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Ohio DUI Laws

Ohio recently updated its DUI laws to be more stringent on drivers found driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In Ohio driving under the influence charges are also called OVI charges (“operating a vehicle impaired”)  DWI charges (“driving while intoxicated”) and OMVI charges (“operating a motor vehicle while under the influence”).  Do not be confused by the multitude of acronyms. They all mean the same thing. A misconception that most people have is that when the law says you cannot drive a “vehicle” while under the influence that it only means a car, a truck, a bus, a motorcycle and the other standard highway transportations we think about. In Ohio you can be charged with OVI if you are driving any number of vehicle while under the influence including: a boat, a golf cart, a snowmobile, a motorized scooter, even a bicycle. Both first and second DUI convictions are first-degree misdemeanors. A third offense is an unclassified misdemeanor and a fourth or greater offense is a fourth degree felony. If you have been previously convicted of OVI five or more times within the last 20 years, you will also face a felony.

Ohio has a “look back” statute which allows the state to look at your driving record over the last six years when determining your penalties for driving under the influence. This means if you are convicted of OVI and you’ve previously been convicted of DUI seven or eight years ago, this will be counted as your first offense since your prior conviction occurred more than the “look back” period. However, if you do obtain another DUI conviction within six years of a previous DUI conviction then your sentence is “enhanced”. In other words, because you were convicted of multiple DUI’s in a six-year period, your penalties for the new conviction will be larger and harsher.

Ohio DUI laws allow a driver who is suspected to be impaired by drugs or alcohol to be arrested even if they are below the legal limit. Charges for operating a vehicle under the influence are listed as DUIs. As long as the jury concludes that the consumption of alcohol or drugs affected the driver’s nervous system or muscles enough to impair his ability to control the vehicle, the driver can be convicted of a DUI despite his BAC being below the legal limit. However, Ohio has also developed a separate “per se” offense for which you will be charged with if you are found over the legal limit of 0.08% for alcohol consumption or the various legal limits for drug use. Both DUI charges and “per se” charges are usually brought against drivers operating a vehicle impaired. If you are found driving with ANY measurable amount of alcohol or drugs in your system you can be charged with a misdemeanor even though you are far below the legal limit.

In addition to the standard OVI laws, Ohio has also enacted a Physical Control statute. Under this law, you can be convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor if you are found to be in physical control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Physical control means you are in the driver’s seat and the keys are readily accessible (i.e., on the passenger seat or the dashboard, in the change holder). The standards of intoxication are the same as in the OVI charges but here you only need to be in physical control of the vehicle as opposed to actually operating it. In addition to any other penalties, the court can also impose a class seven license suspension on the driver. This means your license could be suspended for up to a year. You might even have to take a remedial driving course in order to get it reinstated.


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