If you or someone you know is facing an Indiana DUI charge, it’s important to understand that there are ways to fight back. Depending on the situation, some strategies might be more effective than others.
No one wants to be facing criminal charges, and it’s easy to assume—especially with a DUI charge—that a guilty verdict is inevitable. As a result, many defendants want a quick plea arrangement so they can put the criminal case behind them as soon as possible.
To Fight or Not to Fight?
Depending on your priorities, this might be the best option for you. It’s not for everyone though. If you want to fight your Indiana DUI charges, there are ways to do this. An experienced DUI attorney will know how to mount a strong defense and position you for the best possible outcome.
Legal terrain can be tricky to navigate, which is where a lawyer can come in handy. Let’s explore some key points to consider when defending an Indiana DUI case.
DUI Defense: Elements of the Crime
Every good defense starts with the elements of the crime. In the State of Indiana, DUI is formally known as operating a vehicle while intoxicated. To prove this charge, the State needs to show that you:
- a vehicle
If any element remains unproven, the prosecution fails, and the defendant is not guilty.
You might think you know what it means to operate, but this is criminal law, so we’re talking about statutory definitions. For example, you might be surprised to learn that operating is a broader term than driving.
In Indiana, to operate means “to navigate or otherwise be in actual physical control of a vehicle, motorboat, off-road vehicle, or snowmobile.” The vehicle doesn’t even have to move for you to be “in actual physical control of it.” This means the State doesn’t necessarily need to prove vehicle movement for a DUI conviction.
Here’s another wrinkle: Even when the police didn’t observe you behind the wheel, they’re allowed to make inferences and reasonable assumptions. This is actually pretty common in DUI cases. If, for example, you’re found soaking wet and your car is discovered nearby in a swimming pool, the police are justified in connecting the dots, even if they weren’t there to see the crash.
Since the late ’80s, Indiana courts have considered a number of factors in determining whether a stopped vehicle was operated for purposes of a DUI charge. These factors include:
- whether the person in the vehicle was asleep or awake;
- whether the engine was running;
- the location of the vehicle when discovered;
- the intent of the person behind the wheel;
- any evidence that the defendant had been observed operating before they were discovered; and
- the position of the automatic transmission.
This list is not exhaustive, and Indiana courts are encouraged to consider any evidence that leads to a reasonable inference.
Were you found asleep at an intersection with your foot on the brake? You were operating. Did you nod off in the Burger King drive-thru? Operating. Were you found behind the wheel when your vehicle was discovered in a highway median snowbank? Operating.
It doesn’t matter if there were no witnesses because reason tells us your car got there somehow, and it didn’t drive itself. By extension, if you’re in a parking lot (or another place where vehicles are typically found at rest), you have a much better chance of arguing that no operation occurred.
In a DUI context, Indiana defines vehicle as “a device for transportation by land or air.” For better or for worse, this encompasses pretty much anything you can think of, so this element is rarely worth challenging. The attorneys at the Marc Lopez Law Firm have never heard of the State losing a DUI case because it was unable to prove that the machinery operated by the defendant constituted a vehicle. This element is almost always a gimme for the State.
While is the most interesting DUI element, because it allows the State to combine two permissible acts into an illegal one. Operating a vehicle is legal in Indiana (so long as you’re licensed as needed), and so is being intoxicated (provided you’re at least 21) but operating while intoxicated is a strict liability crime.
In order to prove the charge, the State must show the overlap of intoxication and operation. Without an eyewitness account, the easiest way to accomplish this is with something called the statutory presumption.
In Indiana, if the police are investigating you for DUI, they want to get a certified chemical test within three hours of the time you were supposedly driving. If they do, and the test reveals an alcohol concentration equivalent (ACE) to 0.08 or greater, the State is entitled to rely on the statutory presumption.
This is a big deal, because the presumption is that you were legally intoxicated at the time you operated the vehicle. If the police administer the certified chemical test correctly and within the three-hour window, it fundamentally changes the case—it turns the presumption of your innocence into the presumption of your guilt.
Without the statutory presumption, the State can still prove you guilty of DUI, but with it, the odds are overwhelmingly in the prosecutor’s favor.
According to the Indiana Code, to be intoxicated means to be in an impaired condition of thought and action and to have lost the normal control of your faculties through the use of:
- a controlled substance; or
- anything other than food, tobacco, or a dietary supplement.
The State does not need to show any specific ACE in order to establish intoxication. For one thing, it’s possible to be intoxicated with something other than alcohol, in which case ACE would be irrelevant.
For another thing, Indiana Courts have consistently held that there are other ways besides chemical testing for the State to show impairment. The State also has the option of building its case for intoxication by showing that you had:
- consumed a significant amount of alcohol
- impaired attention and reflexes
- watery or bloodshot eyes
- the odor of alcohol on your breath
- unsteady balance
- slurred speech
- failed any of the standardized field sobriety tests
If you’re worried about officers being able to keep track of all their options, don’t be. Police have an official State form that helpfully prompts all of these observations, and then some.
Make the Right Call
If you have any questions regarding Indiana DUIs, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We love fighting Indiana DUI cases, and we’ll work for the best possible outcome in your case. Give us a call at 317-632-3642 and remember–always plead the 5th!