What is an OWI in Louisiana?
OWI means "Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated,' and it is a crime that involves the driver of a vehicle, aircraft, or other means of conveyance being under the influence of alcoholic beverages or other substances. Louisiana is one of the states that use the term OWI instead of DUI.
Louisiana Revised Statutes provide for this offense and actions that may amount to an OWI charge. Then, the Louisiana Courts hand down punishments to persons that commit the crime. The reason for these punishments is to ensure that the public is safe and less prone to falling victim to such drivers.
An OWI is a severe charge in Louisiana, as the state takes a tough stance against offenses of this nature. Offenders who are convicted run the risk of having the crime included in their Louisiana criminal record.
What is the Difference Between an OWI and a DWI in Louisiana?
OWI represents "Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated," and DWI represents "Driving While Intoxicated". These terms mean the same thing in Louisiana, and the state statutes recognize OWI as the official term for impaired driving. However, some persons also refer to operating under the influence as a DWI.
The operative word in an OWI is "operating," which is broader than driving. An individual needs to control or manipulate the car to operate a motor vehicle, like handling the controls, backing, steering, etc. These actions do not need to affect the engine for the individual to "operate" the vehicle. Then, the car does not have to be in motion for the state to prove the element of the operation.
In all, the difference between these terms in Louisiana is only a matter of semantics and personal interpretation or preferences. There is no statutory provision that draws a clear line between the individual terms.
Louisiana OWI Laws
LRS 14:98 is the primary OWI law in Louisiana that declares that operating a vehicle while intoxicated is a driving offense. Under this provision, a driver commits an OWI offense in the following circumstances:
- If the driver of the vehicle is under the influence of alcoholic beverages
- If the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of the driver is 0.08% or more. The standard of measurement is the grams of alcohol per 100 cubic centimeters of blood
- The driver of the vehicle is under the influence of dangerous controlled substances also amounts to an OUI offense
- Suppose the driver is under the influence of a combination of alcohol and drugs that are not some controlled dangerous substances. The driver can legally obtain these drugs with or without a prescription. However, the driver can argue that the prescription on the manufacturer's packaging does not warn against combining the medication with alcohol.
- If the driver is under the influence of a drug or drugs that are not some controlled, dangerous substances, the driver can obtain with or without a prescription. The defense available here is for the driver to plead not knowingly consuming quantities of the drugs that exceeded the recommended dosage.
LRS 32:3 mandates the Department of Public Safety and Corrections to enforce motor vehicles and traffic regulations on all highways within the state jurisdiction. Interested persons may consult the Louisiana Vehicle Code for the applicable traffic laws in Louisiana.
OWI Penalties in Louisiana
Penalties for an OWI in Louisiana depend on the severity of the crime and how many times the driver committed it. Under the LRS 14:98, if the driver commits an OWI for the first time, the punishment that the driver will face are:
- The driver will pay a fine set at a minimum of $300 but which shall not exceed $1000
- Also, the driver faces an imprisonment term set at ten days minimum but no more than six months.
- The driver may get the imprisonment term suspended if the driver is on probation with a minimum condition of serving two days in jail and participating in a court-approved substance abuse program and driver improvement program.
- Suppose the driver has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15%. In that case, the driver will serve at least 48 hours of the minimum imprisonment term, with no option of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.
- If the driver has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.20% or more, the fine is a minimum of $750 and not more than $1000, and 48 hours of the imprisonment term.
- The driver gets a two-year compulsory license suspension, with the option of applying for a restricted license. The restricted license will operate for the duration of the suspension, and the driver must prove to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections that the motor vehicle has a functioning ignition interlock device before getting the license. Also, the ignition device is to remain operative in the car for the first year of the suspension, counting from the day of conviction.
What Happens When You Get a DWI in Louisiana?
DWI means "driving while under the influence," and the State of Louisiana recognizes it as the same offense like a DUI, which means "driving under the influence". Louisiana laws lump these offenses together and call them OWI or "öperating while intoxicated".
The first and second offenses are misdemeanors, while the third and subsequent offenses are felonies. With every increased offense, the penalty gets harsher. Depending on the offense category, the accused driver may face jail time, probation, community service, license suspension, and more.
What Happens When You Get a OWI for the First Time in Louisiana?
Under the LRS 32:661, every person that operates a motor vehicle on public highways in Louisiana consents to a chemical test of blood, breath, urine, or some other bodily substance. The reason for this test is to determine the alcohol content level of the driver's blood or the presence of any controlled substance.
A law enforcement officer may order this test when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is under the control of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance. The officer shall put down the reasons for the test in writing.
A refusal to undergo the test will result in the suspension of driving privileges and if the test turns up positive for intoxicating substances or high blood alcohol content. The officer may issue the driver a temporary permit valid for 30 days after suspending the license.
The driver may request an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension or request a hardship license within 15 days. Upon failure to make this request for a hearing, the driver will face a definite license suspension.
A driver who wants to contest the OWI charges might get a lawyer to file a motion to suppress evidence and challenge the methods used to obtain evidence if it was unconstitutional. If the prosecution has no evidence, the defense lawyer may file to dismiss the case.
If the driver pleads guilty, the case will go to trial. The prosecution has to prove the case beyond reasonable doubts, and the defense only has to raise doubts surrounding the driver's supposed guilt. An example is for the defense lawyer to argue that the chemical tests were not calibrated or the arresting officer was not well trained.
These are a few ways an accused driver may get around OWI charges, but it is up to the judge or jury to decide which side has a better piece of evidence. However, if the driver pleads guilty or the court finds such a driver guilty regardless, the judge will apply statutory laws to determine the punishment that will apply.
What is the Penalty for a Second OWI in Louisiana?
For second OWI offenders in Louisiana, the penalties upon conviction are as follows:
- The driver of the vehicle gets a fine set at a minimum of $750 and no more than $1000
- Also, the driver faces an imprisonment term of 30 days minimum and six months maximum.
- The driver will have to serve at least 48 hours of the sentence without the option of parole, suspension, or probation.
- The court is at liberty to order home incarceration for such a driver in certain circumstances.
- Suppose the driver is on probation with a mandatory minimum jail term of 15 days and a court-approved substance abuse program and driver improvement program. In that case, the court may suspend the remainder of the sentence.
- The court may also suspend the remainder of the sentence, where the driver's probation has a minimum condition of 38 hour days of court-approved community service activities. These activities must include one-year participation in a litter abatement or collection program, substance abuse program, and driver improvement program.
- If the driver has a BAC of 0.15% or more, such a driver will serve at least 96 hours of the jail sentence without the option of parole, probation, or suspension.
- If the driver has a BAC of 0.20% or more, such a driver will pay a $1000 fine and will serve at least 96 hours of the sentence without the option of parole, probation, or suspension.
- The driver would face a minimum of one year. imprisonment and a maximum of five years, with or without labor, if the first offense were for vehicular homicide or first-degree vehicular negligent injuring. Also, the driver must pay a fine of $2000 and serve six months of the sentence with no option of parole, probation, or suspension.
- If the driver has a BAC of 0.20% or more, it attracts a four-year license suspension. Still, the driver may apply for a restricted license to use during the time of suspension upon proof of a functioning ignition interlock device that will stay in the vehicle for at least three years of the suspension.
What Happens After a Third OWI in Louisiana?
A third time OWI conviction in the State of Louisiana attracts the following consequences:
- An imprisonment term of not less than a year but no more than five years, with or without hard labor
- The driver will also pay a $2000 fine.
- The first year of the sentence is compulsory, without the option of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.
- Suppose the court decides to suspend the remainder of the sentence. In that case, the driver stays on supervised probation with the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Division of Probation and Parole, to last for the remainder of the sentence of imprisonment.
- The probation conditions include 38 hour days of court-approved community service and an evaluation by the Department of Health and Hospitals, Office of Behavioral Health, to establish the nature of the substance abuse disorder and participate in the recommended treatment.
- Also, the driver must undertake substance abuse treatment in an alcohol and drug abuse program as part of probation conditions.
- The driver placed on probation will also be in the home incarceration program for not less than six months and no more than the remainder of the sentence of imprisonment.
- Failure to complete the substance abuse treatment or a violation of any other probation conditions or home incarceration will lead to a revocation of the probation. The driver will then have to serve the balance of the imprisonment sentence without credit for time served under home incarceration.
- Also, the court will order the seizure and impoundment of the offending vehicle and a subsequent auction sale of the car. Suppose the district attorney prefers to forfeit the vehicle instead. In that case, the court shall order the forfeiture upon a written motion, filed at least five days to sentencing, stating the intention to forfeit.
- If the vehicle is a stolen one, or the driver is not the vehicle owner, and the actual owner did not know that the driver was operating the vehicle while intoxicated, it is exempt from sale. Yet, the subsequent release of the vehicle from impoundment requires a payment of towing and storage fees.
- If a valid lienholder pays the towing and storage fees, the vehicle is also exempt from sale.
- The proceeds of the sale go to paying court costs, towing, and storage costs. The remainder goes to the arresting agency, prosecuting district attorney, and the Louisiana Property and Casualty Insurance Commission to study ways to reduce drunk driving and insurance rates.
- A driver with a home incarceration sentence will face special conditions like electronic monitoring, curfew restrictions, and home visitation at least once a month from the Department of Public Safety and Corrections for the first six months. After the first six months, the department determines the level of suspension based on a risk assessment instrument.
- The driver must also get employed and participate in a court-approved driver improvement program, and the driver will pay for it. The activities of the driver outside the driver's home include only going to and from work, church services, alcoholics anonymous meeting or the driver improvement program
- Also, the driver's vehicle must have a functioning ignition interlock device that will remain operative until the driver completes the substance abuse treatment and home incarceration.
How Long Does an OWI Stay on Your Record in Louisiana?
Under LRS 14:98, an OWI stays on a person's record for ten years. So, a prior conviction that occurs ten years outside of a current charge cannot count against an accused driver for purposes of increasing the penalties. Also, the State of Louisiana does not use a point system to track violations.
Generally, an OWI conviction follows a person for life, but the law allows for .setting aside OWI convictions in certain circumstances. Article 894 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure applies to misdemeanor OWIs, while Article 893 applies to felony OWIs.
OWI Expungement in Louisiana
After a convicted driver completes probation, the driver may initiate an expungement process to clear the conviction from public records. The driver can do this under the Article 893 or 894 plea.
The 893 plea involves an accused driver pleading guilty to the felony. Under Article 893, there is no imposed sentence, only a recorded guilty conviction and subsequent probation on the convict. Upon completing probation, the driver can petition the court to set aside the conviction and dismiss the prosecution.
If the judge sets aside the conviction, it has the same effect as an acquittal, and it is often used as a prior conviction for a habitual offender. A person only receives the benefit of Article 893 once.
A plea of Article 894 is similar to that of 893. The defendant pleads guilty to the misdemeanor charge in this instance. The defendant may only use this plea once, every ten years for OWI convictions, and it is at the judge's discretion to grant the appeal.
The judge considers factors like the defendant's background, the circumstances of the case, other arrests, and convictions. Like in the Article 893 plea, even if the defendant receives an 894 for a prior misdemeanor DWI, it can still count for enhancing subsequent prosecutions. However, once pleaded successfully, Article 893 and 894 pleas remove the OWI from a driver's criminal and driving records.
How Likely is Jail Time After a First OWI in Louisiana?
Jail time is very likely after a first OWI in Louisiana. The reason is that the Louisiana Revised Statutes allow for ten days to six months of jail time for first offenders, depending on the court's discretion.
In some situations, the court may allow for the suspension of the sentence, substituting it for probation instead. Despite this, the first-time convict will have to serve at least 48 hours of the sentence.
What is the Average Cost of OWI in Louisiana?
An OWI charge in Louisiana comes with steep financial costs. First, attorney fees can run up to $5000 or more, depending on the particular attorney, as these fees vary. The court-imposed fines can range between $300 to $2000. It is at the judge's discretion and depends on the gravity of the offense and the number of convictions.
Car towing fees also range from between $100 to about $1500. Individuals who have to take random screenings as probation conditions may pay around $100 or higher for these tests. The cost of installing an ignition interlock device and maintaining it may rise as high as $1500 or more. Also, the compulsory treatment classes gulp between $1000 to $3000 or more. There is also the increased cost of car insurance for convicts, which can skyrocket to about $10,000.
How Much is Bail for an OWI in Louisiana?
In common practice, bail for first-time OWI offenders in Louisiana is around $2,500. However, the specific bail amount is at the judge's discretion, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.
If the defendant cannot afford to perfect the bail conditions, such a defendant can use independent bail bond services to finance the bail. These bail bond services, as a matter of practice, charge a percentage to get this done.
How to Get My License Back After an OWI in Louisiana?
The courts and Department of Public Safety and Corrections may suspend a person's drivers license for some of the following reasons:
- If the person has an OWI conviction or refused to undergo the blood or breath test
- If the person committed a vehicle-related felony
- Reckless driving on the part of the person
To reinstate a driver's license with the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV), the person must do the following:
- The person must satisfy all court requirements where such apply
- Then, the person shall submit all required suspension compliance documents to the Louisiana OMV
- Also, the person must produce an SR22 from the person's insurance company
- Pay a reinstatement fee of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $300 for a third offense
The person may complete the application process at an OMV office in person or mail the documents and payments to:
Office of Motor Vehicles
P.O. Box 64886
Baton Rouge, LA 70896
Reinstatements via mail take much longer than undergoing the process in person. Also, the Louisiana OMV does not accept personal checks but cash, money order, certified check, or cashier's check. It also acknowledges MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover credit/debit cards for payments over the phone.
How Does an OWI Affect Your Life in Louisiana?
An OWI charge in Louisiana can affect a person's life. First is the loss of freedom due to a jail sentence under the Lousiana Revised Statutes. Then, a conviction reduces the job prospects of a convict.
Employers carry out background checks on future employees and may restrict such a person from getting the job. It applies more to persons who drive for a living or work with children. Also, homeowners carry out background checks before renting out property. So, a convict may find it difficult in certain situations to find somewhere to live.
Then, car insurance companies charge more for persons who have OWI convictions on record. To get vehicle insurance, such a person will have to pay more than usual, categorizing the person as a high-risk driver.
Can You Get Fired for an OWI in Louisiana?
Yes, an employer can fire an employee for an OWI in Louisiana. The reason is that Louisiana is an employment-at-will state, and an employer does not need to give a reason for firing an employee. In the same way, an employee can leave a job without providing a basis.
The workplace implications of an OWI depend on the kind of job it is and the employment contract terms. Generally, persons do not need to report an OWI charge, but disclosure is necessary for specific occupations like bus drivers, postal workers, commercial drivers, and teachers.
Such persons have to drive to work, and a suspended license can affect the ability to last at such a job. Government employees and teachers have to disclose all criminal charges, as it is a part of the employment contracts of such persons. Failure to report the criminal charge will result in termination.
Even if an employee does not disclose the charge, the information can still get out, as some media outlets publish the names of persons arrested for such offenses. It puts the employee in a better position to make an upfront disclosure, as it is a bad look for the employer to find out from alternative sources.
How Do I Find OWI Checkpoints in Louisiana?
OWI checkpoints are legal in Louisiana, and law enforcement officers set them up to protect citizens from drunk drivers and other effects of dangerous driving. Officers at these checkpoints stop all vehicles for fairness and to prevent discrimination.
Law enforcement officers look for specific symptoms like bloodshot eyes, coordination problems, the smell of alcohol or other intoxicating substances, etc. Suppose an officer suspects that a person is under the influence. In that case, the officer may ask the person to walk and turn, recite the alphabet or carry out other activities to confirm the suspicion.
Upon confirmation, the officer may demand a chemical test, and if it shows that the person is above the legal limit, the officer may then charge the person with an OWI. For an OWI checkpoint to be a legal one, it must follow the following criteria:
- There must be a warning of the checkpoint.
- The officers on the ground must employ systematic criteria for stopping motorists and not a random method.
- A supervisor must be in charge of regulating the checkpoints
Interested persons may find details and locations on OWI checkpoints in Louisiana online, as there is no official directory to that effect.
Which is Worse, OWI vs. DWI?
In Louisiana, both offenses mean the same thing, and a DWI charge is an OWI charge as well. Based on the Louisiana Revised Statutes provisions, it is impossible to say which is worse than the other, as they both have the same consequences.