OWI in Indiana

What is an OWI in Indiana?

In Indiana, OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) is the legal term for drunk driving. The term also encompasses other offenses like the operation of vehicles and other means of transportation while under the influence of inebriating substances in any capacity. Indiana has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit like other states or jurisdictions. Motorists with BAC that exceed the legal limit violate the state’s Motor Vehicle Code and may be charged with OWI.

Law enforcement agencies such as Indiana courts and police departments enforce the state’s motor vehicle code and traffic laws. The court assesses penalties for violating drunk driving laws, including criminal penalties such as jail terms and fines and administrative penalties like license suspension. Additionally, DUI offenses are featured in the Indiana criminal record of convicted offenders.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and an OWI in Indiana?

DUI is an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, while OWI means Operating While Intoxicated. As the names suggest, OWI covers more than just driving. Operating in any capacity, or even sitting in a vehicle with the engine on while under the influence of any intoxicating substance, is a crime in Indiana. A motorist does not need to be driving on the highway to be apprehended or charged with an OWI. Generally, OWI covers more than just vehicles; it also covers impairment while operating bicycles, boats, or tricycles.

The state does not distinguish between DUI and OWI, but the legally adopted term in Indiana is OWI. Law enforcement officers perform sobriety tests on motorists to determine impairment or level of intoxication.

Indiana OWI Laws

Indiana’s OWI laws are outlined in IC 9-30-5, and they provide insight on acceptable road usage behavior, violations, and applicable penalties. The laws are as follows:

  • It is a punishable offense to operate a vehicle with an alcohol concentration of at least 0.08g but less than 0.15g of alcohol per 100ml of blood or 210 liters of breath. This offense is a Class C misdemeanor.
  • It is against the law for a person to operate a vehicle when they have an alcohol concentration of at least 0.15g per 100ml of blood or 210 liters of breath. This offense is a Class A misdemeanor.
  • If a person operates a vehicle with an alcohol concentration of 0.08g per 100ml of blood or 200 liters of breath, and the person causes serious bodily injury to another person, it is a Level 5 felony. This also applies if the driver or operator is under the influence of a controlled substance or its metabolite.
  • It is unlawful for motorists under 21 years old to operate a vehicle with an alcohol concentration of at least 0.02g but less than 0.08g per 100ml of blood or 200 liters of breath. This offense is a Class C infraction in Indiana.
  • If a commercial driver operates a commercial vehicle with a minimum alcohol concentration of 0.04g but less than 0.08g per 100ml of blood or 200 liters of breath, the driver violates the state’s OWI laws.
  • In Indiana, a commercial driver may not operate a vehicle when the driver’s alcohol concentration is at least 0.08g per 100ml of blood or 200 liters of breath.

According to IC 9-30-6-3, if a police officer has a reason or probable cause to believe that a motorist is intoxicated, the officer may arrest the motorist but offer the motorist an opportunity to submit to chemical testing. If the tests show that the motorist operated a vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence, the police officer must arrest the motorist for OWI.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), the police department, and the courts manage and penalize road traffic offenses in Indiana. BMV assesses administrative penalties to offending motorists that violate traffic laws. Penalties include license suspension or the revocation of driving privileges. Indiana operates a point system for drivers; motorists who accumulate up to 18 points within 24 months may suspend their licenses.

OWI Penalties in Indiana

Penalties for OWI in Indiana depend on the nature and severity of the offense and the offender’s criminal record. First-time offenses typically attract less severe penalties than repeated offenses. The type of penalty an offender receives for an OWI in Indiana also depends on the presence of aggravating factors. If the incident or event involved the presence of a minor or caused bodily injury to another person, the penalties are likely to be harsh, even if it is a first-time offense. First-time OWIs are misdemeanors in Indiana; however, repeated offenses and offenses that cause death or serious bodily injury to other persons are felony offenses.

As provided in IC 35-50, the penalties for OWI in Indiana include:

  • Imprisonment for 60 days to one (1) year
  • Fines of at least $500 and at most $5,000
  • A suspension or revocation of the offender’s driver’s license
  • Ignition interlock device installation
  • Forfeiture or impoundment

What Happens When You Get a DWI in Indiana?

Indiana officially uses the term OWI and does not distinguish between DUI, OWI, and DWI. In the state, all offenses related to driving or operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs are classified as OWI. Before an offender gets charged or penalized for drunk driving or operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, law enforcement agents must provide evidence that the offender violated the state’s OWI laws. Refusing to submit to testing is admissible in court as evidence in Indiana. If the arresting officers or agency can prove that the offender operated a vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence, the court will charge the offender with an OWI. Offenders may retain a criminal defense attorney for representation in contesting OWI charges.

What Happens When You Get an OWI for the First Time in Indiana?

Persons who operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration above the state’s legal limit are guilty of an OWI. Since Indiana’s OWI laws cover intoxication with alcohol, drugs, and other controlled substances or their metabolites, there are “per se” OWI and “per drug” OWI cases in the state. According to the state’s implied consent laws, persons who drive or obtain driver’s licenses in the state implicitly consent to submit to chemical testing. Law enforcement officers only need to have probable cause to request that a motorist submits to testing.

A refusal to submit to testing as mandated by the state’s laws may result in the immediate suspension of the offender’s driving privileges for up to one (1) year (IC 9-30-6-9). In some cases, the court may require the offender to install ignition interlock devices instead of suspending the offender’s driving privileges. A first-time OWI in Indiana involves an alcohol concentration of at least 0.08g but less than 0.15g per 100ml of blood or 210 liters of breath. It is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for no more than 60 days and a fine of no less than $500 (IC 35-50-3-4).

If the offender’s alcohol concentration is a minimum of 0.15g, a first-time OWI is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for up to one (1) year, fines of up to $5,000 (IC 35-50-3-2), and a suspension of the driver’s license for up to six (6) months. Penalties assessed for violation of the implied consent laws are typically served concurrently with the OWI penalty. OWIs that cause bodily injury or death to other persons are punished more severely than others as they are felony offenses. Offenders in this category can expect imprisonment for between one (1) and six (6) years and fines of up to $10,000. BMV suspends the licenses of OWI felony offenders for six (6) to 18 months.

What is the Penalty for a Second OWI in Indiana?

Within five (5) years, a second OWI offense is a Level 6 felony in Indiana, punishable by fines of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for six (6) to 18 months. If the OWI results in serious bodily injury or death to another person, a second OWI is a Level 5 felony, punishable by a maximum fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for one (1) to six (6) years. All second-time OWI offenses carry mandatory minimum imprisonment of five (5) days. In place of the five-day minimum jail term, the court may sentence the offender to 240 hours of compulsory community service. For a Level 6 OWI, BMV suspends the offender’s license for six (6) to 18 months. Level 5 OWIs result in license suspension for one (1) to six (6) years.

The court may grant an offender a restricted driving license if the offender installs an ignition interlock device. After a second OWI in Indiana, the court may require the offender to undergo an alcohol or drug assessment. The assessment helps the court determine the offender’s degree of abuse and whether the offender requires treatment. If the court finds that the offender suffers from alcohol abuse, the offender must complete an abuse treatment or deterrent program. Offenders may also be required to attend Victim Impact Programs at their own expense.

What Happens After a Third OWI in Indiana?

A person commits a third OWI if the events that lead to the offense occur within five (5) years of a second OWI offense. A third OWI in Indiana could be a Level 6 or a Level 5 felony, depending on the offender’s criminal history and the presence of aggravating factors. A third OWI is a Level 6 felony if the following circumstances exist:

  • The offender’s alcohol concentration is at least 0.15g per 100ml of blood or 200 liters of breath
  • The offender endangered another person by the way they operated the vehicle
  • The offender had a child less than 18 in the car at the time of the offense

A Level 6 OWI is punishable by a fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for six (6) to 32 months. If the offender has a previous OWI conviction that involved serious injury or death to another person, the third offense is a Level 5 OWI. It is punishable by a minimum fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for one (1) to six (6) years. All third-time OWI offenses carry a mandatory ten-day minimum jail term. The court may order at least 480 hours of community service in place of jail time. Vehicle seizure is also a possible penalty for a third OWI offense in Indiana.

BMV suspends the licenses of third-time OWI offenders for the maximum period of imprisonment for the offense. If the court seizes the offender’s vehicle, BMV will only register a vehicle in the offender’s name at the end of the offender’s license suspension period. Third-time OWI offenders must undergo drug or alcohol assessment and treatment programs as required. Offenders must also complete Victim Impact Programs (VIP) at their own expense.

How Long Does an OWI Stay on Your Record in Indiana?

Depending on the severity of the offense, an OWI stays on the offender’s record for five (5) to eight (8) years after the arrest. An offender may be able to get rid of the record after the “look back” period passes.

In most cases, the court considers an offender’s criminal history in determining the appropriate sentence for an OWI. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles also considers an offender’s record in determining the severity of administrative penalties, including suspensions and revocation. OWI records help law enforcement agencies identify repeat offenders and determine risk levels. Another effect an OWI record has is increased insurance premiums as insurance companies have access to driving records, and by extension, OWI records in the state.

Like most criminal records, OWI records are public in Indiana. This means that any member of the public may access or request the records. OWI records are public in Indiana until the court issues an order to seal or expunge the record. IC 35-38-9 offers guidelines for expungement in the state.

OWI Expungement in Indiana

According to IC 35-38-9-6, when the court orders the expungement of a record, law enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), the Department of Corrections must restrict access to the expunged record. This also applies to the criminal history record repository, the court clerk, other agencies, and persons involved in the treatment and incarceration of the offender or subject of the record. Only authorized persons such as law enforcement officers in the course of duty or persons with court orders may access expunged records. In Indiana, expungement results in the redaction or permanent sealing of a record.

State laws make different provisions for OWI record categories. Non-conviction OWI records may be expunged one (1) year after the arrest or charge. The offender may file a petition in the superior or circuit court in the county where the arrest or charge happened.

Records of misdemeanor and felony OWI offenses have more expungement requirements. For example, misdemeanor OWI offenders may only petition the court for expungement at least five (5) years after the conviction date. However, if the prosecuting attorney provides written consent to an earlier expungement, the offender may petition the court earlier. To meet the requirements for expungement, the offender must:

  • Complete their sentence and all other sentence requirements, including fees, court costs, fines, and any restitution obligation.
  • Have no pending charges.
  • Have no other convictions within five (5) years before the petition.

To be eligible for expungement, level 6 felony OWI offenders must wait eight (8) years from the conviction date or three (3) years from the sentence completion date. Level 5 OWI felony offenses that involve bodily injury to other persons must seek the prosecutor’s consent before petitioning the court for expungement. Such persons become eligible for expungement after ten (10) years from the conviction date or five years from the person’s sentence completion date. It is not possible to expunge offenses that involve homicide in Indiana.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First OWI in Indiana?

Jail time is very likely after a first OWI in Indiana. Although state laws do not stipulate mandatory minimum imprisonment for first OWI offenses, standard OWI procedure includes jail time. When law enforcement officers arrest a person on confirmation of an OWI, the person is booked into jail. The amount of time the offender spends in jail depends on the severity of the offense or the presence of aggravating factors and how quickly the offender can make bail.

What is the Average Cost of OWI in Indiana?

OWIs have other associated costs outside of fines, and these costs can run up to $10,000 or more. When law enforcement officers arrest a person for OWI, the person’s car is typically impounded. Towing fees are between $100 and $200. Offenders must pay fines that could range from $500 to $10,000, depending on the severity of the offense. Apart from fines, the court requires offenders to pay administrative fees for OWI cases. Offenders can expect to pay about $250 service fees to the court. Hiring an attorney for representation is another expense that comes with an OWI. In Indiana, offenders can expect to pay an average of $2250 to retain an attorney. The more severe the offense, the higher the retainer or attorney fees.

Depending on the nature of the OWI, offenders may be required to undergo substance abuse treatment programs, which usually cost a minimum of $1,000 and can be as high as $60,000, including medications. The cost depends on the type of treatment the offender requires and the treatment plan (out-patient or in-patient) that the offender chooses.

BMV suspends or revokes OWI offenders’ licenses, and such persons must pay reinstatement fees to restore their licenses. Reinstatement fee in Indiana ranges from $250 to $1,000, depending on whether it is a first, second, or third OWI.

Other OWI costs include increased insurance premiums, bail, victim compensation, medical expenses, installation and maintenance of ignition interlock devices, and payment for any driving education program requirements.

How Much is Bail for an OWI in Indiana?

When law enforcement officers have reason to believe that a person may be operating a vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, officers may detain the person and request that the person take chemical tests. If the test results prove that the offender was intoxicated at the time of arrest, officers may book the offender to jail. Typically, all OWI offenders spend some time in jail. The amount of time an offender spends in jail depends on the nature of the offense, the time of the arrest, and the availability of bail money. If officers arrest an offender on the weekend, the offender may spend more time in jail.

The court determines bail amounts for OWIs on a merit basis. Therefore, there are no fixed bail amounts for OWIs in Indiana. Offenders can expect to pay between $250 to several thousand dollars. The court charges bail to ensure that an offender shows up at court hearings when required. A part of the bail is considered an administrative fee and is therefore non-refundable, but the rest of the bail amount is refundable.

How to Get My License Back After an OWI in Indiana?

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles revokes or suspends motorists’ driver’s licenses when law enforcement officers arrest such persons for OWI, driving without insurance, and other applicable violations of state traffic laws. Law enforcement officers may seize a person’s license when arrested for an OWI in Indiana; however, BMV may not suspend the license immediately. Typically, it takes up to ten (10) days after arrest for BMV to suspend or revoke a driver’s license. For a first OWI, BMV can suspend an offender’s license for at least six (6) months. When the suspension period is over, the offender must follow certain steps to reinstate their Indiana driving licenses.

The first step is to obtain up-to-date information about driving records. Requesting parties can find information about their driving record online through Indiana’s Viewable Driver Record (VBR) or the Official Driver Record (ODR). Interested parties may also obtain driving record information by calling the Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ contact center. VBR is available at no cost, while ODR costs $4. The ODR comes with a BMV certification, and users may download or print copies. The driving record contains information about the offender’s license suspension period and the reinstatement requirements.

OWI offenders in Indiana must purchase insurance as proof of financial responsibility to be eligible for license reinstatement. However, the insurance company must submit copies of the policy to the BMV directly. Requesters must also pay the reinstatement fees, which costs $250 for a first OWI, $500 for a second offense, and $1,000 for a third. Interested parties may track license status online at no charge with the ODR or visit a BMV branch. BMV restores an offender’s license after the offender meets all requirements.

How Does an OWI Affect Your Life in Indiana?

An OWI has collateral consequences beyond the criminal and administrative fines that state laws require. Typically, OWI offenses are expensive as the costs extend beyond fines. Bail, attorney services, towing or impoundment fees, license reinstatement fees, medical bills, and victim compensation fees are only some of the associated costs with an OWI, which can run into thousands of dollars. An OWI conviction may result in job loss or inability to secure employment, as OWI convictions stay on the offender’s criminal record. Employers typically conduct background checks before employment and may consider an OWI conviction a lack of sound judgment. Imprisonment can also cause an offender to lose time at work, resulting in a job loss.

Driver’s licenses suspensions may limit a person’s ability to transport themselves from one place to another. A loss of practice license for certain professions could also result from an OWI in Indiana. An OWI conviction may result in the loss of scholarships for students, and it may become difficult for offenders to gain admission into some educational institutions.

Can You Get Fired for an OWI in Indiana?

Yes, it is possible to get fired for an OWI in Indiana. There are many ways through which an OWI conviction can result in job loss. When an OWI offender is imprisoned, the offender loses time at work. Arrested or detained persons may not be able to provide advance notice of unavailability at work, which could lead to a termination of the offender’s employment. Indiana is an at-will employment state. This means that employer-employee contracts can be terminated at any time and for any reason, provided the reasons are not discriminatory or otherwise against the law. Community service, a loss of driving privileges, and repeated court appearances may also cause an OWI offender to lose time or get to work repeatedly late.

In healthcare and education, an OWI conviction may be considered a lack of good judgment and could result in a job loss or practice license loss. This also applies to jobs that require confidentiality and security clearance. Public-facing workers such as politicians may also face job losses for OWI convictions. For commercial drivers, an OWI conviction has dire consequences. State laws penalize commercial drivers guilty of OWIs with a license suspension. A first offense results in suspending the offender’s commercial driver’s license for one (1) year. A second offense results in suspension of the offender’s commercial driver’s license for life, but with eligibility for reinstatement after ten (10) years.

A third OWI results in suspending the offender’s driver’s license for life without eligibility for reinstatement. State laws also exclude commercial drivers from receiving hardship licenses for commercial vehicles. This can result in immediate job loss and the inability to secure other employment as a commercial driver. Generally, the determining factors in job loss for an OWI conviction are the nature of the job and the employer’s policy.

How Do I Find OWI Checkpoints in Indiana?

OWI or sobriety checkpoints are legal in Indiana. Law enforcement officers set up these checkpoints to raise awareness for and combat impaired driving. OWI checkpoints are subject to state laws and must be conducted properly. Typically, law enforcement officers set up checkpoints in areas where impaired driving is highly likely. The checkpoint must be properly labeled and visible from both sides of the road. Also, law enforcement officers must pre-determine the criteria for stopping vehicles, considering the flow of traffic, the number of available officers, and any other security concerns.

At Indiana OWI checkpoints, law enforcement officers stop motorists, ask a few questions, and evaluate drivers for any signs of intoxication or impairment such as slurred speech, swerving, or the presence of alcohol in the vehicle. If an officer has reason to believe that a driver may be impaired, the officer directs the driver to a pull-off area where the officer may conduct a field sobriety test. Persons interested in finding OWI checkpoints in Indiana may contact local police departments about checkpoint dates and locations.

Which is Worse, OWI vs. DWI?

OWI and DWI are both terms that refer to impaired driving. An OWI is a more serious offense in states that distinguish between both terms. It involves a higher level of impairment or alcohol concentration. DWI offenses may be limited to ones that occur while the offender is driving. On the other hand, if a person merely sits behind the wheel of a car with the engine on while intoxicated, the person may be charged with an OWI.

Indiana does not distinguish between both terms; the state’s adopted legal term is OWI. The state penalizes impaired driving with fines, imprisonment, community service, ignition interlock device installation, and the suspension of driver’s licenses, amongst other things. Indiana has a zero-tolerance policy, which prohibits persons under 21 from driving while impaired or under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or drug metabolites. The state also has an implied consent law; a violation of this law may lead to additional penalties.