The days of treating a charge for driving under the influence as nothing more serious than receiving a speeding ticket passed decades ago. Pushed by anti-drunk driving activists and incentivized by federal lawmakers who tied highway funding to DUI enforcement efforts, authorities in Ohio have steadily increased penalties for the offense that state statutes call operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI).
Even refusing to voluntarily submit to blood and urine tests after being taken into custody while under suspicion of DUI/OVI can draw a tough penalty. In Ohio, local police and State High Patrol officers have the authority to make on-the-spot administrative license suspensions for test refusal. That can keep a driver off the road for months even if you are not convicted.
I devote much of my criminal and traffic defense practice in Columbus, Ohio, to advising and representing clients who face first offense DUI charges. Proven defense strategies exist, and negotiating a plea to a less-serious offense that does not require mandatory jail and/or a program, or losing their driving privileges may be possible. But I also know that prosecutors will work hard to secure convictions and sentences.
Focusing just on the official charge of “operating a vehicle under the influence” shows that people can get charged in many common situations. State law defines pretty much anything with wheels and a motor as a vehicle. This includes mopeds, scooters, and e-bikes. Boats, personal watercraft, and aircraft also fall into category of vehicles. It also includes some “vehicles” such as a bicycle.
Police can stop a driver, rider, boater, or operator whenever they suspect the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That suspicion could come from a tip, witnessing weaving, seeing some other traffic violation, or determining that a driver is speeding or going too far below the speed limit. Law enforcement officials also have the authority to set up DUI checkpoints.
Following a stop, an OVI charge can be issued for drunk driving, drugged driving, or a combination of both. Ohio follows every other state in setting a legal blood alcohol concentration limit of .08 for the vast majority of adult drivers who are older than 21.
Ohio also enforces lower BAC limits of .04 for commercial truck drivers and of .02 for driver who are younger than 21. That last rule for underage drunk driving makes it possible for many teens to draw an OVI charge after drinking a single beer over the course of one hour.
For suspected drugged driving cases, Ohio sets what are called “per se” limits for blood and urine concentrations of specific intoxicating substances. Some of the drugs singled out for targeted OVI enforcement are actually the active pharmaceutical ingredients in widely taken prescription medications.
A per se limit is the amount of drug that authorities believe makes a person too intoxicated to drive safely. Reaching or exceeding a per se limit creates an assumption of guilt even if a driver is not showing other signs of impairment, such as slurring words or stumbling.
Ohio sets per se limits for the following drugs:
Opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone are chemically very similar to heroin. They are also broadly prescribed pain medications. Taking therapeutic doses of opioids put drivers at risk for being charged with DUI/OVI.
Police and state troopers do not, however, need to obtain BAC or drug test results to issue OVI charges. Law enforcement officials can make an arrest and charge a person with driving under the influence based on their own observations and field sobriety test performance.
Sentencing guidelines provided to each criminal court judge in Ohio suggest the following penalties for a first offense
A judge also has the discretion to order a convicted driver to do some or all of the following things:
The person under penalty must pay the costs of fulfilling each term of their sentence in most cases. For instance, the sentenced driver must pay hundreds of dollars and take (possibly unpaid) time off work to complete a DIP. The driver would also need to pay to have the breath-testing device installed, checked, and serviced.
One of the worst consequences of a first-time OVI conviction can be the driver’s license suspension. That penalty applies to their driver’s personal license and each commercial driver’s license they hold even if they were arrested and charged when they were not driving a commercial vehicle. Courts are not allowed to grant limited commercial driving privileges. That often makes getting one’s CDL suspended tantamount to losing one’s job.
Colin Maher of The Maher Law Firm may be able to help you with your DUI/OVI case in Columbus Ohio. Centrally located and practicing throughout Franklin County and the surrounding jurisdictions, he offers free phone consultations to potential clients. You can contact him online or call Attorney Maher at (614) 205-2208.