Ohio OVI Laws & Penalties: What You Need to Know About OVI Charges

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Ohio law describes the term "operating a vehicle impaired" (OVI) as driving, or otherwise being in physical control of, a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Other states may use the term driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) for this drunk driving offense. An OVI is usually a misdemeanor, but it can be a felony charge, depending on a few factors. Conversely, a driver can face lesser misdemeanors, such as physical control OVI or reckless driving. If drivers in Ohio get behind the wheel while impaired, they can serve several months or years in jail, pay costly fines and face a loss of driving privileges, among other penalties.

Legal Limit for OVI in Ohio

According to Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.19, a person can face an OVI charge if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is 0.08 to 0.17 percent, as measured in a breath test, blood test or urine test. Those who have a higher concentration than 0.17 percent of alcohol in their system face a charge of high tier, high test or high level OVI, which carries more significant penalties than standard, low level or low tier OVI.

When a law enforcement officer pulls over a driver for suspected OVI, the immediate confiscation of their license occurs, which may become a longer suspension depending on the circumstances. The state also has specific legal limits for drugs. Anything at or over certain measurements makes it unlawful for a person to drive or otherwise operate a vehicle:

  • Amphetamine or methamphetamine: 100 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood.
  • Cocaine: 50 ng/mL of blood.
  • Heroin: 2000 ng/mL of blood.
  • Marijuana: 20 ng/mL of blood.
  • LSD: 25 ng/mL of blood.
  • Cocaine: 50 ng/mL of blood.

Physical Control OVI Offense and Penalties

A vehicle does not have to be in motion for a driver to receive an OVI charge. Drivers also face OVI by being in "actual physical control" of the car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.194 states that an impaired driver who is simply in the driver's seat holding keys or a fob is enough to charge that person with physical control OVI.

A physical control OVI is a lesser OVI charge, which means its penalties are not as severe. If convicted of this charge, the offender faces a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. This charge does not carry a mandatory license suspension, but a judge can recommend one, depending on the circumstances of the case.

First Offense OVI and Penalties

A standard OVI with no prior OVI convictions is called a first offense OVI. It is a misdemeanor, and the penalties vary based on how impaired the driver is. Low test OVI offenders, or those with a BAC level of less than 0.17 percent, face a mandatory three days in jail, five years of probation and a fine of $375 to $1,075, plus fees.

After a mandatory "hard suspension" of 15 days, the driver can apply for a restricted driver's license that allows them to drive to school or work. There may be time restrictions for when the offender can drive, and a judge can also require the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicle for several months.

A high tier OVI is for drivers with a BAC of more than 0.17 percent. This conviction doubles the jail time of a low test OVI, and offenders must display restricted license plates. License suspension sentencing can be from one to three years. However, the driver can challenge this administrative penalty up to a month after arraignment on their criminal charge.

If the driver is under 21, they will serve a maximum 30 days in jail, pay a fine of $250 and lose their license for three months or longer.

Second Offense OVI and Penalties

According to NOLO, a low level, second offense conviction carries penalties between 10 and 180 days in jail, with the option of five days in jail and 18 days of electronic home monitoring or house arrest. A second offense of high level OVI carries penalties of 20 days in jail, or 10 days incarceration and 36 days of electronic home monitoring.

Both levels carry a fine of $525 to $1,625 and require mandatory alcohol and drug screening and treatment. The court may also sentence an offender to vehicle immobilization, a license suspension of one to seven years, and require an IID installed in their vehicle.

Third Offense OVI and Penalties

A third offense OVI in Ohio may still be a misdemeanor, but could also be a felony depending on when the driver's last convictions occurred, according to Nolo. A low level OVI of this kind carries penalties of 30 days to one year of jail or 15 days incarceration, plus 55 days of electronic home monitoring. High tier OVI offenders must serve between 60 days in jail or 30 days incarceration, plus 110 days of electronic home monitoring.

Both levels require payment of an $850 to $2,750 fine. Offenders must complete alcohol and drug screening, and treatment. The court may also sentence an offender to vehicle immobilization, OVI license plates, a license suspension of two to 12 years, or require an IID installed in their vehicle.

Felony OVI and Penalties

An OVI case becomes a felony under certain circumstances, particularly the number and date of prior offenses, according to Tyack Law of Columbus. If a driver has three and four convictions in the last decade, five or more convictions in the previous two decades, or a prior felony OVI, the current OVI charge also becomes a felony.

For a first-time felony OVI, penalties include:

  • A fine of between $1,350 and $10,500.
  • A 60-day to 30-month incarceration sentence, depending on the amount of alcohol or drugs in the driver's system and their prior offenses. If a driver has five or more convictions over the past two decades, they face a maximum five-year prison sentence.
  • A three-year to life suspension of the offender's license.
  • Mandatory forfeiture of the offender's vehicle.
  • Substance abuse screening and treatment.

Reckless Operation of a Motor Vehicle

In some instances, a prosecutor may choose to reduce the OVI charge to reckless operation or reckless driving. This type of charge covers offenses like speeding or accidents, according to Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.20. A prosecutor may seek this charge if:

  • The case lacks sufficient evidence.
  • The driver's BAC level was just over the legal limit.
  • There are problems with chemical test results.
  • The driver wasn't under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • There was no accident, no injuries or any other damages.
  • The driver has no prior convictions.

As a lesser misdemeanor, this charge does not stay on the driver's criminal record for as long a period as an OVI. It carries penalties of 30 days of incarceration, creates points on a driver's record and requires payment of a $250 fine. The court may also require the offender to attend substance abuse counseling and education courses, and suspend their license. The offender can reapply for reinstatement of their license after completing the suspension period and paying a $40 fee.