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What Happens When You Get Stopped for Drunk Driving

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Getting stopped for drunk driving (commonly referred to as DUI), is a serious offense and can have different consequences depending upon the county in which you live. All states have a "per se" law defining it as a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at a level at or above the prescribed threshold level. At the present time, this threshold level is .08%. 

Getting stopped. When you are stopped for DUI or for something else and the police officer has a reason to believe that you have been drinking, you will generally be asked to take sobriety tests. These are called the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. The officers use these tests as an opportunity to develop probable cause to support offering you a certified chemical test under the Indiana Implied Consent Law. You are under no legal obligation to perform any standardized field sobriety tests. The only test that you are required to perform pursuant to the Indiana Implied Consent Law is the certified chemical test, which can be obtained from blood, breath or urine. However, the police officer may not offer you this test without finding of probable cause. That is why the police officer request that you perform Standardized Field Sobriety testing. It is my opinion that these tests are designed for failure. They are also designed to provide justification for the officer offering you the certified test.

If you are offered the certified test, you must take the certified test pursuant to the Indiana Implied Consent Law. If you refuse the test, your driving privileges will be suspended for at least one year, and possibly, two. If, however, the officer did not have probable cause to offer you the test, and had you take the test anyway, the test results may be excluded from evidence if the probable cause was insufficient to offer you the test. Accordingly, you do not lose your rights by taking the certified test, even though there was not a legal reason for you to do so.

What happens next. If you refuse to take the certified test, or are found to have a BAC over .08%, the chances are you will be taken into custody and brought to a police station where you will be held until someone can pick you up or until you are released on your own recognizance or until you post a bond. In addition, your license will likely be temporarily suspended and your vehicle may be impounded for a period of time. You will also be provided a court date.

Going to court. Aside from possible administrative hearings that review circumstances surrounding your arrest to see if your license should be administratively suspended, you must generally go to court, where a jury or judge will decide your fate. In any criminal case, including DUIs, you have a right to a jury trial. However, if the DUI is charged as a misdemeanor, you must select the jury trial option by a certain time. Even where you have a right to a jury trial, in Indiana, the judge is solely responsible for sentencing. Therefore, it is up to the judge as to what punishment you will receive. In Indiana, there are mandatory punishments and consequences that deny the judge any discretion to the punishment if your history is that you have had prior OWIs or if there are injuries associated with the same. Further, for each prior OWI within a period of five to ten years, the punishment becomes progressively more severe and may result in mandatory minimum sentences.

If you are found guilty, the court may:

  • Impose fines, (and some add on additional driver responsibility fees)
  • Suspend or revoke your license,
  • Require participation in DUI education programs,
  • Add points to your license,
  • Sentence you to jail or require community service as an alternative,
  • Place you on probation, and
  • Impose various statutory fees intended to offset the state's budget expenses on DUI cases.

In addition, some judges may require you to participate in an alcohol or drug treatment plan as part of the probation program. You may also receive an order barring you from frequenting any establishment where the primary purpose of the business is to sell alcoholic beverages.

Getting your license back. Indiana allows for some restricted driving privileges after a guilty verdict or plea bargain relative to DUI. In addition, Indiana also provides a procedure to obtain a hardship license for a first-time accused.

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