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Criminal Section

The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (OAG) is one of two prosecutorial entities in the District, the other being the United States Attorney’s Office. The Criminal Section of the Public Safety Division (PSD) of OAG prosecutes adults who commit certain criminal offenses within the District. Specifically, the Criminal Section prosecutes five primary categories of criminal offenses:

Criminal Traffic Offenses

  • Impaired Driving Offenses
  • Reckless Driving, Speed in Excess of 30 mph over the Posted Limit
  • Leaving After Colliding
  • Operating After Suspension
  • No Permit

Certain Weapons Offenses

  • Unregistered Firearms
  • Unlawful Possession of Ammunition
  • Possession of a BB Gun
  • Possession of Illegal Self Defense Spray
  • Possession of a Destructive Device.

Quality of Life Offenses

  • Possession of an Open Container of Alcohol
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Indecent Exposure
  • Metro Misconduct offenses
  • False Report to the Police
  • Fishing Without a License
  • Drinking in Public

DC Municipal Regulation Offenses

  • Unleashed Dogs
  • Counterfeit Vehicle Tags
  • Vending Violations

Certain Fraud Against the District Offenses

  • Tax Fraud
  • Welfare Fraud

Impaired driving offenses are among the most egregious offenses prosecuted by the Criminal Section of PSD. In 2011, almost 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States. That means that someone is killed every 53 minutes because of an entirely preventable crime. Attorneys in the Criminal Section work diligently to prosecute impaired driving offenses and to ensure the safety of the District’s roadways.

Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor’s Blog

Marijuana and Impaired Driving

When Initiative 71 took effect, the District of Columbia, among other provisions, legalized less than two ounces of marijuana for persons over 21 years of age or older.  Keep in mind, though, this has no impact on the District’s existing impaired driving laws.  In the District, it still remains illegal to operate or to be in physical control of any vehicle while intoxicated or while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two.  See D.C. Code §50-2206.11 (2014 Repl.).  A drug is defined as any chemical substance that affects the processes of the mind or body, including but not limited to a controlled substance, and any prescription or non-prescription medication.  See D.C. Code §50-2206.01 (6).  One is under the influence of a drug when one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired in way that can be perceived or noticed.  See Criminal Jury Instruction for the District of Columbia 6.400.  Simply put, you cannot drive under the influence.  That remains true for alcohol, and it holds true for marijuana. 

Although in the District the possession of certain quantities of marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized, it is illegal to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana in a public space or in a vehicle.  See D.C. Code 48-911.01 (2015).   The Office of the Attorney General prosecutes public consumption violations and DUIs.

While decades of research have brought the dangers of alcohol impaired driving to light, it has only been in more recent years that drug impaired driving has been studied.  In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that although alcohol impaired driving has declined over the years, marijuana and other drug impaired driving has increased.  Marijuana, like any drug, can be impairing.  And, it can be more impairing now than ever before.  The amount of Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, has significantly increased over the years.  Prior to 2009, plant marijuana contained on average between 2-8% THC.  Not true today.  Some jurisdictions, like Colorado, are reporting that the average THC levels in legal marijuana can be as high as 30% or more.  Further, when consumed in combination with alcohol, the amount of THC detected in someone’s blood is far greater than if smoked alone.  

Remember, police officers in the District of Columbia remain vigilant in their efforts to detect impaired drivers and keep the District’s roads safe. 

Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

A Wisconsin jury convicted a man of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), despite the man’s claim that the beer battered fish he had just eaten was to blame.  John Przybyla, convicted of his tenth DUI, sought to show that beer battered fish was the source of the odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath.  Similarly, although his blood/breath alcohol concentration on a roadside breath test was .06 (legal limit is .08), he denied drinking alcohol that evening.  Sounds fishy!!  Perhaps Mr. Przybyla suffered from the rare auto-brewery syndrome, or gut fermentation syndrome, which results when excessive amounts of gastrointestinal yeast converts common food carbohydrates into ethanol.

In either case, reliable breath alcohol tests sample a subject’s alveolar breath, or air from a person’s “deep lungs,” not mouth alcohol.  Lung tissue is comprised of air sacs that are surrounded by blood-rich membranes. The deep lungs contain the highest alcohol concentration, where that air is in closest proximity to the blood.  When one exhales, the deep lung air is last to leave the lungs.  The deep lung air is therefore, most representative of the alcohol content of the blood. 

In the District of Columbia, and everywhere else nationwide, it is illegal to drive over the legal limit, .08g/210L of breath.  See D.C. Code §50-2206.11 (2013); D.C. Code §50-2206.01(9).  Blood/breath alcohol concentration limits are lower for drivers under the age of 21 and drivers of commercial vehicles.  To be convicted of a “per se” DUI offense in the District of Columbia, one’s breath (blood or urine) alcohol concentration must be above the legal limit. 

For a breath test result to be admissible in Court, DC Code §50-2206.52 (2013) requires compliance with the following: (1) the breath test instrument was operated by either a certified breath test operator or certified technician; (2) an observation period to determine no contamination by mouth alcohol occurred; (3) accuracy check passed an acceptability range; (4) the analysis of duplicate breath specimens fell within acceptable range; (5) the breath instrument passed blank checks to ensure absence of ethanol prior to the subject test; and (6) results were measured in grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.  Finally, in the District, the breath instrument must also have been tested for accuracy within 180 days prior to the subject test.  

Kids in Cars

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death of children ages one to fourteen years old in the United States. The best way to protect children in the car is to put them in the proper, age appropriate restraint and to use it the right way.  All 50 states, including the District of Columbia, require child safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria. The District of Columbia also requires booster seats or other appropriate devices for children who have outgrown their child safety seats but are still too small to use an adult seat belt safely.

Imagine the risk to the improperly restrained child if the driver of the vehicle is also impaired by alcohol or drugs. NHTSA says that in 2010 17% of those deaths from vehicle crashes involved an alcohol impaired driver. To combat this grave statistic, for the first time in the District, impaired persons who drive with children in their vehicles are subject to mandatory jail terms, and the penalty increases when the child is not properly restrained. It is irresponsible for adults to put their lives at risk by driving impaired.  It is unconscionable to endanger the lives of innocent children. 

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