Indiana has an unusual means of referring to what most of us call DUI or DWI; "driving under the influence" and "driving while intoxicated" respectively. Instead of those more commonly used abbreviations, Indiana prefers to call its intoxication behind the wheel offenses "OWIs," which is short for "Operating While Intoxicated." Though an unusual name, an OWI and its resulting punishment are typical of the serious and harsh approach nearly every state takes in prosecuting its drunk drivers.
Indiana law uses two theories to prosecute drivers under its criminal rules. The first is a per se theory. A per se violation occurs when a person's blood alcohol level exceeds the limit proscribed by state statute. Indiana law sets the per se floor at .08 percent. A majority of states in the U.S. use .08 percent as the legal level of intoxication for adults. Indiana state law does not allow the arrestee to make a decision about what type of blood alcohol test to take. Instead, the arresting officer is authorized to make that determination. Where an arrestee's test results show that he or she was driving with a blood alcohol level at or greater than .15 percent, he or she may be subjected to heightened punishment.
In some situations, the state may wish to argue that a person, though not clearly in violation of the per se laws, was under the influence. This argument is generally used in two situations. The first instance is where the arrestee refuses to take a blood alcohol test. Second, where the arrestee has submitted to the blood alcohol test and given results below .08 percent, but whose normal driving ability appears impaired by alcohol or drugs. In these types of situations, the arrestee, though he or she does not meet the per se test for intoxication, may still be impaired enough to receive a charge of OWI.
At the OWI trial proceeding, the prosecution will bring in the arresting officer's observations in order to prove that a driver was noticeably and problematically under the influence at the time of arrest. In making its determination of guilt or innocence, a court will consider field sobriety test performance, driving pattern, physical appearance, speech pattern, and general impressions of the officer. At an OWI proceeding that does not rely on the per se theory, the prosecution is charged with convincing the court that the defendant did not have control of his or her faculties due to consumption of some intoxicating substance or substances.
A first time offender in Indiana will have his or her license suspended and be subject to fines and probation. Some courts will add jail time to even a first offender's punishment, especially in cases of extremely high blood alcohol levels. A second offense carries with it probation, fines, and a license suspension of six months to a year. Also, as with a first offense, the court may decide to impose a jail sentence and may even elect to prosecute the offender as a felon, if the circumstances of the OWI so indicate.
Indiana OWI law is designed to encourage defendants to plead guilty. A guilty plea, though problematic in other ways, is the fastest and best way to ensure speedy reinstatement of driving privileges. Of course, no plea decision should ever be made without the advice of a competent attorney. Indiana OWI laws, with their many nuances and subtle points, are no exception to that rule. Anyone accused of OWI in Indiana should seek legal counsel as quickly as possible.