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DC DUI Definitions

If you’ve been charged with DUI, DWI, or OWI in Washington, DC, you may be overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar terms surrounding your charges and the criminal process. The purpose of this page is to better familiarize you with the terms related to your charges. Please refer to the below list of DC DUI definitions to help you understand the criminal process for drunk driving-related offenses. For answers to your specific questions, contact a dedicated DC DUI attorney today.

Absorption rate

This is a measurement of the speed at which the body absorbs alcohol.  Variables that affect absorption rates can involve food recently consumed, height, weight, gender, and type of beverage.

Administrative license revocation

A revocation of your license or privilege to drive at the DC Department of Motor Vehicles. It is sometimes a result of failure to schedule an administrative hearing to challenge your notice of proposed revocation within the required 10-15 day time period.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC)

The percentage of alcohol detected in the bloodstream.  BAC can be calculated with a breath, blood, or urine test.  Its levels are used by prosecutors as evidence against a DWI suspect in court.  Since DC is a “no tolerance” zone, any BAC reading can lead to DUI/DWI charges.


A piece of equipment that law enforcement uses to determine a DWI suspect’s BAC percentage.  DC law enforcement commonly uses two devices. [See Intoxilyzer and Intoximeter.]

Burn-off rate

The opposite of absorption rate.  It is the speed at which one’s body metabolizes alcohol. Burn-off rates can also differ, depending on the suspect’s age, weight, gender, any chronic medical conditions, the amount and frequency alcohol is consumed and other variables.

Chemical test

The technical term that describes the comparison of alcohol to the blood’s chemistry.  It can be accomplished by administering a breathalyzer, blood analysis, or urinalysis test to determine BAC. If drugs are suspected, a blood or urine test is commonly administered.

Community service

This is uncompensated work by those convicted in court in place of – or in addition to – a jail sentence.  Completion of community service is often a condition of probation and is usually a condition of plea bargains.  Depending on the specifics of the case, a few or many community service hours will be mandated by a judge.


The District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV administers all, driver’s license revocations and suspensions.  It also manages the DC Ignition Interlock Device Program and the driver’s license reinstatement process.  The DMV also monitors driver demerit points and makes rulings regarding revocation and suspension of drivers’ licenses when they accumulate too many points.

DMV Hearing Examiner

an administrative law judge who determines driver’s license revocations and suspensions for all driving offenses, including DUI arrests.  While your license will be automatically suspended if you are convicted in court, hearing examiners may revoke your license at a separate administrative proceeding if the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that you were impaired by the consumption of alcohol or drugs.


“Driving under the Influence” is the formal charge that is more often referred to as simply drunk driving in DC and can also include driving under the influence of illegal drugs, prescription medications, or a combination of drugs and alcohol. It is also levied against drivers under 21 who have drugs or alcohol in their bodies, even if their BAC is less than .08 percent. Law enforcement officials are not required to submit chemical test results in their attempts to prove DUI charges, but the penalties for a DUI conviction increase where there are high BAC levels or traces of certain drugs in a defendant’s blood or urine.


You are considered “Driving While Intoxicated” if you are operating a motor vehicle with a BAC level of .08 or above. This alone is enough evidence to meet the standard of impairment required for a guilty verdict. DUI and DWI convictions carry the same potential penalties. For the purposes of your criminal record, DUI and DWI both mean the same thing.

DUI driving school

Education programs designed to teach drivers the dangers of drinking and driving.  It’s commonly ordered at sentencing as a condition of probation by a judge in many DUI, DWI, and OWI convictions.

Enhanced minimum sentence

A minimum sentence is the least amount of jail time that must be served for DUI conviction.  Enhanced minimums involve additions over and above the normal minimum sentence, usually based on the BAC level of the suspect.

(Standardized) field sobriety test (SFST)

Field sobriety tests determine a DUI suspect’s physical and mental coordination and often give a police officer probable cause to arrest the suspect.  They are performed immediately after an officer stops a driver.  [See Walking/Turning in a Straight Line (W/T), One-Legged Stand (OLS), and Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)]

Ignition interlock device

An IID is mechanism that prevents a driver from starting his or her vehicle until performing a breath test to determine his or her BAC.  If the driver passes, the vehicle will start.  If not, the ignition system is “locked.”  The device can be pre-set to any level the court dictates.

Implied consent

Consent to submit to a BAC test after arrest for DUI, DWI, or OWI that is impliedly given by choosing to obtain a DC driver’s license or availing oneself of DC roads and highways.  Drivers may refuse to be tested but will face a longer administrative revocation of their license at the DMV for refusing.


This breath analysis device is the latest version of a Breathalyzer. It uses infrared spectroscopy to identify ethanol molecules found in a person’s breath, which is carbon dioxide (CO2). Ethanol responds to infrared light and the degree of that response triggers the meter in the device to give a reading of the level of intoxication in a DUI suspect.


This Breathalyzer device uses a fuel cell to determine a suspect’s intoxication level. The technology is based on a chemical reaction in a charged fuel cell that creates a small electric current to measure alcohol content in a suspect’s breath. It works on the same basic principle (CO2 detection) as the Intoxylizer. Some of the latest models use a combination of infrared technology and fuel cell technology, which essentially confirms the test results of one CO2 detection principle or the other.

Preliminary Breath Test (PBT)

A PBT is used with a portable breath analyzer and is commonly administered by officers in the field when they pull over a suspected drunk driver. Years ago, PBT’s were the standard for determining intoxicated driving, but the fact that they have to be consistently recalibrated and are can be very inaccurate makes them all but obsolete, though some law enforcement agencies still use them.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

One of the field sobriety tests. (See above.)  Nystagmus is rapid involuntary rhythmic eye movement.  Intoxication is suspected by the lack of smooth eye tracking, distinct jerking at extreme eye angles, and jerking when following the path of an object placed in front of the test subject.

License Revocation  

Complete loss of driving privileges.  Those who have their license revoked in DC must reapply for a new driver’s license once they are permitted to by the DMV.

Lookback Period

The number of years within which a prior DUI conviction can lead to being charged as a multiple DUI offender. The DC lookback period is 15 years, meaning if a suspect has had a prior DUI conviction within 15 years of arrest for the new offense, he or she can be charged with DUI (2nd offense). A second offense carries harsher penalties than a first offense.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

A national nonprofit organization whose goal is to reduce all occurrence of driving under the influence by advocating tougher laws and education outreach.

Miranda Warning

A series of warnings as to your rights sometimes given by an arresting officer. Common examples include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. It is usually wise to invoke your right to be silent whether or not the police read you your rights.

One leg test (OL)

Another Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST).  The officer tells the suspect to keep his or her hands at their sides, raise one leg a few inches, and then count upwards or downwards (for example, 1-25, 25-1).

Open container law

A law that criminalizes having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and many public places. This law also prohibits the consumption of alcohol in most public places.


In DC, This means operating while impaired.  With DC’s “zero-tolerance policy” for all intoxication-related driving offenses, and the DC Court of Appeals holding that the standards for conviction for DUI, DWI, or OWI are identical, OWI is primarily a lesser charge to which a defendant might plead guilty as part of a plea bargain that is negotiated between his attorney and the DC prosecutor.

Preliminary breath test (PBT)

A PBT is conducted with a portable breath analyzer and is commonly administered by police officers at a traffic stop when a driver is suspected of DUI.  PBT test results are not admissible in court,


A period of supervision by a court after conviction for an offense. It may be ordered in lieu of incarceration or imposed for a period of time after release from incarceration. Typically, a defendant who is rearrested while on probation will need to attend a show-cause hearing at which the judge may revoke probation and order the defendant jailed. Probation may be supervised, i.e. the defendant is regularly monitored by a probation officer, or unsupervised, i.e. the defendant simply must avoid re-arrest for the period. Other conditions, like drug, alcohol, or driver improvement programs; community service; regular visits to the probation office; and spot BAC chemical tests may be ordered.

Sobriety checkpoints

DUI roadblocks in pre-determined locations for a specific period of time. Police methodically stop vehicles to test drivers for possible DUI (either via SFST or possibly with portable breathalyzers).  The stops need not be random, but instead can be based on a preplanned criterion, such as stopping every third or fifth car.

Vehicle impound

Suspects who have no one immediately available to drive their vehicle after they are arrested for DUI will have their vehicle towed to an impound lot that is specified by the police.  When suspects want to claim their vehicle, it will cost several hundred dollars in towing and storage fees in order for their vehicle to be released from impound.

Walk & turn test (W/T)

In this SFST, the driver walks a designated straight line – heel-to-toe for nine steps – then turns in a prescribed manner and repeats the process.  Suspects must keep their hands at their sides, watch their feet, and count each step.  They may not stop until the test is completed.

Zero tolerance

Laws that thoroughly criminalize certain activity, such as those that make it illegal to operate a vehicle with any detectable amount of alcohol under any circumstance in the District, including drivers under the age of 21.

Contact a DC DUI Lawyer Now

A seasoned DC DUI attorney will be up-to-date regarding the technology and testing procedures involved with DUI charges. Just because BAC testing technology can be used as evidence against you, it is not infallible. Your DC DUI lawyer will be familiar with the weaknesses of these devices, the evidence they provide, and how to use that information to your advantage when defending your case.

Whether it is during evidentiary motion hearings, at trial, or when negotiating an acceptable plea agreement that helps you keep your driver’s license, a DC DUI lawyer will fight to mitigate the damage to your criminal record that a potential conviction could have.

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