Don't get caught off guard (or with your phone in your hand!)
Effective July 1, 2020, an array of new laws will go into effect in the State of Indiana. Some of the biggest changes are related to the operation of motor vehicles, but plenty of others have the potential to significantly affect Hoosiers. New Driving-Related Laws
Courts must now refrain from suspending the driver's license of someone charged with Operating While Intoxicated until the date of the Initial Hearing. This marks a change from previous procedures, which allowed the trial court to order a driver's license suspended on the same date that probable cause was found that the driver committed OWI. The practical effect is that this law will give Hoosiers charged with OWIs an opportunity to petition the court for specialized driving privileges at the Initial Hearing to stave off the six-month preliminary license suspension that accompanies all OWI charges. In other words, the defendant may be able to avoid any type of license suspension from occurring until a conviction is entered, or perhaps ever, depending on the terms of a plea agreement or a court-imposed sentence.
Specialized Driving Privileges no longer have minimum or maximum periods. This will be the favorite new law for any person with a very short or very long license suspension. The new law strikes language from the SDP statute that requires specialized driving privileges be ordered for no fewer than 180 days and no more than two and one-half years. The consequences of that requirement has been two-fold: First, individuals who have a 60- or 90-day license suspension have been limited to the restrictions of the court's order granting specialized driving privileges for months longer than the suspension would have lasted in the first place. In other words, petitioners were left with the choice of serving a suspension outright for two or three months or being restricted to only driving for limited purposes and during limited times for an excessive period. Second, individuals with long license suspensions - such as a 10-year habitual traffic violator suspension, or even a lifetime suspension - will now be able to have lengthy orders granting them the right to drive rather than having to petition the court every two and one-half years, wasting attorney's fees and court costs.
Drivers are now prohibited from holding a cell phone or other telecommunication device while operating a vehicle. This new law comes on the heels of Indiana's previously-implemented ban on texting or typing while driving. Now, all drivers are banned from any handheld use of phones or telecommunications devices. Phones may still be used by drivers in cases of emergencies or if the phone is used in a hands-free or voice-operated manner. The legislature has built-in a one-year mercy period related to the imposition of points on an offender's driver's license. The BMV is not permitted to assign points to a license for any offenses under this law committed prior to July 1, 2021.
Failure to yield to an emergency vehicle can result in a felony conviction. Most incidents of failure to yield to an emergency vehicle results in a a civil citation and admission or trial finding of an infraction. But a new law will make it a Level 6 Felony, punishable by up to two and one-half years in prison if the failure to yield causes serious bodily injury or death to a person operating, occupying, or affiliated with the emergency vehicle.
Minors are now eligible for traffic deferrals. Drivers under the age of 18 are now eligible for traffic deferrals, which allow a person to avoid a traffic infraction on his or her record if he or she can avoid committing another moving violation for a six-month period. Previously, minor drivers were not permitted to enter a traffic deferral program.
Other New Laws
Small Claims Court limit increase. Plaintiffs may now bring small claims cases where the amount in controversy does not exceed $8,000.00. Prior to July 1, 2020, the limit was $6,000.00
Expungement of convictions involving alternative misdemeanor sentencing can occur sooner. Indiana's old expungement law required a five-year waiting period from the date that a court reduced a conviction from a Level 6 Felony to a Class A Misdemeanor (which generally occurs after the defendant successfully completes his or her sentence). Now, those who reap the benefit of misdemeanor treatment will only have to wait five years from the date of the original conviction. For example, under the old law, if convicted of a Level 6 Felony on January 1, 2021, and sentenced to two and one-half years on probation, the earliest possible date for expungement would be June 30, 2028 (five years after the date on which the defendant could successfully complete his or her sentence). But under the new law, the expungement could happen on January 1, 2026, saving the defendant from two and one-half more years worth of a criminal record.