Indiana DUI/OWI FAQs
In Indiana, the term DUI or DWI is called OVWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) or OWI. They are all the same words for the same crime. If you operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can be charged with a misdemeanor, face fines, license restrictions, and even possible jail time. Here we answer some frequently asked questions about OWI.
How does the prosecution prove OWI?
There are two ways to prove OWI in Indiana. For alcohol-related offenses, the law uses the standard .08 as the limit for alcohol consumption. This means that if your BAC is over .08, the prosecution need only prove that to establish an OWI conviction. This is known as a per se OWI.
Prior to blood alcohol tests, police used circumstantial evidence to prove someone was operating their vehicle unsafely and still can when the tests say they are below .08 or some other substance other than alcohol is found in their system. This requires that the prosecutor establish that the individual was operating their vehicle unsafely and this was caused by intoxication.
What if I smoked pot three weeks ago? (Metabolite prosecutions)
Indiana allows the prosecution to press charges against an individual who was in a traffic accident and found to have drug metabolites in their system. For marijuana users, this is a real problem. Marijuana can stay in your system for up to a month if you are a regular smoker. That means that you can be charged with OWI in Indiana even if you were not operating your vehicle under the influence. Is it fair? Probably not. Other states have marijuana-related standards and tests they perform to determine intoxication. Indiana does not. So be careful.
What if I am on a prescription from my doctor?
Several prescription drugs actually show up as illegal drugs on a tox screen. This includes drugs like Adderal which are prescribed to those with ADHD. The drug is an amphetamine that causes most folks to bounce off the walls. But for those with ADHD, it calms them down and helps them concentrate. If you are found with methamphetamines in your system but have a valid prescription for a drug like Adderal, then you can raise that as a defense to OWI charges.
Penalty structures for OWI-related offenses
Essentially, there is a basic OWI-related offense and then several aggravating factors that can be added on. On the lenient end, an OWI can come with a $500 fine, usually no jail time, but a license suspension, and exorbitant insurance fees. However, aggravating factors can cause the penalties to begin to escalate rapidly. At the other end of the spectrum, the most severe OWI penalties come with a 12-year maximum sentence and an advisory sentence of at least six years.
Aggravating factors impacting the severity of your charges
A simple DUI is when you are caught coming home from the bar, your driving is obviously impaired, but your BAC is less than .15. Factors that can substantially increase the severity of the charges against you include:
- Having a BAC above .15
- Having a second OWI within 10 years of prior OWI conviction
- Having a second OWI within five years of prior OWI conviction
- Causing property damage during an OWI accident
- Causing injury during a an OWI accident
- Causing severe or permanent injury during an OWI accident
- Causing death during an OWI accident
- Having a minor in the vehicle while under the influence
Penalties for OWI in Indiana
There are three types of penalties for OWI. Those are administrative penalties handed down against your license, criminal penalties such as jail and fines, and civil penalties such as making restitution to an injured defendant or replacing damaged property. In addition, it is likely that your insurance premiums will skyrocket. Depending on the severity of the charges, you can lose your license for a minimum of 60 days and a maximum of the rest of your life. Lastly, the OWI conviction will remain on your license for life, even if it is your first OWI with no aggravating factors.
Defenses to OWI in Indiana
Indiana makes it difficult for OWI defendants to present reasonable defenses in court. For example, you can be arrested for OWI just for having smoked pot a couple of weeks ago. However, that rarely happens. The reason for that is the police must have probable cause to pull a vehicle over. If the vehicle is breaking no laws, then police have no probable cause and hence, the stop is illegal and so is any evidence gleaned from the stop. That is known as a procedural defense.
Other defenses focus on attacking the evidence against you presented by police and prosecutors.
Field sobriety tests
Field sobriety tests have been studied independently and shown very poor efficacy at determining whether someone is actually inebriated. There are three field sobriety tests that are authorized by the NHTSA. These include:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus – The officer asks you to follow a pen with your eyes. Those who are under the influence have difficulty focusing on a single point. However, the test is only accurate 60% of the time. Health conditions or other underlying issues account for a great number of failures.
- Walk and turn – Another example of an even less successful test is the walk and turn. The officer asks you to walk in a straight line heel to toe without using your arms for balance and executing a turn on one foot. Most people will fail this test even when they are not drunk simply because they are nervous about being tested by the officer. The test has no merit whatsoever.
- One-legged stand – The one-legged stand has even less merit than the other two. You are asked to maintain your balance without being able to look at the horizon or use your arms while standing on one leg for a period of time.
The results of field sobriety tests are not accurate and will not form the basis of a successful OWI prosecution unless you do not contest the charges. Nonetheless, an arresting officer will testify that you failed these tests, were operating your vehicle unsafely, and had the smell of alcohol on your breath along with other signs of inebriation like glassy or bloodshot eyes or slurred speech.
Chemical tests actually have scientific merit, but the extent of that merit is debatable. In fact, prosecutors have had massive amounts of cases dismissed because officers were using breathalyzer tests improperly. For a chemical test to be valid, it must pass scientific scrutiny. That means the test has to be performed exactly right. In the case of a breathalyzer test, the device must be calibrated properly to render accurate results. In the case of a blood test, the exact amount of blood must be taken and the sample must be stored in a cool place to prevent fermentation.
In either event, chemical tests can be challenged by a knowledgeable defense attorney.
Do I need an attorney after my DUI arrest?
There are few cases that are brought by prosecutors that are so ironclad that a defense attorney could not help. At the very least, we can advocate for you based on extenuating circumstances, a promise to seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, or the fact that you are an upstanding member of the community. When it comes to OWI, judges have broad discretion when it comes to sentencing. In some cases, charges will be dismissed against those charged with OWI based on extenuating factors.
Those who plead guilty to OWI-related charges will have the conviction placed on their driving record for the rest of their lives. So before you take a plea that sounds like a good deal, you should run the matter by a defense attorney, have them take a look at the evidence against you, and determine if the deal is really a good one.
Talk to a Fort Wayne, IN DUI/OWI Attorney
If you have been arrested for OWI in Indiana, call The Bellinger Law Firm immediately and allow us to begin preparing your defense to the charges.