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"If you don't know about it, then you're a victim of your own ignorance." DC DUI law

Discussion in 'Legal' started by K-Romulus, Oct 12, 2005.

  1. K-Romulus

    K-Romulus Well-Known Member

    One more reason to hate DC:

    ONE glass of wine with dinner at an overpriced DC steakhouse + driving home = DUI arrest and possible conviction!! :banghead:


    Single Glass of Wine Immerses D.C. Driver in Legal Battle

    By Brigid Schulte
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, October 12, 2005; A01

    Debra Bolton had a glass of red wine with dinner. That's what she told the police officer who pulled her over. That's what the Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test indicated -- .03, comfortably below the legal limit.

    She had been pulled over in Georgetown about 12:30 a.m. for driving without headlights. She apologized and explained that the parking attendant must have turned off her vehicle's automatic-light feature.

    Bolton thought she might get a ticket. Instead, she was handcuffed, searched, arrested, put in a jail cell until 4:30 a.m. and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

    Bolton, 45, an energy lawyer and single mother of two who lives in Alexandria, had just run into a little-known piece of D.C. law: In the District, a driver can be arrested with as little as .01 blood-alcohol content.

    As D.C. police officer Dennis Fair, who arrested Bolton on May 15, put it in an interview recently: "If you get behind the wheel of a car with any measurable amount of alcohol, you will be dealt with in D.C. We have zero tolerance. . . . Anything above .01, we can arrest."

    Neither the police department nor the attorney general's office keeps detailed records of how many people with low blood alcohol levels are arrested. But last year, according to police records, 321 people were arrested for driving under the influence with blood alcohol levels below the legal limit of .08. In 2003, 409 people were arrested.

    Although low blood alcohol arrests have been made in other states in conjunction with dangerous driving, lawyers, prosecutors and advocates of drunken driving prevention said they knew of no place besides the District that had such a low threshold for routine DUI arrests. In Maryland and Virginia, as in other states, drivers generally are presumed not to be intoxicated if they test below .05. Nationwide, .08 is the legal limit -- meaning a driver is automatically presumed to be intoxicated.

    Fair acknowledged that many people aren't aware of the District's policy. "But it is our law," he said. "If you don't know about it, then you're a victim of your own ignorance."

    Bolton said she didn't know. But defense lawyers who practice in the District do.

    "Even one drink can get you in trouble in D.C.," said Thomas Key, a lawyer who successfully defended a client who had a blood alcohol level of .03. "They might not win a lot of these cases or prosecute them, but they're still arresting people."

    Not many people fight the charge, said Richard Lebowitz, another defense lawyer, because the District offers a "diversion program" of counseling for first-time offenders.

    "If diversion is offered and accepted, there's a guarantee that the charges will be dropped," Lebowitz said. "If you go to court and try to prove your innocence, it's a coin-flip. So most people choose diversion."

    Bolton didn't. She balked at the $400 fee and the 24 hours of class time required to attend the "social drinker" program.

    "I think it would have been fine if I'd done something wrong, but I didn't," she said. "I had a glass of wine with dinner."

    Instead, she hired a lawyer. In August, after Bolton made several fruitless appearances in D.C. Superior Court, prosecutors dropped the DUI charge. But then she had to battle the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, which warned that it would suspend her driving privileges at the end of this month unless she went through an alcohol prevention program.

    As Bolton remembers it, it was early morning May 15 and she had barely gone a few hundred yards before she was pulled over on K Street NW. The officer, Fair, asked her whether she realized the headlights on her Acura MDX sport-utility vehicle were off.

    "Oh, man, am I going to get a ticket for this?" she remembers saying to him jokingly.

    Then he asked her whether she'd had anything to drink.

    "Not really," she said. And when he asked her again, more firmly, she answered that she'd had a glass of wine with dinner at Cafe Milano.

    He asked her to recite the alphabet. In his report, Fair wrote that he had asked her to start at the letter D and stop at X. Bolton said she thought he had asked her to stop at S and tossed off the alphabet quickly and accurately to S.

    As a result, Fair noted in his report that she had "jumbled" it.

    Then he asked her to get out of the car.

    Fair asked her to walk a straight line and then stand on one foot to the count of 30. He looked into her eyes to check for jerkiness. Bolton, dressed in black silk pants and a pink shirt, took off her pink high heels to be more sure-footed. She said she thought she had aced the tests. "All that yoga really paid off," she thought.

    But in the police report, Fair wrote that she swayed as she walked and lost her balance -- which Bolton disputes. He told her she was under arrest.

    "Why?" Bolton remembers saying. "I passed all your little tests."

    On his report, Fair wrote that Bolton failed 10 indicators of sobriety. But James E. Klaunig, a toxicology expert at Indiana University's medical school who for 12 years oversaw the state's drunken driving testing, said that such a determination was scientifically improbable.

    "There's no way possible she failed a test from impairment with a .03" blood alcohol level, Klaunig said. "And reciting the alphabet is not an acceptable way of measuring impairment, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration."

    Fair, who said he does not comment on individual arrests, noted in his report that Bolton's attitude was "excited," "carefree" and "cocky."

    "I was sort of laughing," Bolton said. "I look back and wonder, was I cocky? Did I have an attitude? Well, yeah, because I was sober, so I thought it was all so ridiculous."

    Fair handcuffed her. Bolton said she was terrified. Until then, her only brush with the law had been a ticket for speeding in a 15-mph zone in 2002.

    At 1:08 a.m., at the 2nd Police District station, Fair asked Bolton to blow into the Intoxilyzer 5000. It read .03.

    "See?" she remembers saying.

    He had her breathe into the machine one minute later. Again, .03.


    But Fair told her D.C. law was on his side.

    On the department's Web site, D.C. police explain it this way: "Technically, according to the D.C. Code, the District of Columbia has a zero tolerance for driving under the influence. If a person 21 years of age or older has a blood alcohol concentration of .02 percent [to] .04 percent and extremely bad driving, this person can be placed under arrest for Driving Under the Influence of an alcoholic beverage."

    At low levels of alcohol, an arrest comes down to an officer's discretion, said D.C. police Inspector Patrick Burke, former head of the traffic division.

    Fair, he said, has 15 years of experience and averages more than 100 drunken driving arrests a year and is well qualified to make the call. In 1998, Fair arrested Marlene Cooke, wife of the late Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, for drunken driving after she piloted her Land Rover through Dupont Circle without the headlights on. She refused a breath test but was later convicted.

    "I always say the safe bet, if you drive, is not to drink at all," Burke said. "But even looking from a D.C. tourism standpoint, we'd be killing ourselves if we were saying you can't go out and have a glass of wine with dinner. That'd be ridiculous. So we tell people, you have to know your limits."

    Bolton sat in a jail cell until 4:30 a.m. As she left, Fair told her he had given her a warning, not a ticket, for driving without headlights. She walked the few blocks to Wisconsin Avenue NW, caught a cab to her car on K Street and drove across the bridge to Virginia. There, she said, she pulled over and cried for 45 minutes.

    Since what she refers to as her "unfortunate incarceration," Bolton has spent hours in D.C. Superior Court and at the DMV and $2,000 so far fighting the DUI charge. Her refusal to submit to the 12-week alcohol counseling diversion program has sent her on a "surreal" odyssey.

    Twice, after hours of waiting, prosecutors told her that they had lost her file and that she would have to come back.

    On Aug. 22, after four court appearances, prosecutors dropped the charge. But she spent all of September battling the DMV to keep her driving privileges from being suspended for three months.

    Corey Buffo, the DMV's general counsel, explained that the agency drops its procedures only after a case goes to trial and is dismissed on its merits. "Our burden of proof is lower" than the Superior Court's, he said. "Not enough evidence for them may be enough evidence for us." Yesterday, the DMV decided not to suspend her privileges and issued her a warning instead.

    After so many months, Debra Bolton is just glad it's over. "It's lunacy," she said. "I'm all for limits on drinking and driving. Whatever the rules are, I will abide by them. I just didn't know these were the rules."

    These days, Bolton goes out to eat in Virginia. And she keeps a yellow sticky note on her steering wheel to remind her to make sure her headlights are on.

    Good for her. Her money should stay in America, where it belongs . . . :fire:

    DC is also the place where they have instituted price caps on prescription drugs (allowing DC residents to sue drug companies for treble damages for "unreasonable" drug prices). "Unreasonable" being defined as more than what Europe and Canada pay for the same drug . . .

    And it has the infamous "machine gun liability law" that holds firearms makers liable for injuries that happen in DC involving any firearm that "could" fire more than twelve times without reloading (including pump action and semi-auto), even if the firearm is illegal in DC . . . :banghead:
  2. hkOrion

    hkOrion Well-Known Member

    So what country is this 'DC' place in? I don't want to go there....
  3. Henry Bowman

    Henry Bowman Senior Member

    Good thing Ted Kennedy has a driver. :uhoh:
  4. brickeyee

    brickeyee Well-Known Member

    Future dinning out in DC is cancelled. I can keep my money in Virginia.
  5. Mr. James

    Mr. James Well-Known Member

    I work in this ****hole, and this is it. I'm not buying so much as a stick of gum in this dysfunctional third-world cesspool.
  6. Justin

    Justin Moderator Staff Member

    Zero tolerance?

    Better lay off having a glass of orange juice with your morning bowl of Rice Krispies...
  7. Gunpacker

    Gunpacker Well-Known Member

    Hey, I have to agree with them

    On the prescription drug suits. I don't understand why foreign owned drug companies can simply charge ALL "development" costs to Americans, and sell for less to the homeland of the owners. Check out the owners of drug companies. They are almost all now owned by foreign drug companies. They may have old American names, but the guys in charge are european.
    An American with little resources or savings, except possibly a home that he is struggling to keep, is forced to pay several times the cost paid by canadians or europeans. Of course they give them away to africans, and pass the cost along to the struggling Americans. Damn right, sue them for triple.
  8. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Well-Known Member

    The PDRK's law concerning DUI is two-pronged. 23152a makes it illegal to drive while under the influence. 23152b makes it illegal to drive with .08% or more blood alcohol content. For a conviction under the 'a' section, the state has to prove that the defendant had a measurable amount of alcohol or drugs in the blood and it caused the defendant's ability to drive to be impaired.

    Getting a conviction under the 'a' section when the only driving violation is an equipment fault is nigh on impossible because equipment faults do not demonstrate impaired driving. Even driving without headlights on can be explained away on brightly lit city streets.

    If a defendant's blood alcohol is less than .08%, the defendant is often offered a plea bargain where he pleads guilty to what is called a 'wet reckless' driving charge. A 'wet reckless' does not have the stiff penalties of a DUI conviction, but does count as a prior offense if the defendant is later convicted of a subsequent DUI offense. In my experience, deputy district attorney's did not bother to prosecute any blood alcohol readings of less than .05%

    IIRC, commercial drivers had a 'b' section threshold of .04%. Juveniles, .01%. A juvenile convicted of .01% DUI lost his license for a year.

  9. Justin

    Justin Moderator Staff Member

    Gunpacker, that's because the United States is the only nation where healthcare isn't "free."
  10. rick_reno

    rick_reno member

    Not to worry, all the important people have drivers. I'm just glad this law won't impact the fuctioning of our Federal agencies.
  11. TheEgg

    TheEgg Well-Known Member

    JBT of the worst sort. Enjoys tormenting the citizens and enforcing stupid laws. :banghead:
  12. Biker

    Biker Well-Known Member

    Truly insane, but that's the direction most of the country is going. Hell, I would venture to guess that obesity kills more people than "impaired drivers" do, but we don't see people going to jail for 'Driving While Fat'.
  13. torpid

    torpid Well-Known Member


  14. pbhome71

    pbhome71 Well-Known Member

    I found the above very interesting. It looks like the officer made over 1/3 of the arrest last year. I think he is the expert in this area.
  15. dasmi

    dasmi Well-Known Member

    only for us serfs, how often do you think congressmen will get pulled over?
    Congressmen X driving home from some State function, after swilling scotch all nigth...
  16. Camp David

    Camp David member

    I agree!

    Do yourself a favor... never visit the District of Columbia... it's a sewer of third-world dysfunctionality and abridgement of the Bill of Rights! Never support their quest to get voting rights! Don't patronize anything related to the District of Columbia...

  17. Bad Words

    Bad Words Well-Known Member

    pbhome - it didn't say 321 DUI's, it said 321 DUI's under .08, while the officer said he averages over 100.
  18. Car Knocker

    Car Knocker Well-Known Member


    I may be a bit picky here, but look at your quotes again.

    Fair says he makes about 100 DUI arrests a year.

    D.C. records state that 321 people were arrested below .08 blood alcohol level.

    The article doesn't state how many total DUIs were arrested nor does it state how many under .08 Fair arrested.

    Therefore there is no way of knowing, from the information given, what portion of DUI arrests, in any category, Fair personally accounted for.
  19. pbhome71

    pbhome71 Well-Known Member

    Yes, good point. Thanks for pointing that out.

  20. Beethoven

    Beethoven member

    Which is precisely why you NEVER admit guilt to a police officer. 5th Amendment.

    Officer: "Do you know why I stopped you?"

    Me: "Not a clue."

    Off: "Were you speeding?"

    Me: "Of course not!"

    Off: "Have you had anything to drink tonight?"

    Me: "Of course not."

    5th Amendment, baby.

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