Chemical Testing in DUI Arrests

In the District of Columbia, and around the country, the police ask people to submit to chemical testing if they suspect the driver to be intoxicated or impaired and that they have been driving or have been in physical control of a car or other motor vehicle. This intoxication or impairment may be due to drugs, alcohol, or a combination of drugs and alcohol.


In the District of Columbia, once someone is arrested for a DUI, they will be asked to submit specimens for chemical testing. Law enforcement may ask for blood, breath, or urine. If religious or medical grounds give someone a valid basis to object to a blood test, they may have the option of submitting breath or urine specimens for collection. They do not, however, have the option of refusing to provide a sample altogether. 

Refusing to submit to chemical testing has both criminal and civil consequences. Criminal consequences depend on whether a person has prior alcohol-related offenses. When one has prior alcohol-related driving offenses on their record, a refusal can be charged as the crime of DUI or OWI. The criminal consequences include both potential jail time and a fine. The civil consequences of a test refusal relate to one’s driving privileges.


“Implied consent” is a term often associated with alcohol-related driving charges. Basically, it means that when someone is driving or in physical control of a car or other motor vehicle within the District, they are “deemed to have given his or her consent. . . to submitting two specimens for chemical testing, . . . for the purpose of determining alcohol or drug content.” DC Code § 50–1904.02(a)(1).

Put another way, by driving or being in physical control of a car in the District of Columbia, you impliedly agree to submit to testing where the police have reason to believe you might be intoxicated or your ability to drive has been impaired by the consumption of alcohol or a drug.

The consequence of refusing to submit to chemical testing include the revocation of one’s driver’s license for a 12 month period. If a person doesn’t have a valid driver’s license, the consequence is the denial of a driver’s license for a period of 12 months from the date of the violation.

Additionally, the refusal to submit to testing is admissible in court in any civil or criminal proceeding (such as a criminal DUI or OWI charge). Finally, if the person refusing to provide a specimen for chemical testing has a prior conviction for DUI or OWI, there is a legal presumption that the person was, in fact under the influence at the time they refused the test. While an individual can challenge that presumption, the government begins the case with that fact presumed in their favor.


Because the chemical testing is done by humans, there are any number of situations wherein the chemical test results may be inaccurate. For example, if the police collect blood, the collection method they use, including the type of blood tube used, could contaminate the sample. If the person collecting the sample uses an alcohol wipe to clean the skin before collecting the sample, this could impact the test results. Failure to preserve the blood tube at the correct temperature could impact the results.

Any and all instruments used to measure data must be calibrated on a regular basis to ensure the accuracy of the results. This includes any type of breathalyzer, as well as any GC/MS instruments used for testing. Additionally, these instruments have maintenance schedules that must be adhered to according to the manufacturer.

Finally, the government must establish a proper chain of custody to ensure the test results are correctly tied to the sample provided by a specific person. In other words, there are any number of different ways the test results can be challenged, even if the chemical test results appear to indicate someone’s guilt.


If you are facing an alcohol-related criminal charge or potential license suspension, contact S.L. England, PLLC. Our attorneys will provide you with representation for both license revocation proceedings in civil court and fight to protect your liberty interests in criminal court. Contact us to discuss your case, at (202) 489-0720.

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