Your Baton Rouge DWI Case: The Basics

You don't have to be a fun-loving LSU student to know that the State and Parish are working hard to crack down on alcohol-related troubles in Baton Rouge. We all know somebody who has had too much to drink and made the poor decision to get behind the wheel. In some cases, nothing comes of it. But the State has decided that the risk and consequences are too great to let people slide, should they be caught.

You may have been stopped recently and charged with DWI -- driving while intoxicated. It's a crime that affects many people who don't have a history of getting into trouble, so the whole process of dealing with it can seem foreign. Here's a breakdown of how a DWI case plays out in the Parish.

Meaning of Driving While 'Intoxicated'

In Louisiana, it is illegal to drive if your blood alcohol content ("BAC") is at or above 0.08%. That is the same unlawful amount as in every other state. You may feel like you're only buzzed or tipsy, rather than intoxicated or drunk, but you'll still face criminal and civil penalties.

Chemical Sobriety and Drug Tests at a Traffic Stop

Every licensed driver across the state of Louisiana gives his/her "implied consent" to be tested for drugs and alcohol. This means that if an officer reasonably believes that you have been drinking or doing drugs prior to driving, the officer may request a chemical test to confirm this belief. The officer must read you your Miranda rights (the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney) and notify you of some potential consequences including:

  1. that your driver license will be suspended if you refuse to submit to a chemical test or if you fail the test; and
  2. that a refusal may come with the same penalty as a failure if you've previously refused

You can review the full Louisiana law on sobriety tests online.

After the Traffic Stop ...

Your traffic stop for suspicion of DWI will play out in one of two ways. You will either (1) take the chemical sobriety test or (2) refuse the chemical sobriety test. There are potential civil and criminal consequences for either course of action. The following sections give some guidance for what to expect with a first offense. For second and subsequent offenses, the consequences may be similar, but are generally more severe.

If You Take and Fail the Test

The civil consequences of a DWI arrest have an impact right away. If you fail a sobriety test, your license will be seized immediately. The Department of Public Safety and Corrections will give you a temporary license that is valid for 30 days, which is also the time available for making a request for an administrative hearing. If the 30 days pass and you do not request a hearing, or if you are found guilty of DWI, your license will be suspended for 90 days. If you do request a hearing, and by the time of the hearing the state has not successfully prosecuted you for DWI, you will have your license reinstated.

In the criminal justice system, you may also be convicted of "operating a vehicle while intoxicated." If you are convicted as a first time offender, you may face: (1) a fine for an amount between $300 and $1,000, and (2) between 10 days and 6 months in jail. Your sentence may be lighter if the court approves you for a program that involves a combination of substance abuse training, driver education, and community service.

You may be ineligible for a lighter sentence if your BAC was particularly high. Individuals who have had multiple DWI convictions will receive harsher criminal penalties that may include a combination of: (1) a felony record, (2) house arrest, (3) electronic monitoring, (4) curfew restrictions, (5) required use of an interlock device (see below), or (6) permanent revocation of driving privileges. Talk to a lawyer and review the state law for more information on your specific case.

If You Refuse the Test

If you refuse a sobriety test, and you have never refused one before, your license will be seized. Again, you'll have the option to request a hearing to challenge whether you should have been stopped and whether you actually refused. If your challenge is unsuccessful, your driving privileges will be suspended for one year. Drivers who have prior refusals and DWI convictions on their records may have lengthier suspensions, lose their rights to a hardship license (see below), and/or be forced to use an ignition interlock device.

Refusing a chemical test with a record of prior refusals is a separate crime unto itself. Please be aware that even drivers who refuse the chemical test may still be convicted of DWI if officers obtain enough evidence despite the refusal. Also, your refusal to submit is admissible evidence of driving while intoxicated.

Arrest

If you are taken into custody, you will most likely be taken to the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. The facility houses persons who have been booked and are waiting for their next court appearance. You can call the Prison for information about an inmate's bond amount and visitation schedule. Call (800) 414-7685. Within 3 business days, an arrested person will have to appear in court. A judge will set bail and inform the prisoner of his/her rights.

Appearance Bonds

The State of Louisiana allows arrested persons to be released before trial in exchange for a money deposit, a promise to appear, or some other guarantee that the person will appear in court when it's time. All of these methods are collectively known as "appearance bonds." The amount of the appearance bond necessary to release an inmate is determined by law. In Baton Rouge, the court-ordered bail amount is $2,500 for all DWI offenses. Bail amounts change over time. Check with your attorney and the Baton Rouge courts to verify the bail amount for your case.

Some inmates qualify for a Personal Surety Bond. This means that the person can be released with a personal guarantee that he/she will return. The inmate must be: (1) a first time offender; (2) at least 25 years old; (3) a Louisiana resident; and (4) employed full time for the last three years with one company. Visit the court's website for information on how to satisfy the requirements (move your mouse pointer over the "Bail Bonds" tab and then select "Surety Bond (sign out) Procedure.")

Hardship License

After a driver's license has been suspended for 30 days, a court may issue an order to the Department of Public Safety that allows the department to issue a restricted license. An applicant must show the court that he/she would suffer a hardship if he/she were not allowed to drive to school and/or work. The restricted license would only allow a driver to go to work, school, and other locations for designated purposes. For example, the court may allow a person with a hardship license to drive to substance abuse classes. The court may also require the driver to install and use an ignition interlock device.

The requirements for a hardship license may vary, so the Department of Public Safety recommends that you contact the Office of Motor Vehicles to determine your eligibility and requirements. Call the OMV at (225) 925-6146. Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes have several field offices. You can find their addresses, directions, and mapped locations, on the OMV's website.

Ignition Interlock Device

An IID is a device that requires a driver to breathe into a sensor hooked up to the driver's car. The vehicle will not start if the sensor detects any alcohol. In most cases, a driver must install an IID before he/she can receive a hardship license. For multiple-time DWI offenders, an IID may be required before your license is reinstated.

If you are ever found guilty of tampering with the device, having another person to breathe into the device, or otherwise evading the law, you will have a prolonged license suspension and may be jailed for up to 20 days. Consult your attorney and review R.S. Section 378.2 for the laws relating to ignition interlock devices. Visit the Department of Public Safety for a list of approved device manufacturers and installers.

Get Your Regular License Reinstated

The conditions for having your driver license reinstated will vary significantly from case to case. The Office of Motor Vehicles advises that you must either call or visit a Motor Vehicle Reinstatement Office in order to reinstate your driving privileges. Call (225) 925-6146. In East Baton Rouge Parish, visit the reinstatement office at 7701 Independence Blvd. Check online for offices in other Parishes.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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