Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious criminal offense in Indiana. Convicted drivers could face jail as well as heavy fines, license suspension, and other consequences.
You may have questions, such as:
- What counts as a DUI or OWI offense in Indiana?
- What are the penalties for drugged or drunk driving?
- How can a skilled DUI or OWI attorney protect your rights?
What Is a DUI (OWI) Offense in Indiana?
The official term for drunk or drugged driving in Indiana is OWI (“operating while intoxicated”), but many people are more familiar with the more nationally known abbreviations DUI (“driving under the influence”) or DWI (“driving while intoxicated”). These terms all refer to the same offense: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which Indiana law called OWI.
Indiana OWI laws prohibit operating a vehicle:
- With a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .08% or more for drivers over 21, or .02% or more for drivers under 21
- With any traceable amount of Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substances, including opiates, cocaine, marijuana, or hallucinogenic drugs, in the motorist’s system
- In a state of actual intoxication, even if the motorist’s BAC levels are below the allowable limit
The last point means that a driver in Indiana may still face an OWI conviction even if their blood alcohol concentration was within the legal limit. The prosecution may prove impairment if the driver showed characteristic alcohol-induced behavior, like slurred speech or erratic driving, at the time of the arrest.
Indiana OWI Penalties
Drivers convicted of OWI in Indiana may face a range of penalties, depending on whether their offense is a misdemeanor or a felony and whether they had any prior convictions. Aggravating factors, like BAC over .15% or reckless driving behavior that caused serious bodily injury to others, can also influence the driver’s sentence.
Misdemeanor OWI Conviction
Typically, a misdemeanor OWI conviction in Indiana leads to the following penalties:
- First offense: Up to 60 days in jail, up to $500 in fines, and up to 180 days of license suspension.
- Second offense: Between 5 and 60 days in jail or 240 community service hours, fines up to $500, and license suspension for at least a year.
- Third offense: Between 10 and 60 days in jail or 480 community service hours, fines up to $500, and license suspension for at least a year.
Felony OWI Conviction
A felony OWI conviction may lead to much longer incarceration and heavier penalties. For example, a driver whose OWI offense counts as a Level 4 Felony could face up to 12 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Penalties for Repeat Offenders
Indiana drivers with prior DUI or OWI convictions may fall under the Habitual Vehicular Substance Offender Statute (HVSO), a sentencing enhancement that allows the court system to issue a much harsher sentence than a first- or second-time offender would receive.
HVSO may become an additional charge for:
- Drivers with two previous OWI convictions, at least one of which occurred within the past 10 years
- Drivers with three or more prior convictions, even if the most recent of these occurred over 10 years ago
For example, HVSO would apply to a 52-year-old driver who had prior OWI convictions at 18, 23, and 30 years of age, even though the latest prior conviction occurred over 20 years ago.
HVSO may add between 1 and 8 years of incarceration to the driver’s penalties. This means that a driver whose newest conviction counts as a Class C Misdemeanor might still face years in prison if HVSO compounds their sentence.
Far-Reaching Consequences of a DUI (OWI) Conviction in Indiana
Apart from direct legal penalties, an OWI conviction can also impact your life in other ways. An OWI record may:
- Limit your future employment opportunities, especially in fields like education, nursing, law, or any job that requires driving
- Raise your insurance premiums or make it extremely difficult to qualify for car insurance coverage
- Lead to border-crossing difficulties if you plan to travel to a country that bans all visitors with a criminal record
- Jeopardize your custody of your minor children in case of a dispute
- Impede your application for a U.S. visa or green card if you are an immigrant, or even lead to deportation if your OWI offense involved aggravating charges like hit-and-run
What to Do During and After an OWI Arrest
Your actions during and following your OWI arrest can influence the outcome of your OWI case.
If a police officer arrests you for suspected OWI, you should:
- Say as little as possible. Anything you say to the police may serve as evidence against you. While you should cooperate with the police, avoid sharing any non-essential information until you speak to a lawyer.
- Write down or record all you can remember about your arrest, from the moment the police officer pulls you over until you leave jail. Pay special attention to any reasons the police gave for arresting you, any statements you made, and any possible violations of procedure, like an unauthorized search of your vehicle.
- Gather the contact information of potential witnesses who can testify to your sobriety.
- Collect evidence, like a restaurant bill that shows you didn’t purchase any alcohol immediately before getting behind the wheel.
- Talk to an OWI lawyer and start working on a legal defense strategy.
Are You Required to Submit to a Field Sobriety Test in Indiana?
After pulling you over, a police officer may ask you to submit to a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (FST), which may include walking along a straight line or following a penlight with your eyes. Field sobriety tests are not conclusive, and you can refuse to do them with no legal consequences.
However, even if you refuse an FST, a rule known as “implied consent” compels you to submit to a chemical test (usually a Breathalyzer) following your arrest. Refusing a chemical test worsens your legal position and may lead to a much longer license suspension.
How an OWI Attorney Can Help Protect Your Legal Rights
The specific legal strategy your OWI attorney will recommend hinges on the circumstances of your case. Based on the situation, your OWI lawyer may:
- Work towards case dismissal or diversion. Depending on your criminal record and the specific charges against you, Indiana OWI laws may make you eligible for a pre-trial diversion program. Successful participants may benefit from a full dismissal of charges.
- Keep you out of jail. Not every OWI conviction results in jail time. An OWI lawyer will work hard to preserve your freedom.
- Examine evidence and procedures. Did the police pull you over without reasonable grounds? Did a Field Sobriety Test violate the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) standards? Your lawyer can file a Motion to Suppress to eliminate any unlawfully obtained evidence from your case.
- Negotiate a plea bargain. Most OWI cases settle out of court. Your OWI lawyer can help you achieve the best possible plea bargain terms.
- Help you keep your license. An OWI lawyer can help you avoid suspension or qualify for Specialized Driving Privileges.
Why Choosing a Skilled OWI Lawyer Is So Important
Working with the right criminal defense lawyer can determine the outcome of your OWI case in Indiana. While an OWI arrest requires swift legal action to protect your rights, you should still take the time to screen Indiana’s OWI law firms and choose a lawyer based on:
- References. What do this law firm’s former clients say? Were they happy with their lawyer’s skills, service, and attention to the case?
- Local experience. Every local court has its nuances. Look for a lawyer who represents cases similar to yours in your town or county.
- Communication. Choose an attorney who offers not just solid credentials but also ongoing communication and an assertive legal approach. You need an attorney who will act quickly on your behalf and keep you updated as your case unfolds.
- Track record. Look for an OWI attorney who has performed well in similar cases. Was this lawyer able to achieve case dismissal or reduced penalties for drivers in circumstances like yours?
- Fees and terms. While the most expensive law firm is not necessarily the best one, beware of lowball fees. A very low fee may indicate a lawyer without sufficient experience or a legal mill that gives little individual attention to each case.
As a former deputy prosecutor, OWI attorney Mark Worthley knows how driving-while-intoxicated cases work in Indiana and how to choose the optimal legal strategy for each case. Mr. Worthley has a stellar track record of protecting the future, liberty, and reputation of Indiana drivers.
Indiana OWI Laws FAQ
Here, we address some common questions Indiana drivers ask when they face OWI charges.
How long will an OWI conviction stay on my record in Indiana?
This depends on whether Indiana classifies your OWI offense as a misdemeanor or a felony. Drivers with a misdemeanor OWI conviction can petition for expungement after five years, whereas felony OWI convictions require a longer waiting period—at least 8 years for a Level 6 Felony or at least 10 years for higher-level felonies. For some convictions, expungement depends on the court’s discretion.
Working with an experienced OWI attorney can improve your chances of getting your record expunged.
If I lose my license, I lose my job. Can I apply for a hardship license?
A skilled OWI defense lawyer can help you apply for SDP (Specialized Driving Privileges) if a court suspends your driving license. An Indiana court may allow you to drive within a limited distance to school or work and back, provided you follow specific requirements like using an interlock device.
Drivers who violated their Specialized Driving Privileges in the past may be ineligible for SDP after their current conviction.
Can driving under the influence of prescription drugs lead to an OWI charge in Indiana?
Yes. If a legal prescription drug impairs your concentration, vision, reaction time, or other faculties that impact driving, operating a vehicle under the influence of this drug may count as an OWI offense. To stay safe, ask your physician about the effects of your prescription drugs on driving.
Am I under a legal obligation to disclose my DUI or OWI record to my car insurance company?
While legally under Indiana DUI laws, you are under no mandate to report a DUI or OWI arrest or conviction to your car insurance provider, concealing information from your insurer is never a good idea. Providing inaccurate information about your driving history could lead to a claim denial or even a policy termination.
A DUI or OWI record almost certainly means higher car insurance premiums, but you can often re-negotiate your policy terms three years after your conviction.
How soon should I talk to a lawyer if I’m facing OWI or DUI charges?
If an Indiana police officer arrests you for suspected OWI, or if you’re facing DUI charges elsewhere, contact our Valparaiso-based DUI/OWI criminal defense lawyer immediately. Prompt legal action can help protect your rights, avoid a conviction, and reduce penalties.
Worthley Law: Trusted Legal Support for Drivers Facing OWI Charges in Valparaiso and Throughout Indiana
An OWI conviction in Indiana can land you in jail, cost you a lot of money, and stain your record for a long time. The right OWI defense lawyer can help you achieve case dismissal or reduced charges.
Mark Worthley, OWI lawyer and former deputy prosecutor, knows exactly how Indiana DUI laws work and how to apply the best defense strategies to your case. The Worthley Law team is here to protect your rights when you’re facing OWI charges.
Contact our team at (219) 575-8565 or through our online form for a case evaluation by our experienced OWI lawyer in Valparaiso, IN.