If you or a loved one has been charged with a driving offense involving the use of drugs or alcohol, it is crucial that you familiarize yourself with Indiana’s Habitual Vehicular Substance Offender law. Any person who has previous convictions for similar substance offenses may be eligible for an additional charge under the Habitual Vehicular Substance Offender enhancement (HVSO). Specifically, this enhancement allows a judge to add between one (1) and eight (8) years in jail or prison to your sentence for the original charge.
A “vehicular substance offense” is defined by Indiana law and is, generally, any DUI or OVWI offense. See Indiana Code Section 9-30-15.5-1. Any prior conviction for a “vehicular substance offense” may be considered by the court; regardless of how old it is. However, to increase a sentence with this enhancement, the State must prove multiple separate and distinct convictions for vehicular substance offenses beyond a reasonable doubt.
Specifically, the State must prove either three (3) total prior convictions OR two (2) prior convictions under the “ten year exception.” If all previous convictions are more than ten (10) years old on the day new charges are alleged to have occurred, the State will be required to prove three prior convictions. If any prior vehicular substance offense convictions occurred within ten (10) years of the current alleged conduct, the State may only be required to prove two (2) prior convictions. As an example, if you were accused of Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated (OVWI) on January 1, 2016, the prosecutor could prove either three total prior convictions of any age, two prior convictions if one occurred AFTER January 1, 2006. Remember, it is not a question of time between convictions, but a question of time between conviction and new offense that triggers this “ten-year exception.”
There are limitations on the State’s ability to add charges. The State may not use a conviction unless substance use was a material element, regardless of the reason for the original arrest. If a driver is arrested for a vehicular substance offense (such as OVWI) but the charge is dismissed, by agreement or acquittal, the arrest does not qualify for HVSO consideration. If the driver is arrested for a vehicular substance offense but is only convicted of a non-substance offense, that conviction also does not qualify for HVSO consideration.
Finally, any criminal enhancement requires that the State of Indiana add a separate charge to the case. This added enhancement must not only be charged on a separate piece of paper from other offenses, it also must be tried separately from your other charges. These precautions protect the rights of our citizens by preventing juries from making assumptions rather than basing a decision on the facts presented at trial.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a driving offense involving substance use, it is important you understand not only the current charges, but how resolution may affect your future. We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized case. Act now and contact us today at (317) 857-0160.