In Ohio, as it is in all states, it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. While most states use the terms DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated), Ohio uses the term OVI (operating a vehicle impaired) for drunk driving. No matter the definition, the charge and its consequences are severe.
An Ohio OVI charge can sometimes be reduced to one of reckless driving or physical control OVI, both of which are lesser misdemeanors and carry lesser charges. A reduction of charges depends on the circumstances of the incident.
Definition of OVI in Ohio
According to Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.19, it is illegal for anyone to operate or have physical control of a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Law enforcement measures alcohol impairment as:
- Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or greater.
- Breath test results of 0.08 of one gram (80 milligrams) of alcohol per 210 liters of the driver's breath.
- Urine test results of 0.11 of one gram (110 milligrams) of alcohol per 100 milliliters of the driver's urine.
Proof that an Ohio driver was actually operating the vehicle is not necessary for an OVI charge. The driver can also be in "actual physical control" of the car while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. Ohio's Revised Code Section 4511.194 defines this as being in the driver's seat or having possession of the car's ignition device while impaired. In other words, all it takes for a physical control OVI charge is for a driver to have their keys in hand or while sitting in the driver's seat impaired, which may occur if the driver passes out or falls asleep in the vehicle.
OVI Driving and Physical Control Penalties
The penalties for a first-time offense are not as harsh as those for subsequent OVI offenses. Ohio usually considers first-offense and second-offense OVIs as misdemeanors, but the penalties are severe, even for these lesser charges. And, OVIs become a felony with three or more prior offenses. Depending on the number of these charges a driver has, penalties can include:
- A maximum of $20,000 in fines.
- Court fees and costs.
- Incarceration from three days to 15 years.
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on the driver's vehicle for a number of weeks or years.
- Mandatory attendance of a substance abuse intervention program.
- The installation of OVI license plates.
- The immobilization or impounding of the driver's vehicle.
- Lost driving privileges due to license suspension or revocation.
As a first-degree misdemeanor, a physical control OVI charge adds no points to the driver's license and carries lesser penalties, according to Engle and Martin, LLC. Penalties include:
- Up to six months of jail time.
- A $1,000 fine.
- No mandatory license suspension, although the court can impose one if it wishes. It will cost the driver about $475 for reinstatement.
Lesser Offense of Reckless Operation
In Ohio, reckless operation is a lesser charge than OVI; it does not carry as many penalties and does not last as long on a driver's criminal record. A reckless driving offense is also a misdemeanor, but with less stigma attached. Reckless driving is a bit of a catch-all charge in Ohio, which means that it doesn't necessarily involve impairment; it also covers incidents like traffic accidents and speeding.
Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.20 defines reckless driving as the operation of "a vehicle, trackless trolley or streetcar on any street or highway in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property." Depending on the circumstances of the traffic stop, drivers may receive a lesser charge of reckless driving instead of OVI. Some reasons for this include:
- Issues with obtaining evidence for the OVI case, based on all the facts and circumstances of the incident.
- The prosecution lacks sufficient evidence.
- The driver's BAC was only narrowly over the limit.
- Chemical testing issues.
- The offender was not impaired.
- It was the driver's first OVI offense.
- There was no occurrence of damages or injury.
- There was no accident.
- The offender has no prior convictions.
Reckless Operation Penalties
A reckless driving charge carries penalties of 30 days in jail, a fine of about $250 and four points against the offender's license. The penalties for a reckless operation conviction are usually not mandatory, but the court may require the driver to attend substance abuse intervention courses and impose a license suspension. The offender can get their license back after suspension by paying a $40 reinstatement fee.
Reckless driving or physical control OVI charges are better to have on a driver's record than a DUI conviction. However, before the driver accepts a plea agreement, it is essential to understand the charges.
Circumstances That Prevent OVI Charge Reduction
Not every offender can have their charges reduced, particularly if the facts of the case are not in their favor. A prosecutor must also agree to the reduction; if they do not, the court will likely proceed with the OVI charge. Drivers who cannot get their OVI reduced to reckless driving may be able to get a reduced charge of physical control. Again, this will depend on the circumstances of the incident.
Prosecutors may not agree to reduced charges for several reasons. If a driver has had any prior OVI convictions within the past 10 years, a high legal limit on a BAC test – well over the 0.08 percent limit – or got into an accident and caused property damage, injured or killed someone, a prosecutor will not agree to a lesser charge.
- Ohio Laws and Rules: ORC Section 4511.19 Operating Vehicle Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs - OVI
- Ohio Laws and Rules: ORC Section 4511.194 Having Physical Control of Vehicle While Under the Influence
- Ohio Laws and Rules: ORC Section 4511.20 Operation in Willful or Wanton Disregard of the Safety of Persons or Property
- Engle and Martin, LLC: OVI Reduced to Reckless in Ohio
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.