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Ten things you need to know about Louisiana DWI arrests

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The arrest an average citizen is most likely to encounter in their law abiding life is a DWI. A DWI, sometimes called an OUI or a DUI, is a misdemeanor in Louisiana that carries a maximum penalty of six (6) months in jail and a fine of up to $1000.00. The crime has implications with regard to your driver’s license and may cause a suspension of your driving privileges. Here are some things you need to be aware of if you are arrested for a DWI:

1. You are not talking your way out of the arrest. Many people think that they can “smooth” talk their way out of a DWI. You have a right to remain silent, so remain silent. You have to give your name and identifying information but you don’t have to answer questions. You don’t have to inform the officer how much you had to drink. You don’t have to inform the officer where you are coming from or going. After your arrest, a bond will be set and you will be able to bond out of jail. Law enforcement or the jail will allow you to call someone to bond you out of jail. 

2. Will I be published in the newspaper? Yes. A DWI  arrest is a crime that is generally accompanied with your name listed in the newspaper. Can I do anything about it? Unfortunately, no. The media gets booking information from the prison and posts it. This also means that insurance companies can search and find your arrest. So can employers. 

3. Can I refuse to take a breath test? You can refuse a breath test, but you will likely face a lengthier driver’s license suspension if you do. Additionally, multiple refusals can lead to being charged with a crime, though that crime is rarely enforced. Refusing might help your criminal case, but definitely will affect your license. 

4. Why is my driver’s license affected by a DWI arrest? When you got your license, you agreed to the implied consent law as a condition to driving. That law allows police officers to request a breath test if they have a reasonable belief that you are driving while impaired on a public roadway. The impairment can be based on alcohol or drugs. Failing the test causes you to face a license suspension. Remember, the legal breath alcohol content limit is a .08. Refusing to take the test causes you to a face a lengthier suspension. You have thirty (30) days from the date of the arrest to request an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension. The administrative license hearings doesn’t allow you to subpoena police officers under current Louisiana law. As you can imagine, they are difficult to win. Even if you win the hearing, a conviction in the criminal proceeding to a DWI will result in a driver’s license suspension.

5. When can the police draw blood to test my blood alcohol content? The police can only draw blood if they have a warrant to draw your blood or if there is a fatality or serious bodily injury in connection to the DWI arrest. They also can draw blood if you consent to allowing them to do so. 

6. Will I be eligible for a pretrial diversion program? Most jurisdictions have a pretrial diversion program for first offenders. This program, which is voluntary, has conditions, fees, and lasts for a period of time where you have to remain arrest and conviction free. You also have to remain alcohol free during the program. If you complete the program, then the charges are dismissed. Louisiana law allows you to expunge the arrest after five (5) years. 

7. What if I get convicted of a first offense DWI? Everyone who gets convicted of a DWI must pay fines, fees, and court costs and are likely eligible for probation. Probation requires you to complete conditions required by law. They are 32 hours of community service hours (1/2 of which are litter detail), a MADD Victims Impact course, a Substance Abuse Evaluation and treatment recommendations, and a DWI Driver Improvement course. If you do these conditions, then you will likely be granted an opportunity to keep the conviction off your record (we call this an “894”). This allows your to expunge your record. The expungement does not destroy your record but seals it, leaving access only to law enforcement and certain agencies and licensing boards. It’s important to remember that a conviction or plea may effect your driver’s license. DWI convictions are also enhanceable crimes and prior convictions can be used to enchants future arrests and penalties (a third and subsequent offense DWI is a felony). Louisiana also enhances DWI convictions from other states. 

8. Is it really illegal to drink and drive? Louisiana law doesn’t make it illegal to drink and then drive. It is illegal to drive while impaired. The legal limit in Louisiana is .08. You can be impaired and still be below that limit. The legal limit creates a rebuttal presumption that you are impaired (that means if your BAC is .08, then we think you are drunk driving). You can get a DWI for driving under the influence of drug use and for a combination of drug and alcohol use. When in doubt, don’t drive! Very important, if you kill someone you can be charged with Vehicular Homicide, even if your BAC is below .08, if it is shown that your drinking was the cause of the accident and fatality. 

9. Will I be able to drive if my license is suspended? You can continue to drive while your license is suspended if you get a hardship license. The hardship license requires you to place an ignition interlock device in your vehicle. The DMV may also require high risk insurance or “SR22” insurance during the period of the hardship license. Your hardship license allows you to drive for the necessities of life. 

10. Can a DWI arrest or conviction affect my ability to travel? Yes and no. Domestic travel is generally unaffected by a DWI arrest or conviction. You also generally don’t need court permission to travel while your case is pending. 

International travel, on the other hand, can be greatly affected by a DWI conviction and/or arrest. Countries like Canada will not let you enter with a conviction for a DWI. Check the rules of the country you plan on traveling to when in doubt. 

Franz Borghardt