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First Time DUI / OVI Penalties in Ohio

First Time DUI / OVI Penalties in Ohio

I get frantic phone calls all of the time from people: "I just got arrested for drunk driving. What am I realistically facing?"

In Ohio, the penalties for Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence, also known as OVI or DUI, are laid out in the Ohio Revised Code. A handy cheatsheet of potential penalties is laid out on the Garfeild Heights Municipal Court website, but the actual penalties depend on a number of factors.

The first question is what was your Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC. The BAC is the standard that courts use for determining what the penalties are for an OVI conviction. As a general rule, Ohio divides OVI penalties into three ranges: below .08 BAC; above .17 BAC; and the refusal to submit to a BAC test.

Here are the potential penalties for first time offenders, all of which are first degree misdemeanors in Ohio:

Simple OVI / Low Test

A minimum of three days in a jail or driver's intervention program (DIP) with a maximum possible penalty of up to six months in a local correcitonal facility, such as a county or city jail or a contracted jail facility, such as Akron's Glenwood Jail.

A mandatory minimum fine of $375 and maximum fines of $1,075. This fine can not be waived by the judge, but the judge may allow the offender the opportunity to perform community service to satisfy the fines and costs.

The judge may require the offender to seek alcohol or substance abuse treatment. Usually the judge will begin this process with a substance abuse evaluation (SAE), but may order the offender directly into treatment. The SAE or treatment can be done through a local substance abuse facility, such as Summit County's Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Board (or one of their contractors) or a private facility, such as your local doctor.

The judge is also required to impose a Class 5 driver's license suspension. A Class 5 driver's license suspension lasts a minimum of six months and can go up to three years. The offender can qualify for driving privileges after a period of fifteen calender days.

The judge may, but is not required to, order that the offender only operate a vehicle with a interlock device or with orange OVI license plates, also known as "party plates."

For a first time offender, the judge does not have the ability to order that the offender's vehicle be either impounded or forfeited.

The offender will also be responsible for court costs, which can range from several hundred dollars to over one thousand dollars.

High Blow or Prior Refusal Within Twenty Years

If a person has a high blow, defined as .17 BAC or above, or has previously refused to submit to a BAC test within the past twenty years, the penalties include all of the above penalties for low tier offenses, but also include:

A minimum sentence of six days in a jail or local correctional facility or three days in jail/correctional facility and three days in a driver's intervention program. As with a low tier offense, the judge may order that the offender serve up to six months in jail.

The judge is required to make an offender have OVI license plates on his or her vehicle for a high tier OVI. The requirement for an interlock device is optional.

Other Consequences

Often times, the consequences of an OVI extend way beyond the courtroom. Once a charge of OVI is filed with the local courts, the arrest becomes a matter of public record. As such, by searching a local database, information about your arrest can be viewed by anyone, including the media, employers, potential employers, family members or nosy neighbors. Additionally, some criminal defense attorneys and OVI attorneys will search through arrest records to search for potential clients.

In addition to being available online through a computer search, some newspapers and other media sources will print the list of those arrested in their area. While your arrest for OVI may not attract the attention of someone like Lindsay Lohan or a politician being arrested, many newspapers will print arrest records. For example, news orgainzations like the Hudson Hub Times or South Side News Leader regularly print arrest information both online and in their print versions.

Some employers may have policies requring their employees to report all arrests, including arrests for OVI. The employer may place the employee on suspension, or even terminate the employee, following an OVI arrest or conviction. This is particularly true in cases where the employee is required to travel for work and may not be able to do so, either due to an Administrative License Suspension, a regular driver's license suspension or because of conditions imposed by the court. Employers may also terminate an employee due to the potential of workplace or automobile insurance rates being raised due to the employee's arrest.

Many insurers will also raise the rates on customers with OVI arrests or convictions. Because drivers with OVIs are deemed to be higher risk drivers, some insurance companies will either raise the rates of those arrested or convicted of drunk driving or terminate their policies. If this happens, the driver may be required to obtain a SR22 Bond in order to satisfy Ohio's financial responsibility laws.

Additionally, if the offender has a professional license, such as a law, medical or nursing license, the licensing board may require that the offender report the conviction to the licensing board. If this is done, sanctions may be imposed on the offender or the board may require the offender to complete a substance abuse evaluation or treatment -- even if the court did not.

If the offender wishes to apply for a professional license, as a general rule, he or she will be required to report the arrest and/or conviction to the licensing board prior to be licensed.

Additionally, in some occasions, a person's arrest and/or conviction has been used in divorce and/or child custody cases. There have been occasions where motions to change a child's custody, or filings by children's services agencies, have been based on the parent's arrest for drunk driving. Usually this occurs when the child is in the vehicle when the parent is arrested, but the arrest or conviction can be used as evidence of a party's substance abuse issues when determining custody of a child.

What Will Happen In My Case?

Each case should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A skilled attorney will be able to evaluate the factors present in your case and give you a roadmap of what to expect.

Factors that are present in the majority of OVI cases include:

Who is the judge? What are his or her policies regarding OVIs? What are his or her views on drunk drivers?

Which court is the case in? What are their general policies regarding OVI convictions? What are their court costs? Do they have their own driver's intervention program (DIP), or do they allow third-party facilities to provide the services for DIP requirements.

What are the local facilities (i.e. jails) available for OVI offenders, or does the court rely on outside contractors (i.e. Oriena House) to provide jail space for OVI offenders.

Who is the prosecutor? What are his or her policies regarding OVI cases?

How did the arresting officer view your arrest? If the officer viewed you as being combative or argumentative, he or she may give input to the judge asking for a harsher penalty. Similarly, if the officer believes that you were cooperative and treated them with respect, he or she will often provide that input to the judge and/or prosecutor.

Are there issues that might require that a Motion to Suppress be filed in your case? Did the officer have probable cause to arrest or detain you? Was there an irregularity with the testing equipment that might require that the evidence against you not be allowed in front of a jury?

Did it appear that you were intoxicated on dashcam video. Often times, the best evidence in an OVI case is the dashcam recordings. In many cases, there is nothing out of the ordinary on the video to demonstrate that the offender was violating the law. In other cases, the dashcam supports that the driver was impaired when driving.

The offender's history with drugs or alcohol. If the offender has no prior arrests or incidents with police, the judge will most likely view the offender in a better light than a person who has been arrested for numerous drug or alcohol arrests. Additionally, those who already have felony records will have a harder time asking a judge to impose lower penalties for an OVI than those with clean records.

There are other factors that might be present in your case that are not outlined above. You should discuss these factors with an experienced OVI attorney.

What To Do

If you are arrested for an OVI, your best step is to contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Because of the deadlines and time limits imposed in OVI cases, it is important to contact an experienced attorney to discuss your case and background and roadmap a plan of attack.

Attorney Adam VanHo is a former prosecutor, special prosecutor and Assistant Ohio Attorney General who has handled thousands of cases from around Ohio. If you would like to contact attorney Adam VanHo, give him a call at the above number or at (330) 253-7171.

You can also submit a question or request for assistance on the "contact" form listed on this page.


If you would like to get regular updates on the law and other issues, you can also follow attorney Adam VanHo on either Twitter or Facebook.


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