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OWI / DWI / DUI Attorney in Lafayette, Louisiana

Is it called an OWI, a DWI, or a DUI in Louisiana?

What is it called in Louisiana when you are arrested for driving while drunk? OWI? DWI? Or DUI?

Technically, in Louisiana, the name for the crime of driving while drunk is “operating a vehicle while intoxicated.” La. R.S. 14:98 (Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated).

Thus, in Louisiana, we call it an “OWI.” But it all means the same.

What Is an OWI Charge?

An Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), La. R.S. 14:98, et seq., charge is a criminal offense that refers to the act of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The specific laws and penalties for OWI can vary depending on the facts of each case and the number of prior OWI convictions, but in general, OWI is considered a serious offense that can result in penalties that may include fines, jail time, suspension or revocation of a driver’s license, and even the loss of the vehicle you were driving!

Aggressive Representation for OWI Cases

Operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) while on alcohol or drugs is a serious criminal offense that can result in severe legal consequences. It is common for many judges to require mandatory jail time, fines, and community service for an OWI conviction.

You may also be required to attend substance abuse classes and/or AA meetings. You could lose your driving privileges.

In short, even if an OWI conviction is a first or second offense, and thus a misdemeanor, there can be severe consequences. Many times prosecutors will presume your guilt even when there is strong evidence you were not intoxicated. This is why it is important to hire an attorney who has experience with defending OWI charges.

At the Ikerd Law Firm, Chad Ikerd has years of experience challenging OWI arrest, including the initial stop, the police interaction, the waiver of the right to remain silent, the field sobriety test, the breathalyzer, and even the blood test. OWI arrests actually have a lot of ways they can be challenged. You just have to hire the right attorney who knows how to protect your rights!

Don’t let an OWI charge ruin your future – call us today and let us fight for your rights and driving privileges.

Defending Against DUI/DWI/OWI Charges

If you have been charged with an OWI (DUI / DWI)DUI, DWI, or OWI, it is important to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney in Lafayette.

A glass of alcohol, handcuff, and a car key on a tableOur team can help you understand the charges against you, the potential penalties, and your rights under Louisiana laws, and can help you build a strong defense against the charges at hand.

Surprisingly, there are many avenues to defend against OWI charges. An arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated is based on the officer’s belief there is “probable cause” you were inebriated while driving a vehicle.

An officer will make this determination based on many factors, all of which may allow an attorney experienced in defending OWI cases an opportunity to raise reasonable doubt.

Potential defenses against DUI, DWI, and OWI charges include:

  • Lack of probable cause for the traffic stop
  • Improper performance of a field sobriety test
  • Error or malfunction of breathalyzer or blood-alcohol testing equipment
  • Another medical condition causing symptoms similar to intoxication
  • Illegal search and seizure

Penalties for an OWI in Louisiana

Specific penalties imposed may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, such as the offender’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level and whether they have any prior OWI convictions.

In Louisiana, OWI convictions are what is called “enhanceable.” This means, that even though you may be convicted for doing the same exact act multiple times (drinking and driving), the Legislature has determined that if you do it more than two times, drinking and driving becomes a “felony.”

A “first” and “second” offense OWI is considered a “misdemeanor,” while a “third” and “fourth or subsequent” offense OWI becomes a “felony.” Thus, even though a first and second offense may be a misdemeanor conviction, and you do not think it’s serious, it can become serious down the road.

Do not wait until you are charged with a felony to hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights.

Oftentimes, someone is arrested for a third offense and the facts are really bad for them. However, the evidence was very weak or could have been challenged on their first or second offense convictions.

Because the client did not take the misdemeanor charge seriously by hiring an experienced OWI lawyer, they are now facing a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

The penalties for each subsequent conviction get more serious and harsh.

First Offense OWI – La. R.S. 14:98.1 (Misdemeanor)

First-time offenders must pay a fine of $300 – 1,000 AND a jail sentence between 10 days and 6 months. All but 48 hours of that jail sentence can be suspended, and the person placed on probation.

The 48 hours may be suspended as well, if at least 32 hours of community service is performed. If a BAC of 0.15 or more is proven, the 48 hours cannot be suspended for community service, and other more harsh penalties may be imposed.

Second Offense OWI – La. R.S. 14:98.2 (Misdemeanor)

Second-time offenders must pay a fine of $750 – 1,000 AND a jail sentence between 30 days and 6 months. At least 48 hours in jail is required, and cannot be suspended; the rest can be suspended and served on probation.

The court will have the option to either require 15 days in jail or 240 hours of community service, half of which must be “litter abatement.”

Participation in court-approved substance abuse programs and driving programs may also be required. If a BAC of 0.15 or more is proven, the punishment can be more severe.

Third Offense OWI – La R.S. 14:98.3 (Felony)

Third-time offenders must pay a fine of $2,000 AND shall be imprisoned with or without hard labor for a minimum of 1 year in jail, with a possible maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison.

The minimum 1 year sentence cannot be suspended. This means that someone convicted of a third offense OWI, which is a felony, must serve one year in jail.

You should talk to an experienced OWI to see if you qualify for exceptions to this mandatory jail sentence, including sobriety court and/or home incarceration.

The court may suspend the remaining sentence if the sentence is more than one year in total.

Fourth or Subsequent Offense OWI – La R.S. 14:98.4 (Felony)

Fourth or subsequent OWI offenders must pay a fine of $5,000 AND shall be imprisoned with or without hard labor for a minimum of 10 years in jail, with a possible maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

The law requires that 2 years of the sentence shall be imposed without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.

This means that someone convicted of a fourth offense OWI, which is a serious felony, must serve at least two years in jail. You will need to talk to an experienced OWI to see if you qualify for exceptions to this mandatory jail sentence, including sobriety court and/or home incarceration.

It’s important to note that if a person is found to have a BAC of 0.15% or higher for any offense, the penalties are increased, and if a person causes an accident while driving under the influence, the penalties can be more severe.

It’s also worth noting that an OWI conviction in Louisiana can result in other penalties such as community service, alcohol education classes and treatment, and the installation of an ignition interlock device on the offender’s vehicle.

Build a Strong Defense Against Drunk Driving Charges

Gather evidence

A man sitting in a car holding a steering wheel

Collect any evidence that may support your defense, such as witness statements, surveillance footage, and any other relevant documentation.

Hire an experienced OWI attorney

An attorney with experience in OWIdefense can help you navigate the legal system and build a strong defense.

Challenge the legality of the traffic stop

If the officer did not have a valid reason for stopping you, any evidence obtained during the stop may be inadmissible in court. Our team will look closely for evidence that can be suppressed because of constitutional violations and poor police work.

Challenge the accuracy of the breath or blood test

Breath and blood tests can be inaccurate, and an experienced attorney may be able to challenge the results. Often machines are not calibrated correctly and can give false positive results.

Plead guilty to a lesser charge

If the evidence against you is strong, your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea deal for a lesser charge.

Education/Treatment Programs

Attend any alcohol education or treatment program if required.

Note: The best defense will depend on the specific circumstances of your case, and the laws of your state. Legal advice should be sought from a qualified attorney.

Common Questions about Drunk Driving Charges:

Is blood alcohol level the only way to prove intoxication?

No! Although most cases rely on evidence of a blood alcohol test or a breathalyzer showing a BAC of 0.08% or more, technically that is not required. “Intoxication” that is “influencing” the ability to operate the vehicle is the standard. Thus, if your BAC is below 0.08%, and a judge or jury finds the alcohol in your system contributed to (“influenced”) your driving, then you could be found guilty of an OWI. A BAC of 0.08% is only a presumption of intoxication.

Furthermore, it is illegal to be under the influence of certain drugs, both legal and illegal, while operating a vehicle. In such a case, unless you were also drinking alcohol, you may have a BAC of 0.00%. If the State can prove that you had drugs in your system with blood test results, you can still be convicted of an OWI.

Recently, Chad Ikerd and the Ikerd Law Firm litigated a similar charge, Vehicular Homicide, all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court and WON, while arguing that the State’s evidence that some drug metabolites in our client’s blood was not sufficient to prove she was intoxicated. State v. Trahan, 20-1233 (La. 10/10/21); 332 So. 3d 602.

The presence of metabolites is not proof of intoxication and they would be required to offer expert testimony of the impact THC metabolites would have on someone’s ability to drive.

Thankfully, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld our state and federal constitutional standard of requiring the State to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Chad’s client was a young mother who had been sentenced to years in jail and was grateful to be free of this conviction, for what was a tragic accident.

Can I lose my driver’s license just for being arrested for an OWI / DUI / DWI?

Yes! Even if you have not been convicted of driving while intoxicated, the State of Louisiana may suspend your driver’s license, pending a review of the facts and the outcome of your criminal case, which could take months. La. R.S. 32:667.

The standard to revoke your license and process is separate from your criminal proceedings. If you are in need of someone to represent you in this administrative proceeding, contact the Ikerd Law Firm for a free consultation.

Are driving drunk in Louisiana just a misdemeanor offense?

No! Louisiana law creates enhanceable penalties for each successive conviction for drinking and driving. What does that mean? It simply means that while a first and second offense conviction for driving intoxicated is considered “misdemeanors’ and only carries up to six months in jail, if you are later convicted of a third or fourth offense OWI, the same crime then becomes a felony offense.

As such, the penalties become much more severe, including minimum sentences of at least one or two years in jail.

Can I be convicted of an OWI in Louisiana for operating something other than a “vehicle”?

Yes! The law specifically lists several other things that an intoxicated person can be operating that will satisfy the requirements of the statute. Expressly listed in La. R.S. 14:98 are:

  • motor vehicle,
  • aircraft,
  • watercraft,
  • vessel, or
  • other means of conveyance.

Thus, it is illegal to operate a boat or ship while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. Most interestingly, however, what does “other means of conveyance” mean? A bike? A horse? A lawn mower or ATV?

At some point, the State has tried to prosecute someone for driving or operating all of these. However, the Courts of Louisiana have concluded that the law only allows punishment when the “other means of conveyance” is motorized. Thus, it is possible to get an OWI while riding a motorized lawn mower. See State v. Vogel, 2018-0174 (La. App. 1 Cir. 09/24/18); 261 So. 3d 801.

But, it is not punishable under the OWI statute to ride a horse while intoxicated, see State v. Williams, 449 So.2d 744 (La. App. 3 Cir. 1984), or a bike. See State v. Carr, 99-2209 (La. 05/26/00); 761 So. 2d 1271. Be careful, however, there may be other laws that are broken if you ride a horse or bike intoxicated.

Can I be convicted of an enhanced OWI (Second, third, or fourth) in Louisiana without ever being convicted of a first offense OWI?

Yes! It may seem strange, but there are circumstances where you can be convicted of a second, third, or fourth offense for driving while intoxicated without having been convicted of a previous OWI.

The OWI statute, La. R.S. 14:98(C)(1), specifically lists several crimes that can be used as a predicate for an enhanced OWI if you were previously convicted of them, including:

  1. La. R.S. 14:32.1, vehicular homicide.
  2. La. R.S. 14:32.8, third degree feticide.
  3. La. R.S. 14:39.1, vehicular negligent injuring.
  4. La. R.S. 14:39.2, first degree vehicular negligent injuring.
  5. A conviction for a crime in another state that, if committed in Louisiana, would qualify as an OWI or operating a vehicle while intoxicated under Louisiana law.

Can an old OWI conviction still be used against me in Louisiana?

Depends! The answer depends on how old your previous conviction is, and how long you have been off any state supervision. Generally, if the State is now charging you with an enhanced OWI (second, third, or fourth), it can only do that if you have a previous conviction(s) for an OWI within ten years from the date of the offense for the current charge. La. R.S. 14:98(C)(3). This is called a “cleansing period.”

cropped view of man drinking whiskey while driving car, blurred foregroundThus, ten years is a good place to start. If there were more than ten years from the time you were previously convicted for an OWI until the date you were arrested for the new OWI, you MAY have an argument that your record was “cleansed” and the State cannot now enhance your current charge.

However, nothing in the law is that easy. Instead, the ten-year cleansing period requires all of your probation, parole, or incarceration from the previous OWI to be completed before the ten year clock starts. In other words, you must have ten years of complete freedom from State supervision (jail, probation, or parole) to qualify.

If you have an old prior OWI conviction and want to know if you qualify for this “cleansing period,” contact the Ikerd Law Firm for a consultation.

Can my vehicle be seized if convicted of an owi in Louisiana?

YES! Louisiana law allows the State to “seize and sale” a vehicle being driven by someone who is convicted of a third or subsequent conviction for operating while intoxicated. La. R.S. 14:98(F).

In our experience, this is rare in most South Louisiana jurisdictions, but it is possible. The prosecuting district attorney must make a motion to do so. If your vehicle is seized and sold, you do not get to keep any of the proceeds of the sale–the State divides up the money between the police and district attorney, among others.

Can a drunk driving conviction in another state be used against me in Louisiana?

YES! Louisiana law expressly states that if you have been convicted of a crime in another state for what Louisiana would consider an OWI, Louisiana will consider that a predicate OWI conviction and can enhance your current charges to a second, third, or fourth offense.

The language of the statute reads: La. R.S. 14:98(C)(1)(e)

C.(1) For purposes of determining whether a defendant has a prior conviction for a violation of this Section, a conviction under any of the following shall constitute a prior conviction:

(e) A law of any state or an ordinance of a municipality, town, or similar political subdivision of another state that prohibits the operation of any motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, vessel, or other means of conveyance while intoxicated, while impaired, or while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any controlled dangerous substance, or as otherwise provided by R.S. 13:1894.1.

Can I be convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated while the car is turned on but in park?

Depends! If the only evidence the State has is that you were in a vehicle that was turned on, whether the driver or passenger side, but the engine was in park, then No! The State must prove you actually “operated” the vehicle at a time when you were intoxicated. See State v. Lindinger, 357 So. 2d 500 (La. 1978). Operating a vehicle sober, parking, and then becoming intoxicated is not sufficient.

Chad Ikerd has won cases like this in court by convincing prosecutors to drop the charges. Specifically, a former client came to Lafayette for work.

He arrived late the night before a conference and was short on cash. Instead of paying for a hotel, he decided to find a place to eat and drink for dinner and sleep in his car overnight. The restaurant was next to his office. In the middle of the night, the police approached his car, which was running to keep him cool. He was arrested for OWI 3rd. After weeks of discussion with the prosecution, including presenting caselaw, the State agreed to dismiss the charges.

Every case is different. If the police had seen him drive the vehicle from the restaurant to another parking lot, while intoxicated, that may have been a crime.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, contact the Ikerd Law Firm today to discuss your options.


The Importance of Legal Representation – Experienced Drunk Driving Defense to Protect Your Rights and Freedom

If you have been charged with DUI, DWI, or OWI, it is important to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

At the Ikerd Law Firm, Chad Ikerd can help you understand the charges against you, the potential penalties, and your rights under the law. Chad can also help you build a defense against the charges and protect your rights.

We have the knowledge and resources to effectively defend against DUI, DWI, and OWI charges. We understand the complex laws and procedures surrounding these charges and will work tirelessly to protect your rights and defend your freedom.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help you.

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