Louisiana prohibits operating a vehicle while under the influence (OWI) of alcohol or drugs. Although Louisiana formally uses the term OWI, many people still refer to the offense as "driving under the influence" or "DUI." In this article, we use OWI and DUI interchangeably.
Louisiana statutes set out specific requirements for determining when a driver is considered under the influence. The laws also define operation to include more than just a moving vehicle. This article explains how these terms are defined, the requirements for a conviction, and the possible penalties an offender might face for an OWI arrest or a conviction.
To convict a driver of OWI in court, prosecutors must prove the driver was operating a vehicle:
In other words, an OWI conviction can be based on actual impairment or BAC test results.
Under Louisiana law, operation is defined to include far more than just driving a moving vehicle. Courts have explained that operation includes any exercise of control over or manipulation of the vehicle. This standard does not require a running engine or actual movement of the vehicle.
In deciding whether the driver took sufficient steps to amount to operation of the vehicle, courts typically consider factors like where the driver was seated, whether the keys were in the ignition, and what vehicle controls the driver engaged.
Under Louisiana law, "under the influence" is defined as the impairment—however slight—to the ability of a person to operate a motor vehicle. Compared to the laws of some other states, which require proof of "substantial impairment," Louisiana's impairment standard makes proving a DUI fairly easy for prosecutors. Basically, any evidence of impairment will suffice.
Generally, having a prescription for a drug or medication that causes impairment isn't a valid defense to a DUI charge.
When a driver has a BAC of at least .08%, the prosecution doesn't have to prove impairment at all. A charge based on BAC is often called a "per se" OWI or DUI.
The penalties for an OWI conviction generally vary based on the number of prior convictions the driver has that occurred within the last ten years. Certain serious traffic violations like vehicular homicide and vehicular assault also count as prior offenses
Generally, a first or second OWI conviction will be charged as a misdemeanor. The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a first and second OWI conviction in Louisiana.
10 days to 6 months
30 days to 6 months
$300 to $1,000
$750 to $1,000
Drivers who have a BAC that's well above the legal limit will face increased penalties.
BAC at least .15%. A driver with a BAC of at least .15% must serve at least 48 hours in jail prior to probationary release. If the driver had at least one prior conviction, he or she must serve at least 96 hours in jail before release.
BAC of at least .20%. A driver with a BAC of at least .20% must serve at least 48 hours in jail, pay a minimum $750 fine, and will have their driver's license suspended for two years, followed by 12 months with an ignition interlock device (IID). If the driver had a prior conviction, the offender must pay a mandatory $1,000 fine and serve at least 96 hours in jail.
For most OWI convictions, the judge will suspend part of the jail sentence and place the offender on probation. Probation generally lasts for one to five years and requires the offender to complete certain requirements. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in jail time.
First offense. Probation for a first-offense OWI generally includes completion of a driver improvement program (and possibly ignition interlock restrictions) and a substance abuse treatment program. The offender must also serve either 48 hours in jail or complete 32 hours of community service as part of probationary release.
Second offense. A driver convicted of a second OWI must serve at least 15 days in jail (or 48 hours in jail and 240 hours of community service) prior to probationary release. During probation, the offender must install an ignition interlock device and complete driver improvement and substance abuse programs.
The minimum jail times cannot be reduced or suspended if the offender was transporting a minor passenger under the age of 12.
A third or subsequent OWI conviction within ten years will be charged as a felony.
A third-offense felony OWI carries one to five years in prison and $2,000 in fines. The offender must serve at least one year in prison or complete one year of the "Drug Division Probation Program."
Felony OWI offenders generally must complete a period of probation. Conditions of probation typically include the requirement to maintain gainful employment, six months of house arrest, installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), completion of a driver improvement program, completion of a four-week inpatient treatment program, and completion of up to 12 months of outpatient treatment.
The offender's vehicle can also be seized and sold under Louisiana's forfeiture statutes.
Impaired driving can also result in separate felony charges if the incident resulted in injuries or deaths.
Every OWI conviction, chemical test refusal, and chemical test failure (a BAC of .08% or more) is reported to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The DPS will review the report and the driver's record before issuing a notice of suspension. The driver generally has 30 days to request a hearing before the suspension starts.
License-related penalties can result from an OWI arrest and/or conviction.
As part of the OWI investigation, the officer will generally request the driver to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test. Under Louisiana's "implied consent" law, drivers who unlawfully refuse to submit to a request for testing face driver's license penalties.
When a driver refuses to take a chemical test, the officer will seize the driver's license and forward a report to the DPS. Upon review of the driver's record, the DPS will suspend the driver's license for:
In addition to the two-year suspension, a third chemical test refusal in ten years will result in $300 to $1,000 in fines and ten days to six months in jail. Offenders who are granted probation must complete at least two days in jail, 32 hours of community service, and a driver improvement program. These enhanced penalties can also apply to drivers who refuse testing after causing a fatality or serious bodily injury due to OWI.
Also, prosecutors can use the fact that a driver refused testing in court while trying to prove an OWI charge.
If a driver submits to testing and produces a BAC that's at least .08%, the officer will seize the driver's license and submit a report to the DPS. The DPS will then suspend the driver's license for:
A test result showing drugs or excessive alcohol will likely be used in court to prove the impairment of the driver.
The DPS also imposes license suspensions for OWI convictions. Here are the suspension periods for convictions:
If the driver is already suspended for a test failure or refusal, a conviction suspension will run concurrently (along with) the other suspension.
Suspended drivers are generally eligible to apply for restricted driving privileges. For a first-offense suspension, the driver can generally apply for a restricted license immediately. But for repeat offenses and OWIs involving injuries or a high BAC, there's a waiting period of 45 days to 12 months. All restricted licenses require the installation and use of an IID.
OWI violations that resulted in injury or death are not eligible for restricted license privileges.
After completing the suspension period, drivers are generally eligible for license reinstatement. Reinstatement fees and proof of financial responsibility (SR-22) are required. A driver with prior OWI suspensions or whose offense involved certain aggravating factors (injuries or child passengers) must maintain an IID for at least six months.
In Louisiana, drivers who are under 21 years of age are prohibited from driving with a BAC of .02% or more. Drivers who are caught violating this rule will face both criminal and administrative penalties.
A driver convicted of an underage OWI will face $100 to $250 in fines. While the offender can be sentenced to ten days to three months in jail, the court will often place the driver on probation and, in lieu of jail, require 32 hours of community service and completion of a driver improvement program and substance abuse treatment.
A second or subsequent underage OWI will result in $250 to $500 in fines and 30 days to six months in jail. Even if probation is granted, the driver must serve at least two days in jail (or 80 hours of community service), complete an approved substance abuse program, pass the driver improvement program, and install an IID.
A driver convicted of an underage OWI will have his or her driver's license suspended for 180 days. A driver who refused testing will face the same suspension periods (see above) as a standard test refusal.
Depending on the county, the district attorney may be able to offer a diversion program on first-offense OWI charges. Diversion participants usually must pay certain fees and complete some type of rehabilitation program. Successful completion of a diversion program generally results in the dismissal of the criminal charges.
A Louisiana OWI can lead to severe consequences but there are often options for reducing or avoiding some of the penalties. Consult with a qualified OWI attorney regarding your case and possible outcomes.