Physical Control in Ohio


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The Ohio law called “Having physical control of vehicle while under the influence” primarily exists to keep drunk and drugged drivers off the road. Depending on circumstance, the alleged offense can also be cited in a plea deal for a person who has been accused of operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI), which is what many people call DUI.

How Does Ohio Define a Physical Control Offense?

Section 4511.194 of the Ohio Revised Code makes it illegal to “be in physical control of a vehicle” while you are “under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.” The statute also explicitly defines “physical control” as “being in the driver’s position of the front seat of a vehicle … and having possession of the vehicle’s … ignition key or other ignition device.”

Why Do Drivers Get Charged with Physical Control in Ohio?

As a drunk and drugged driving defense attorney based in Columbus, Ohio, I have noticed that most of my clients who got charged with a Ohio physical control offense chose to sleep in their cars rather than actually drive while they were under the influence.

While I certainly do not advocate taking one’s own car to a bar or party, I will note that napping in the back seat can help prevent legal problems. Calling for a ride is also always worth considering. A friend or family member will surely be happier to drive across town to a parking lot rather than to a police station.

What Is the Penalty for a Physical Control Charge in Ohio?

Physical control is prosecuted as a first-degree misdemeanor. A judge can impose a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail, fines totaling $1,000, and court costs.

A driver who gets convicted of or pleads guilty to a physical control charge can also have his or her license suspended for up to 12 months. Note that a license suspension issued in relation to a physical control charge will apply to each driving certification the person holds. This means that a CDL endorsement will be suspended at the same time as a personal driver’s license.

How Long Does Physical Control Stay on Your Record in Ohio?

Since the offense is technically a traffic violation rather than a crime, drivers cannot request physical control expungements in Ohio. A conviction for or plea to physical control remains on a driver’s record forever, just as speeding ticket or failure to yield offense would. As a practical matter, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles displays a physical control penalty on the front page of a driver’s electronic record for 3 years.

How Does Physical Control Come Into Play in a Drunk Driving Cases?

Police and prosecutors do not always have slam-dunk evidence to show that a person was under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a moving vehicle. In such situations, a defendant may be offered the opportunity to plead down to a physical control offense.

Accepting such an offer can make sense since a conviction or guilty plea does not impose penalty points or compel the judge to issue a license suspension. A driver who is close to accumulating the 12 points that trigger an automatic license suspension could be well-served by taking a physical control plea.

Reckless operation may also be a plea option, but the penalty for that offense does include 4 points on the driver’s record with the BMV. Consulting with a knowledgeable DUI/OVI defense attorney in Columbus, Ohio will help a driver figure out if pleading out will be beneficial.

Colin Maher of the Columbus, Ohio-based Maher Law Firm has many years of experience defending drivers in alcohol- and drug-related cases. He offers free phone consultations to all potential clients, and he does most DUI/OVI defenses for a flat fee. You can contact us online or speak to a Columbus DUI attorney now by calling (614) 205-2208.