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Understanding Felony DUI in Indiana

Everyone understands that driving under the influence (DUI) is a criminal offense, but not everyone realizes the potential seriousness of the offense. Is DUI a felony in Indiana? A DUI can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, with a felony being the more serious offense. Operating a vehicle while intoxicated is a serious offense in Indiana. A conviction has the power to derail your livelihood and other aspects of your life, but a felony conviction comes with additional consequences. A DUI conviction could affect your freedom as well as your ability to drive, meaning it could restrict your ability to get to work, school, appointments, and more. Ultimately, a conviction can rob you of your independence and control of your life.

What Constitutes a Felony DUI in Indiana?

Many people ask, “When is a DUI a felony in Indiana?” Generally, a DUI first offense is a misdemeanor. However, a first offense DUI can be a felony DUI in Indiana when the person:

  • Seriously injures or kills someone while driving under the influence
  • Drives while intoxicated with a minor in the vehicle
  • Has had a DUI (operating while intoxicated or OWI) conviction within the last seven years

The penalties for a felony DUI in Indiana are more severe. Whereas a misdemeanor DUI conviction can subject you to imprisonment for up to 365 days and a fine up to $5,000, and a conviction for felony DUI in Indiana would have the following consequences:

  • A sentence of imprisonment up to 2.5 years for a Level 6 felony
  • A felony on your record
  • Higher fines and longer probation than for a misdemeanor conviction
  • Court-ordered participation in a drug/alcohol rehabilitation program
  • Suspension of your Indiana driver’s license

Facing a felony DUI conviction definitely requires the skills of an experienced Indianapolis DUI lawyer to protect your license, record, and freedom.

What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor DUI and a Felony DUI in Indiana?

The threshold for a conviction under Indiana DUI laws starts with operating a vehicle while having a BAC of .08 or higher. In Indiana, a DUI is a Class C misdemeanor under the following circumstances:

  • Operating a vehicle with a BAC of at least .08 but less than .15
  • Operating a vehicle with a specified Schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in your blood

The offense is elevated to a class A misdemeanor when the facts include the following:

  • Operating a vehicle with a BAC of at least .15
  • Operating a vehicle in a manner that endangers a person while intoxicated

The higher the offense level, the more serious the sentencing consequences. In Indiana, a Class C misdemeanor is punishable by up to $500 in fines and/or up-to 60 days imprisonment, while a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum $5,000 fine and/or up-to one year imprisonment.

A DUI can become a felony when more serious factors exist in your case. There are several types of felony DUIs in Indiana. Under Indiana DUI laws, you may get a level 6 felony DUI in Indiana, which is the lowest level of felonies, if any of the following apply in your case:

  • You committed a second DUI offense within 7 years of your previous DUI offense
  • You are at least 21 years old, committed a DUI with at least one passenger under the age of 18 in the vehicle, and any one of the following:
    • You operated a vehicle with a BAC of at least .15
    • You operated a vehicle with a specified Schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in your blood
    • You operated a vehicle in a manner that endangers a person
  • You caused the death of a law enforcement animal when driving with a BAC of .08 or higher or with a specified Schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in your blood

What Are My Chances of Getting a Charge of Felony DUI in Indiana Dismissed?

With all these penalties in mind, you may wonder how you can avoid the serious consequences resulting from a conviction for a felony DUI in Indiana. After all, the penalties can do some serious damage to your personal, professional, and social life. A skilled Indianapolis DUI lawyer defense attorney can identify when it would be appropriate to argue for dismissal of the charges or less severe penalties in your case. The following are examples of DUI defense strategies that may be appropriate in your case.

Improper Stop by Police

The police must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over for felony DUI in Indiana. As such, the police must have a reason to believe that a crime or infraction has occurred or will occur. Pulling you over for no reason is considered an improper stop. Swerving in and out of lanes, speeding, and driving without your headlights on are examples of signs that might constitute reasonable suspicion that a DUI could be taking place.

Failure to Administer Field Sobriety Tests Properly

The horizontal gaze nystagmus, one-leg stand, and walk-and-turn tests are all part of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST). Officers must follow very specific protocols and adhere to strict rules to ensure the SFSTs are accurate and reliable. Unfortunately, many police officers give improper directions, administer these tests in poor conditions, and make other mistakes that could falsely portray drivers as intoxicated, resulting in their arrest for felony DUI in Indiana.

Poor Maintenance of Blood Samples

A trained and licensed professional must collect, analyze, and store a DUI suspect’s blood tests properly. If the suspect’s blood samples are not stored in the right temperatures, are mislabeled, or are collected by an untrained professional, for instance, then the entire blood sample could be called into question and eventually tossed out.

False-Positive Breathalyzer Test

A breath test result could be skewed for a number of reasons, including the DUI suspect’s medical conditions, food intake, and use of certain oral products. A police officer who doesn’t operate the breathalyzer device properly or fails to observe the suspect for 15 minutes before administering the breath test could cause skewed results as well. A careful investigation and review of arrest records and data can reveal these flaws, forming the basis for arguing that the breathalyzer test results may not be accurate and should be thrown out.

Lack of Probable Cause for Arrest

Reasonable suspicion alone is not enough to support an arrest. An officer with reasonable suspicion who pulls over a driver follows proper protocol, examines the driver’s license and registration, and administers SFSTs and the breathalyzer test may still lack sufficient evidence to support the suspicion the driver committed felony DUI. If the officer arrests the driver anyway, a good Indianapolis DUI lawyer may be able to successfully argue that the officer lacked probable cause for arrest and the DUI case could be dismissed altogether.

Violation of Miranda Rights

The police must read you a Miranda warning after your arrest and before interrogating you. As long as you are in custody, the police cannot ask you questions unless you have been Mirandized. However, they are not required to read your Miranda Warning if you are not in custody. Custody does not necessarily require handcuffs, and most people do not understand where the line is, making the engagement of a DUI defense attorney even more important. If the police do not Mirandize you, then your statements can be excluded.

Illegal Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment protects US citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. By law, police officers must obtain a valid search warrant under certain circumstances, although those circumstances are limited. Warrantless searches are permitted more often than you might think. For example, if an officer pulls you over for driving 15 mph below the posted speed limit and spots empty beer bottles in your passenger seat—in plain sight—the officer may seize that evidence without a warrant because it’s in plain view and is potentially connected to criminal activities. However, if the officer conducted an unlawful search or seizure and that search or seizure produced the only evidence that would support a conviction, your felony DUI in Indiana case could get dismissed.

Inconsistent or Unreliable Testimony by Police

Any police officer involved in your arrest may be called to testify in court about a charge of felony DUI in Indiana. On the stand, the officer may be asked about his or her observations and what was in the resulting police report. When an officer’s testimony doesn’t reflect what was recorded in the police report, a practiced DUI defense attorney may question the officer’s integrity and reliability. If successful, the officer’s testimony could be disregarded, and—in some cases—the felony DUI case could get dismissed.

An attorney experienced in DUI defense like those at Keffer Hirschauer LLP can efficiently identify situations like these and others that can aid your case.

An Indianapolis DUI Lawyer from Keffer Hirschauer Has Your Back for Felony DUI in Indiana

A charge of DUI as a felony may be defendable with the help of an experienced Indianapolis DUI lawyer attorney who obtains prosecutorial insights into both sides of the justice system. If you are charged with felony DUI in Indiana, you should seek the help of an experienced Indianapolis DUI lawyer from Keffer Hirschauer LLP. Our criminal defense attorneys review DUI cases regularly to determine which defenses might apply to a given situation. With our key insights, invaluable resources, and commitment to excellence, clients can trust the team of experienced Indianapolis DUI lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP to fiercely champion their best interests both in and out of the courtroom. For a free consultation, call 317-857-0160 or complete our online contact form.

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