving while affected by drugs, even prescribed drugs, can result in OWI charges.


“Physical control” doesn’t necessarily mean a person is driving the car. This means a person can be charged with a DUI even if they are not driving. Instead, physical control can refer to:

  • Someone who is in the driver’s seat with the car running;
  • Someone in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition; or
  • Someone who otherwise has the ability to start and drive the car in short order.


If you are facing charges related to driving while impaired to any degree in DC, contact our office at (202) 489-0720. At S.L. England, PLLC, we pride ourselves in providing personal representation to each of our clients and letting them know all their legal options. Contact us today to discuss your DC drunk driving arrest.

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