If you or someone you know has been arrested for drunk driving, there's some important information to know. It doesn't matter whether you were caught by the Lafayette Police Department or the Louisiana State Police, most driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases follow a similar path through the court system in Louisiana.
Read on to learn about more about your Lafayette DWI case, including the law, potential criminal penalties, and license suspensions.
Field Sobriety Tests
Alright, so you've been pulled over by the cops. Maybe you were speeding or swerving, or a combination of both. The officer might have smelled the odor of alcohol coming from you or the inside of your car. If a Louisiana police officer suspects you might be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, he or she can ask you to step out of the car and take a series of roadside tests. It's never a pleasant experience, no matter how nice the police officer may be. If you perform poorly on these tests, you'll be arrested and headed downtown.
The Arrest and Blood Test
If you've been arrested, you will likely be taken to the Lafayette Parish Correctional Facility for a blood or breath test. It's up to the officer, but if you are given a breath test, you have the right to request a blood test in Lafayette. It'll be on your own dime, but if you request it and you're denied the right to additional testing, your initial test results can be excluded from the prosecutor's case against you.
Implied Consent and Your License
If you are arrested for an alcohol or drug-related DUI, you are required to take a chemical test to determine your bodily alcohol content (BAC) or the presence of drugs in your body. Louisiana has an implied consent law.
Refusing to take this test has driver's license consequences that are separate from those that result from any conviction that flows from the traffic stop.
Going to Jail
You might be released the next day with a promise to appear for arraignment. But if you are charged with a felony, you'll likely stay in jail until your arraignment. If you are looking for a friend or family member who may have been arrested for DWI and taken to jail in Louisiana Parish, the Department of Corrections has an Offender Locator to assist you.
DUI? DWI? What's the Difference?
Louisiana doesn't have a charge called "DUI." The offense of drunk driving in Louisiana is called "driving while intoxicated" or DWI. A DWI is established by having a measure of 0.08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in your body. No evidence of impairment is necessary at this level of BAC, which is known as the "per se" law. Just having a 0.08 BAC is enough evidence for a conviction. Refusal to submit to an alcohol or chemical test is admissible in court as consciousness of guilt; a conviction, along with the known refusal, can result in additional driver's license consequences and penalties.
License Suspension: Act Fast
After a DWI arrest, you have only 15 days to submit an administrative hearing request to the Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Once you request the hearing, the DMV will have to prove that the suspension is lawful before your license will be suspended. Missing this deadline will result in the automatic loss of your driving privileges for a minimum of 90 days -- without exception. What many people do not realize is that this suspension is entirely separate from the state's criminal proceeding and can take place even before being convicted of drunk driving.
This is why it may be a good idea to act quickly or contact an experienced Louisiana DWI attorney in Lafayette when facing a DWI charge.
What Happens at an Arraignment?
This will be your first appearance whether it's a misdemeanor or a felony. The judge will inform you of the charges and set bail. She may impose additional conditions such as alcohol testing. You will enter a plea of not guilty, guilty, or no contest. You can hire a lawyer, represent yourself, or ask for a public defender. Finally, the judge will set a pretrial conference.
Pretrial Conference: Misdemeanor / Felony
Pretrial conferences are where plea negotiations take place. In a misdemeanor, it'll happen after the arraignment, but before trial. In a felony, they happen before the preliminary hearing. If the defense and prosecution can't come to a compromise, you will have a trial. The State must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the right to a jury trial where 12 randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence.
If the jury finds you guilty or you enter a plea bargain, the judge will impose a sentence in your case ranging from a small fine, to probation, to alcohol/drug counseling, and in the most serious cases, an active prison sentence. See below to learn more.
Every case is different depending on the facts and circumstances. However, here are some standard penalties for a first-time alcohol or drug-related driving crime in Louisiana.
First-Time Louisiana DWI
A first-offense DWI is considered a misdemeanor with the following penalties:
- Up to six months imprisonment or a fine of $300 to $1,000;
- 48 hours in jail;
- Up to two years probation;
- 30 hours of driver's education; and
- Community Service.
Special Penalties for First-Time DWIs
- If BAC is over .15, then an additional 48 hours of the jail sentence;
- If BAC is over .20, then 48 hours of mandatory jail, plus a fine of $750 to $1,000, and an ignition interlock device must be installed for a period of 12 months.
Remember, individuals who have been arrested for an impaired-driving offense can expect a number of serious penalties. If you've currently found yourself in this situation, it may be worth speaking to an attorney to learn more about the state's DWI laws so you know exactly what to expect.