Every DUI / OVWI case in Indiana is at least a Class C misdemeanor. At this most basic level, the State is claiming that you drove a vehicle:
- while intoxicated; or
- with an alcohol concentration equivalent (ACE) of at least .08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood or per 210 liters of breath.
A Class C misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
A DUI / OVWI can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor if the offense allegedly involved:
- endangerment; or
- an ACE of at least .15 grams per 100 milliliters of blood or per 210 liters of breath.
But what does Indiana law mean when it says, endangering a person? There is no simple answer to this question. Case law tells us that being stopped at a checkpoint doesn’t rise to the level of endangerment. The same goes for having a broken license plate light.
Indiana law currently suggests that travelling at 15 miles per hour or less within city limits is not endangerment, but there is a case that seems to say more than 15 miles per hour over the speed limit within city limits is endangerment. Crossing the double yellow line can clearly qualify as endangerment.
Swaying or swerving within your own lane of travel is often considered sufficient evidence of endangerment, depending on the context. Unfortunately, the difference between dangerous swerving and trying to correct course on an imperfect highway is entirely in the eyes of the police.
And what about the person who’s supposedly endangered? Indiana case law makes it clear that the endangerment standard is as flexible as they come. In order to show endangerment, all the State needs to do is claim that someone could have been hurt. It’s a criminal charge based in a bad thing that didn’t happen. Even if there was no one else on the road, the police are still allowed to hit you with the endangerment charge—based on the theory that the person you were endangering was yourself.
A Class A misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Beyond the misdemeanors, there are various felony levels of DUI / OVWI. The most common reason for a DUI / OVWI to be charged as a felony is a prior conviction within five years. The charging date on the prior offense doesn’t matter—the question is whether you’re being charged with DUI / OVWI within five years of the date of a prior DUI / OVWI conviction. If the answer to that question is yes, you’re going to be charged with a Level 6 felony, which carries a maximum penalty of two-and-a-half years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
An equally serious scenario involves a DUI / OVWI charge where there’s a passenger under the age of 18 in the vehicle. If you’re charged with DUI / OVWI with endangerment or with an ACE above .15 and there’s a minor in the vehicle, you’ll be charged with a Level 6 felony. This is true even if you have no prior criminal history.
A DUI / OVWI can also be charged as a felony if someone is seriously injured or killed. This means that a first-time DUI / OVWI defendant who’s alleged to have caused seriously bodily injury can be charged with a Level 6 felony. If a person dies as a result of the DUI / OVWI, the charge starts as a Level 5 felony, which carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Depending on your level of intoxication, a fatal DUI / OVWI crash can result in you being charged with a Level 4 felony, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Habitual Vehicular Substance Offender
The Habitual Vehicular Substance Offender (HVSO) sentencing enhancement is one of the worst things a defendant can face. The HVSO enhancement adds one-to-eight years to your maximum criminal sentence.
Let’s say you’re charged with misdemeanor DUI / OVWI. Almost no one is sentenced to jail time on a misdemeanor DUI / OVWI charge, BUT—a misdemeanor DUI / OVWI charge plus the HVSO enhancement can get you anywhere from one-to-eight years in prison. Likewise, if you’re charge with a Level 6 felony DUI / OVWI plus HVSO, the maximum sentence is ten-and-a-half years. The HVSO statute is one of the toughest DUI / OVWI laws that Indiana has on the books.
There are two ways to become HVSO-eligible:
- you’re charged with a DUI / OVWI, you have two prior DUI / OVWI convictions, and at least one of those convictions was within the last 10 years; or
- you’re being charged with your fourth DUI / OVWI
Not only can the HVSO enhancement result in a lengthy prison sentence, it’s also inconsistently applied. Some counties will only file the enhancement if plea negotiations fall through. Other counties will file the HVSO immediately and take that into account when shaping the plea.
Make the Right Call
The attorneys at the Marc Lopez Law firm take DUI / OVWI charges seriously. We know that cases like these—whether they’re misdemeanors or felonies—can have long-term, detrimental effects in many areas of your life. If you or someone you love is facing a DUI / OVWI charge, the attorneys at the Marc Lopez Law Firm are here to help. Call us at 317-632-3642, and remember—always plead the 5th!