Ohio’s OVI/DUI Law

Ohio’s OVI/DUI Law

Ohio’s OVI law is quite complicated. For purposes of this explanation, you should know there are really two laws that apply to OVI. One, “Driving Under the Influence,” bases conviction upon the observation of physical indications that historically point to alcohol influence. Another, “Driving with a Prohibited Level of Alcohol in Breath, Blood or Urine,” addresses your driving any vehicle with a prohibited level of alcohol or drugs in your breath, blood or urine.

Driving Under the Influence

The first law, states it is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. No scientific tests are necessary and, ordinarily, this violation is based upon a police officer’s observations of your driving, physical appearance, and responses to what are called “field sobriety tests” ‑ a series of tests prescribed to test your mental and physical abilities. Generally, a conviction under this law is based upon testimony of the arresting officer and other witnesses who had an opportunity to observe you.

Driving with a Prohibited Level of Alcohol in your Breath, Blood or Urine

The second law for which you can be charged is the so‑called “per se” violation. In effect this law states, notwithstanding your ability to pass physical dexterity tests, you are not permitted to drive with a prescribed level of alcohol or drugs in your breath, blood, or urine. This is the law, in Ohio, that mandates you can not drive a vehicle with a level of .08 or more of alcohol in your breath. Blood and urine have different mandated levels.

To be convicted of this violation, the governmental authority offers into evidence scientific tests proving the level of alcohol or drugs. In most instances a breath testing device is used , normally referred to as a “breathalyzer.” In the case of blood or urine, a specimen is taken and transported to a certified laboratory for testing. The government need not introduce any other evidence. This law does not require proof that your mental and physical abilities are affected by your intake of alcohol or drugs.

While you can refuse to submit to a chemical test, there are additional penalties that can be incurred as a result.  See below for a further discussion.

Effect of a Conviction of Either of These Laws

The penalties for being convicted of OVI can be quite severe. The severity of your penalties depends upon the number of OVI convictions within the past six years. In addition, harsher penalties can be imposed if you refuse to submit to a chemical test or the test results exceed  what is called “high tier” – 1.7 in the case of a breath test.

The following chart was prepared by Judge Jennifer Weiler, Judge of the Garfield Heights Municipal Court.  The judge is considered one of the foremost experts in the practice of OVI law in Ohio.  While the chart does outline the penalties mandated by the OVI laws in Ohio, it also shows you the convoluted nature of the law.  As stated above, the law is extremely complicated and exacts severe punishment on violators. While this chart is a good summary of the law, it is by no means a complete thesis on the ramifications resulting from an OVI conviction.

OVI Penalties Chart

As you can see from the chart, a refusal or high tier reading can result in greater penalties. In addition, a refusal results in a “look back” of 20 years instead of 5.  Therefore, even if you’ve had no violations in the last 5 years but refuse to submit to a test, the state can “look back” 20 years to see if you’ve had any convictions to enhance your penalties.

In addition to the mandatory penalties required other costs, can be equally devastating. These include court costs, increased liability insurance rates, employment problems, professional counseling fees.

Administrative License Suspension

Ohio law requires that your right to drive be immediately suspended, without trial, under certain circumstances. Your licence will be immediately suspended if you refuse to participate in the taking of a sample of your breath, blood or urine. If you agree to subject yourself to testing, your license will be immediately suspended if the test shows an alcohol level above those permitted for breath, blood, or urine. Therefore, if you take a breathalyzer test and the test shows an alcohol level of .08 or greater, your license will be immediately suspended. Again these mandatory suspensions are enhanced if you have prior OVI convictions in the last 5 years, refuse to take the test, or tests result in a high tier reading. See the OVI chart for periods of license suspension and enhancements.

Impoundment, Immobilization and Seizure

In addition to the sever penalties and license suspension, the state mandates the immobilization or seizure of your vehicle after multiple convictions of OVI.  These penalties can be found in the last column of the OVI chart.

It is important to note these penalties can be inflicted upon the owner of the vehicle even if the owner was not driving. If it can be proven that the owner knew or had reason to know that the driver was driving under the influence or that the driver was under a suspension for OVI, the owner’s plates can be confiscated, their vehicle immobilized for the mandatory period, or the car seized and sold! If you are an owner you should be aware of the “innocent owner’s” provisions of the law and protect your rights.