Zero Tolerance: The $2,000 glass of wine

Washington D.C. has a zero tolerance policy against drunk driving. That means (according to D.C.) they can arrest people for drunk driving, even in they aren't drunk. The Washington Post reports that Debra Bolton was arrested for DUI after admitting to having a single glass of wine with dinner. A breath test showed she had a BAC of .03. "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."

D.C. Police are defiant.

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." [...]

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."

Apparently getting arrested for being drunk when you aren't drunk is pretty common in Washington D.C., a city which incidentally has one of the highest murder rates in North America.
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...

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."

Ms. Bolton fought to get the charges dropped, but her troubles didn't end there.
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.
Even the DMV was defiant:
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.

That's right the DMV has a lower burden of proof than the courts. Even if you aren't convicted of a crime, you can still be punished as though you were. (ASIDE: Unless of course that crime is violating immigration laws, in which case they'll probably register you to vote while they're bending over backwards to accommodate your driving privileges.)

The ordeal for Ms. Bolton - who now goes out to eat in Virginia instead - is finally over.

UPDATE: After word got out that D.C. police would arrest people for driving after having had a single drink with their dinner, a lot of people started cancelling dinner reservations. Now the D.C. City Council is moving to suspend Washington's "zero tolerance" policy on booze.

Category:  Pleasure Police
Comments (16)      top   link me


This story is simply unbelievable. It is right up there with Kelo, which I still cannot believe. DC's legal limit is, I believe, .08. But yet they can arrest you for any measurable alcohol at all! So what is the point of having a defined "legal limit?" This is NUTS! Chris Core made the point last night that for all intents and purposes, it is ZERO tolerance and that DC is a DRY city when it comes to drinking and driving.

"If you don't know about it, then you're a victim of your own ignorance," says the cop. Riiiiight. How are you supposed to know what the law is, when the police can move the goalposts any time they feel like it?? This is CRAZY!

Just as an aside, a question for the legions of Ravenwood readers out there: do any of you actually LIVE in DC? Would you want to? And by DC, I mean actually in the District. Not in any surrounding areas. To answer my own question, my wife and I live in Fairfax County VA (just outside DC) and find the jackbootery barely tolerable THERE - but DC?!? Forget about it!!!

Posted by: daltec at October 13, 2005 8:44 AM

There goes any chance of ever visiting D.C. With rules like that how can anyone live there?

I wonder if the revolutionary war was a mistake.

Why should I agree to swap one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away?

Posted by: Rhett at October 13, 2005 9:16 AM

Tomorrow is my birthday and we had reservations to go to one of my favorite restuarants Old Europe - to enjoy their Octoberfest Celebration and my birthday. After this story came out yesterday, we cancelled our reservations, apologized to the proporietor, and told him why we would not be eating in DC any more.

And to think, people still question me when I call Chuckie Ramsey corrupt and incompetent.

Posted by: countertop at October 13, 2005 9:19 AM

I live in Fairfax (VA), but we have our own tyranny here too sometimes. Remember a few years ago when Fairfax police were arresting people in bars for being over .08, whether they drove that night or not. Even people who had designated drivers were arrested just because they were over .08 and legally drunk.

Posted by: Ravenwood at October 13, 2005 10:39 AM


I understand your disgust, but not even Nazi's themselves could get me to cancel a meal at Old Europe. (Especially when they have the fall hunters menu out...goose, venison....mmmm)

Posted by: N. Bourbaki at October 13, 2005 11:00 AM

DC is a hostile, corrupt, Third World nation, and unfortunately our president has to live there.

Never, ever, drive over the speed limit or commit any moving violations in DC--you are just inviting DC to take your wallet to fatten its own.

Posted by: Lornkanaga at October 13, 2005 11:00 AM

Lornkanaga -

Ha, I got a speeding ticket from one of those automated cameras in DC once. It was not anywhere near a stop light or intersection. In fact it was over there by Bolling, ON THE APPROACH to the highway, when everybody was accelerating to get on the highway ANYWAYS. You gotta laugh at crap like that. All hail the "stealth commuter tax!"

BTW, Ravenwood, no I don't recall that!!! It is a crime just to even be drunk in Fairfax Co?!?!? You gotta be kidding me. But I have only lived here since 2000.

Posted by: daltec at October 13, 2005 2:31 PM

It happened in early 2003. Read here:

And here:

For more.

Posted by: Ravenwood at October 13, 2005 5:35 PM

It is my understanding that you must (by law) give your identifing information (drivers license, Insurance, Registration) when asked by al LEO. All other answers are voluntary. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Do not lie to LEO agent (Martha Stewart), just decline to answer. Do not take "field soberity test" or Blow into a breathalyseron the side of the road. Demand a blood alcohol test at a local hospital. Mister Policeman is not your friend. He is a revanue generating machine for the local authority.

Posted by: Gene at October 13, 2005 10:15 PM

Here's some reading

Posted by: DaveJ at October 14, 2005 12:43 AM


Refusing to take a field sobriety test or the road-side BAC in Virginia is not an option. Doing so results in an automatic DUI conviction.

Posted by: Ravenwood at October 14, 2005 6:38 AM

The only thing that would bring me to DC these days is the Smithsonian, and after this little piece of cheer I am not sure about that. Damn.

Posted by: Michael at October 14, 2005 11:28 AM

DC = District of Communism

Posted by: Derek at October 14, 2005 2:31 PM

Well I was talking from a Georgia standpoint so I guess that matters. Still, declining to give any information other than Name, Address, and National ID Number gives them more ammunition in court. You always meed to know the local take on DUI laws.

Have a good move!.

Posted by: Gene at October 14, 2005 7:20 PM

Sorry,... one more thing.

How many local LEO's have been busted under this "Zero Tolerance" policy?

And I wanted to say "gives them less ammunition"

Posted by: Gene at October 14, 2005 7:26 PM

I would like to warn tourists about Napa Valley, CA. There's a slogan bantered about by locals: "come on vacation, leave on probation". Ninety DUI's per month. Yes, even wine touring can land you in the slammer.

Posted by: josper at November 10, 2005 1:55 AM

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