DUI/OWI - Operating While Intoxicated


Many people refer to alcohol-related driving offenses as "drunk driving," "DUI" (Driving Under the Influence) or "DWI" (Driving While Intoxicated). Under Indiana Law, the correct term for the most common offense is "OWI," since the law defines as a crime the operation of a vehicle while intoxicated.


Certain terms need to be defined in order to understand the charge of OWI. Indiana defines "vehicle" as "a device for transportation by land or air" (I.C. 9-13-2-196). Thus, a "vehicle" may include bicycles, motorbikes, lawn mowers, cars, trucks and motorcycles. The term "intoxicated" is also defined by Indiana law. It basically means under the influence of alcohol or some other drug, or a combination thereof, so that a person is significantly impaired and dangerous. Contrary to popular belief, an alcohol content of ".10% or .08%" is not part of the legal definition of "intoxicated."

Per Se Violations

In addition to Operating While Intoxicated, there are also criminal offenses for operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of eight-hundredths (.08) gram of alcohol per one hundred (100) milliliters of blood, or with a breath alcohol concentration of eight hundredths (.08) gram of alcohol per two hundred ten (210) liters of breath. In addition, it is a crime to operate a vehicle with a controlled substance in the person's body, unless the controlled substance was used under a valid prescription. These offenses do not require any proof of impairment. They are referred to as the "Per Se" violations.

Indiana law allows a person to be charged with both Operating While Intoxicated (operating while impaired) and an offense involving a specific level of alcohol in the blood or breath (Per Se charge). However, a person cannot be convicted of both types of offenses if they arise out of the same incident.


Operating While Intoxicated is usually charged as a Class A Misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and 1 year in jail. However, if the offense results in serious bodily injury to another person, the offense can be charged as a Class D Felony and carries a punishment of up to a $10,000 fine and 8 years in jail.

The Per Se Offenses (operating a vehicle with a specific blood or breath alcohol level or a controlled substance in your system) are usually Class C Misdemeanors, which are punishable with a maximum fine of $500 and no more than 60 days in jail. The offense becomes a Class D Felony if death of another person is caused.

Previous Convictions

If a person has a previous conviction of Operating While Intoxicated or a Per Se violation within 5 years before the date of the new offense, the new offense becomes a higher class of crime. A Class A Misdemeanor (Operating While Intoxicated) or a Class C Misdemeanor (a Per Se offense) becomes a Class D Felony. An offense where a serious boldily injury results is elevated from a Class D Felony to a Class C Felony. An offense where the death of another person is caused is enhanced from a Class C Felony to a Class B Felony (punishable by a maximum fine of $10,000 and 20 years in prison).

Administrative Suspensions

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles imposes an administrative suspension of driving privileges based on the blood or breath test result. This suspension occurs before a person has been convicted of any offense. If the test result is .08 grams or more alcohol per 210 liters of breath (or per 100 milliliters of blood), the person's driving privileges are suspended for 180 days, or until the charge has been disposed of, whichever occurs first. If a person refuses to submit to a blood, breath or urine test within 3 hours of the time they were operating a vehicle, there is a 1 year suspension imposed by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Effect of DUI/OWI on Driver's License

In addition to the penalities previously mentioned, all of the "OWI" offenses carry mandatory driver's license suspensions. A person convicted of a Class C Misdemeanor (Per Se offense) or a Class A Misdemeanor (OWI), and who has no previous conviction within 10 years, is subject to a driver's license suspension from 90 days to 2 years. However, a person in this situation is eligible for a 180 day probationary license, after at least thirty (30) days of suspension have occurred, provided that the person did not refuse to submit to a blood, breath or urine test at the time of the arrest.

If a person has a previous conviction for OWI or a Per Se offense, the minimum license suspension is 180 days if the previous conviction was more than five (5) years but less than ten (10) years before the present conviction. A previous conviction within the last five (5) years requires a minimum 1 year license suspension. A conviction of either the causing serious bodily injury or causing death offense requres a license suspension of from 2 to 5 years.

This page constitutes advertising under the rules regulating the legal profession. It is not a substitute for legal advice.