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I've heard of DWI, DUI and OWI. What's the difference?
In Indiana, drunk driving offenses are called "Operating While Intoxicated", or "OWI". Some people refer to this as driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). These terms are used interchangeably, but they all represent the same bad situation.
What are the Operating While Intoxicated laws in Indiana?
Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) crimes are covered by Indiana Code 9-30-5-1, et. seq. Depending on the circumstances, OWI crimes may be charged as misdemeanors or felonies.
You are considered to be over the legal limit in Indiana if you have a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of at least .08%. If you have a commercial driver's license, the limit is only .04%. If you're younger than 21, the limit is only .02%.
What are the potential penalties for OWI?
The penalties for a conviction for OWI depend on the particular charge. For a misdemeanor charge, the penalties may include jail time, fines, and a license suspension. For felony offenses a person faces a license suspension, fines that may reach $10,000, and months to years in prison, depending on the particular offense or combination of offenses.
Can I be charged with multiple OWI offenses out of just one incident?
A person can be (and typically is) charged with multiple offenses out of a single encounter when OWI charges are filed. This is because there are several ways to violate the law as it applies to drunk driving. It is illegal to drive impaired, it is illegal to drive with a certain BAC, and it is illegal to drive while intoxicated in a manner that endangers another person. Other considerations include the age of the driver or passengers in the vehicle. Prosecutors often will charge someone with as many violations as possible. The charges a person faces will also typically include any traffic citations the person may have committed during the encounter. Speaking to an experienced criminal defense attorney can help to explain and navigate the many nuances of these charges.
Can I be charged with Operating While Intoxicated if I haven't consumed any alcohol?
Yes. Operating While Intoxicated offenses are not just for alcohol. Indiana's substance abuse laws state that you may be found guilty of simply being under the influence of a substance while driving (meaning that it affected your ability to drive), or being over the blood alcohol content legal limit. These substances can include, but are not limited to, things like prescription medication or illegal drugs such as marijuana.
Can I refuse the breath test?
There is a difference between the roadside Portable Breath Test (PBT) that a police officer may ask you to take and the chemical test which you are required to take by law. The roadside PBT may be refused.
The "official" chemical test for intoxication is different. If you are suspected of OWI, the police officer will ask you to take a blood, breath or urine test to determine the amount of alcohol in your system. You do not get to choose which test is administered. You do not have the right to talk to a lawyer before taking the test. The results of a chemical test, if administered properly, may be admissible against you in court.
If the chemical test shows that your BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) exceeds the legal limit, you will face an administrative license suspension. Moreover, you will face additional suspension time and other penalties if you are later convicted in court.
If you refuse to take the chemical test, the police officer will take your license immediately, and your license will be suspended for up to 1 year. Furthermore, your refusal may be used as evidence against you.