Louisiana laws make it illegal to drive a vehicle either when chemical substances have impaired someone’s ability or when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over the legal limit. Although people often refer to drunk driving charges as driving under the influence (DUI) offenses, Louisiana statutes refer to them as operating while intoxicated (OWI) offenses. Regardless of the terminology used, the likely consequences are still the same.
Numerous circumstances may lead to OWI charges, including technical infractions based on someone’s BAC and impairment-based offenses where someone has obvious trouble managing their vehicle safely. Often, OWI charges in Louisiana are generally classified as misdemeanor offenses that could lead to license suspension, financial penalties and possibly jail time.
Occasionally, Louisiana prosecutors pursue felony OWI charges against a motorist, which is often not what people expect. When is drunk driving considered felony offense?
When someone has multiple prior offenses
Some individuals accused of an OWI have a substance abuse issue, which means that they may repeat the same choice again in the future. Impaired driving has a relatively high recidivism rate, meaning that people convicted of an offense once could very well end up facing the same charges again in the future. If someone has two prior OWI charges, the third offense and any arrest for an OWI after that will lead to felony charges. The penalties for a felony OWI for repeat violations can include up to five years in jail, $2,000 in fines and even vehicle forfeiture.
When someone causes a serious collision
The other scenario in which an OWI offense will lead to felony prosecution involves an allegedly impaired driver causing a wreck with another vehicle. Causing a crash that results in bodily injury or death could lead to felony charges even if someone has no prior criminal record.
A felony OWI conviction can lead to more serious penalties and often also create more of a challenge for people during background checks. Understanding the likely severity of pending charges may help those recently arrested in Louisiana choose the best way to respond.