If you have been charged with operating while under the influence (OWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) in Indiana, you probably have questions. What are the punishments for violating drunk driving laws and how can you fight an OWI charge? You can get the answers you need with help from an experienced Indiana DUI attorney.
What Are DUI Charges and OWI Charges?
Drunk driving charges and DUI charges are also referred to as OWI charges. You can be charged with an OWI under Indiana OWI laws if you operate any type of motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Since OWI charges are criminal charges, the state needs to prove all of the following to convict you of this crime:
- You operated a vehicle;
- You were legally intoxicated while doing so.
An experienced OWI attorney can help you defend against the state's requirement to prove these elements.
Indiana DUI Laws and OWI Laws
The most complicated part of proving most OWI charges is proving that the driver was legally intoxicated. Under Indiana DUI laws, intoxication is based on blood alcohol content (BAC). The legal BAC in Indiana is less than 0.08 BAC. If your BAC is any higher than 0.08 BAC while operating a motor vehicle, you can be charged with an Indiana DUI.
Since police officers don’t always know whether you are intoxicated, they use several methods to determine whether you are beyond the BAC limits:
- Standardized field sobriety tests;
- Observations of intoxication;
- Smelling alcohol on your breath;
- Blood tests.
If any of these tests prove or provide probable cause that you are beyond the legal alcohol limit in Indiana, you will be charged with an OWI and probably arrested on the spot. You can refuse to take these tests, but may face license suspension consequences and arrest.
Indiana OWI and Drunk Driving Penalties
Indiana DUI penalties depend on a variety of factors. The punishment for DUIs can include jail time for drunk driving and/or the suspension of your license. Penalties for drinking and driving also depend on how many times you have previously been convicted for drunk driving and whether you refused a breathalyzer test.
Indiana First Offense DUI Penalties
Usually, a first offense DUI will be punished as a misdemeanor offense. If you have injured or killed another or endangered the life of a minor due to driving under the influence, you will be charged with a felony instead.
The drunk driving penalties for a non-felony first offense can include:
- Up to a year of jail time;
- Community service;
- Fines ranging from $500 to $5,000;
- Completion of a drug or alcohol abuse program;
- Restricted driving privileges.
Additionally, due to Indiana implied consent laws, if you refuse to take a breathalyzer test, you will receive a one-year suspension of your license regardless of whether you are convicted of a DUI. That suspension is in addition to any other suspension.
Unless you enter into a plea agreement, all of the previous punishments are at the discretion of the sentencing judge and you may receive any or all of them if convicted at trial.
Indiana Second Offense DUI Penalties
Indiana DUI penalties are significantly more severe for your second drunk driving offense. You will almost always receive jail time for drunk driving with your second offense, and drunk driving laws increase the charge to a felony offense if your second offense occurred within seven years of your initial offense.
If you are convicted of a second offense DUI in Indiana, you can be penalized with:
- Minimum of five days imprisonment;
- 240 hours of community service;
- Completion of alcohol or drug treatment program;
- License suspension for up to two years;
- Installation of an interlock ignition device;
- Additional two-year license suspension if you refuse a breathalyzer test;
- Up to $10,000 in fines.
Under Indiana DUI laws, either jail or community service is mandatory. The sentencing judge decides which one if you plead guilty without a plea agreement or are convicted at trial. If there is an agreed upon plea agreement, the judge will simply reject or accept the plea. You can also be granted limited driving privileges during your suspension, but only if you didn’t refuse a test and only with an interlock device.
Indiana Third Offense DUI Penalties
The penalties increase again for your third offense and any following offenses. You are assigned habitual offender status if you have 3 OWI convictions in 10 years or if you have other convictions such as reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident. The possible penalties for a third offense include:
- At least ten days imprisonment;
- 480 hours of community service;
- Probation after a jail sentence;
- License suspension for at least one year;
- Restricted driving privileges using an ignition interlock;
- An additional two-year license suspension if the court finds you refused a chemical test;
- Completion of an alcohol or drug assessment and treatment program;
- Up to $10,000 in fines.
Indiana CMV DUI
If you are driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) when you get an Indiana DUI, most of the penalties are the same except for license suspension. Your commercial driver’s license (CDL) will be suspended through the Department of Transportation for one year after a conviction, or three years if you were transporting hazardous materials.
After a second conviction, your CDL will be revoked for life. Additionally, the legal alcohol limit in Indiana when driving a commercial vehicle is lower. If your BAC is 0.04 or higher while driving a commercial vehicle, you will be cited under IC 9-24-6.1-6.
Indiana DUI/OWI for Drivers Under 21 Years of Age
Because the legal drinking age is 21 years old, the minimum BAC for an underage driver is 0.01. Any higher, and you will have your license suspended for up to 90 days, in addition to any other penalties. However, drivers under 21 also benefit in one way. They won’t be charged with a felony if driving with individuals under the age of 18 years old.
Special Driving Privileges
If you have had your driver’s license revoked due to a DUI, you can apply for the court to grant you special driving privileges. You are eligible for these privileges only if you did not refuse a breathalyzer test before or after your arrest. If the judge chooses to grant you these privileges, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle.
The judge is not required to grant your request and any costs are in addition to any fines you owe. Furthermore, you will receive additional punishment if you try to circumvent your IID.
Is DUI/OWI a Felony or a Misdemeanor in Indiana?
Usually, operating while intoxicated in Indiana is a misdemeanor offense. However, Indiana drunk driving laws increase the offense to a felony when certain aggravating factors exist:
- Repeat offenses;
- Injury or death of another party;
- A minor was in the vehicle.
A qualified Indiana criminal defense attorney can evaluate your case to determine whether it is a felony or misdemeanor.
Level 6 Felony
The least severe felony you can be charged with for a DUI is a level 6 felony. This felony is earned in one of two ways:
- You have previously been convicted of OWI charges any time within the past seven years;
- You are over 21 years old and a passenger in your vehicle was under 18 years old.
The minimum penalty for this level of offense is six months, and the maximum penalty is two and a half years. The advisory sentence is one year.
Level 5 Felony
An Indiana DUI is charged as a level 5 felony if the accident results in serious bodily harm to another person. Alternatively, even if no one was hurt, you will receive a level 5 felony if you were previously convicted of a DUI accident where:
- You caused another to suffer serious bodily injury;
- Your actions resulted in the death of another person;
- Another person suffered a catastrophic injury due to your actions.
This conviction carries a minimum sentence of one year and a maximum sentence of six years. The advisory sentence is three years.
Level 4 Felony
The most serious offenses are level 4 felonies. To receive a level 4 felony from a DUI, your actions must have resulted in:
- The death or catastrophic injury of another person;
- Serious physical harm to another person if you have a previous OWI conviction within the past five years (without that conviction, this would be a level 5 felony).
The minimum penalty for a level 4 felony is two years, and the maximum penalty is 12 years in prison. The advisory sentence is six years.
Other Potential Consequences for Drunk Driving
Criminal Indiana DUI penalties in drunk driving punishments aren’t the only potential consequences for drunk driving. After an OWI charge in Indiana, you could be subject to:
- A lawsuit for medical expenses of victims;
- The loss of your job;
- Additional expenses beyond court-ordered fines;
- Higher insurance premiums.
If you are lucky enough to not hurt yourself or another, drunk driving can still ruin your life.
Never Face OWI Charges Without an Attorney
Even if you don’t hurt anybody or damage anything, an Indiana DUI can severely impact your life. Without the help of an experienced attorney, you could end up in debt, in jail, or without the means to earn a living.
To minimize the consequences for drunk driving, contact the criminal defense services of Stracci Law Group as soon as possible to schedule a free case review.