What are the penalties for a first-time OVI in Ohio?

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Answered by: Jon J. Saia

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In Ohio, operating a vehicle while under the influence (OVI) of alcohol is a serious crime. In fact, most persons who are arrested for this crime are first-time offenders. Under Ohio law, first-time offenders are considered persons who have not had an OVI conviction within the prior 10 years (or 20 years for persons with OVI convictions who refused a chemical test). 

Generally, Ohio law divides drunk driving offenses into two tiers that influence the penalties for offenders. These tiers are referred to as “low-level” and “high-level” OVI. Low-level OVI includes driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 but less than .17 percent, as measured by a blood or breath test. Drivers who operate their vehicles with a BAC of .17 percent or higher, as measured by a blood or breath test can be charged with a high-level OVI. 

Low-level OVI penalties

Ohio law sets the minimum and maximum penalties for first-time low-level OVI offenses. If you are convicted of a low-level OVI, the minimum penalties you will face are:

  • Three days in jail: In some cases, the judge may allow you to substitute three days of a driver intervention program (at your own expense) for the three days in jail.
  • One-year license suspension: This is the minimum length of a first-time OVI suspension under the law. In some cases, the judge may grant you limited driving privileges to/from work or school.
  • Fine of $375: This is the minimum fine under Ohio law. Judges often impose higher fines. 

Of course, these are the mandatory penalties that you would face as a first-time low-level offender. The court, in its discretion, may require low-level offenders to serve up to six months in jail, pay a fine up to $1,075 and have their driver’s licenses suspended for up to three years. Additionally, low-level offenders may, at the discretion of the court, be required to display restricted special license plates or install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles. 

High-level OVI penalties

If you are convicted of driving with a BAC of .17 percent and above, you will face higher penalties than low-level offenders. Under Ohio law, high-level offenders face the following potential penalties: 

  • Six days in jail: The judge may allow you to serve up to three days of your sentence in a driver intervention program. If the judge grants you unlimited driving privileges with an interlock device, the jail time may be suspended.
  • Fines up to $1,075
  • Up to three years license suspension: Although the judge has the discretion to grant limited driving privileges to/from work or school (or unlimited privileges with an interlock device), you will face a mandatory ban from driving for 15 days from the date your license was suspended (or 30 days if you refused a chemical test).
  • Ignition interlock device: If the judge grants unlimited driving privileges, you are required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle, at your own expense.
  • Restricted special license plates: If the court grants you driving privileges, you must display special license plates. 

In addition to the legal penalties and significant financial expenses, an OVI conviction can potentially cause negative repercussions throughout your life (e.g. keeping or finding a job and increased auto insurance rates). Consequently, if you are arrested on suspicion of OVI, it is vital to seek out experienced legal representation to secure the best outcome possible for you.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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