Ohio Revised Code 4511.19 governs the offense of Operating a Motor Vehicle while under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs … or “OVI” (formerly known as DUI, DWI, OMVI). There are two (2) types of OVI charges. The first type is the “Per Se” charge. This charge is filed if there is testing of your breath, blood or urine, and the result is above the legal limit. The second type of OVI is the “Impaired” charge. For this charge there needs to be evidence that you were an impaired driver. Evidence of impairment could be bad driving, odor of alcohol, slurred speech, results of field sobriety tests, driver statements or admissions regarding drinking. If you take a breath test after you are stopped, the police officer will routinely file both charges of OVI against you…although it is still only one case, and you only face one set of penalties if found guilty.
Penalties: OVI is typically a misdemeanor of the first degree (M1) which carries a maximum possible penalty of six (6) months in jail, a $1,075.00 fine plus court costs, and a three (3) year license suspension. If you are convicted of OVI for the first time and did not have a high tier or high concentration test, the Ohio Revised Code requires that a judge must impose mandatory minimum penalties if you are found guilty. Those mandatory penalties include three (3) days in jail or three (3) days in a Driver Intervention Program, a $375.00 fine plus court costs, and a six (6) month driver’s license suspension.
In certain cases the judge may also impose additional discretionary penalties such as… reporting probation, community service, drug or alcohol counseling/treatment, restricted license plates, ignition interlock or vehicle forfeiture. If you have a prior conviction or high tier or high concentration test, the mandatory minimum penalties may increase or the discretionary penalties may become mandatory.
A conviction for OVI adds six (6) points to your driving record with the BMV, and your insurance rates may increase. The law also states that your OVI may be charged as a felony if you have the required number of past convictions.
License Suspensions: In an OVI case, there are two (2) types of suspensions that could immediately impact your driver’s license. The first is the Administrative License Suspension (ALS) that law enforcement can impose on the date of the charge. If you are placed under an ALS by law enforcement, it may be possible to have this suspension “stayed” if you take appropriate action. The second suspension is a court ordered suspension that must be imposed by the judge as part of the sentence if you are convicted of OVI. During the suspension you may be entitled to receive privileges to drive for work, school or medical reasons
NOTE: The Bureau of Motor Vehicles may also suspend your license if you receive 12 or more points within a two (2) year period, if there is an accident or if you weren’t insured.
CRIMINAL/TRAFFIC COURT PROCESS
In a criminal or a traffic case, the initial stage of the court process starts with an arraignment. In minor traffic cases you may be able to avoid arraignment if you pay the ticket. At an arraignment, you have the option to resolve the case with a plea of Guilty or with a plea bargain to a lesser charge, if one is offered by the prosecutor. If you choose either of these options, the judge assigned to arraignment court on that given day will likely sentence you at that time. If you choose not to resolve the case at arraignment or if you want to contest the charge, you would enter a plea of “Not Guilty.” You case would then randomly be assigned and be scheduled for a later hearing or trial in before a judge.
If you plead not guilty, your attorney will often file a Demand for Discovery with the Prosecutors Office which entitles the defense to receive all of the evidence the prosecutor has against you. Your case may also be scheduled for a pretrial hearing. The pretrial is not a trial…no witnesses testify, no jury will be summoned, etc. At the pretrial, your attorney will have the opportunity to discuss with the prosecutor the facts of the case and any evidentiary issues or defenses, and also review options for resolving the charges short of a trial. The prosecutor may make a plea bargain offer at the pretrial, and your attorney will likely have the opportunity to discuss possible sentencing with the judge. You will have the choice of whether to accept any plea offer made by the prosecutor at that time or proceed to the next stage of the court process.
During this process options would be to file a Motion to Dismiss if grounds are present or a Motion to Suppress which challenges the admissibility of part or all of the evidence on many different legal grounds. The judge would conduct an oral hearing on the motion before making his ruling. If the judge rules in your favor on the Motion to Suppress, it weakens the prosecutor’s case against you because some or all of the evidence against you can’t be used. If the judge rules against you on the motion, that ruling can strengthen the prosecutor’s case because all of the evidence is admissible at trial.
If the case is not resolved using an appropriate legal maneuver, the next stage is Trial. Trial is very risk-reward process. The obvious reward is a not guilty verdict by the judge or jury and, thus, no conviction on your record and no penalties. However, the risk is you would go to trial on all of the original charges and without knowing what the judge may do regarding sentencing or penalties if you are found guilty. All strengths and weaknesses should be thoroughly explored before going forward with an actual trial.
Other options might be available to you
Diversion or intervention programs may be available in certain type of cases…like Underage drinking, theft, some drug offenses, as well as a variety of other charges. A specialized mental health court may also provide options. These programs could be used to achieve positive results in your case…including reduction of penalties or possibly even dismissal of the charges.
TRAFFIC TICKETS & DRIVERS LICENSE SUSPENSIONS
Traffic tickets or driver’s license related offenses can range from minor misdemeanors with a maximum penalty of a $150 fine up to first degree misdemeanors with a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. If you are convicted of certain traffic or driver’s license related offenses, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles can impose anywhere from 0 to 6 points against your license depending on the type of offense. If you receive 12 points against your license in any 2 year period, your license will be suspended. Your license can also be suspended for driving without insurance, possession of drugs or paraphernalia, failing to pay child support, or failing to pay a civil judgment…just to name a few. Traffic offenses, driver’s license suspensions or points against your license can cause your insurance rates to increase or the State of Ohio to require that you maintain an SR22 bond insurance.
Other Options might be available to you. The Columbus City Prosecutor’s Office offers a traffic diversion program for certain eligible offenders. This could result in a dismissal of the traffic charge. Also, the Ohio BMV offers a 2 point credit to eligible offenders who complete an approved defensive driving course.
CRIMINAL CHARGES – MISDEMEANOR AND FELONY
A conviction on a criminal charge can have permanent consequences. These may include time in jail or prison, probation or parole, driver’s license suspension, fines, community service, revocation of financial aid, loss of government assistance, and a permanent criminal record. These consequences may impact your current or future employment, school and other opportunities.
All criminal charges are statutorily classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. The degree of the felony or misdemeanor is then used to determine what the potential penalties could be if a person is found guilty. A first degree felony is the highest level, and this degree of felony would be assigned to the most serious criminal violations like murder or rape. In comparison a misdemeanor of the first degree (M1) is the highest level misdemeanor in Ohio and has a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000.00 fine. While a minor misdemeanor (MM) carries a maximum penalty of a $150 fine and community service.
NOTE: Minor misdemeanor offenses could include Disorderly Conduct and Open Container of Alcohol. Drug offenses can range from minor misdemeanors to felonies. Almost all drug offenses in Ohio carry a mandatory driver’s license suspension even if they are classified as minor misdemeanors or even if a no vehicle was involved in the incident. So, every criminal charge is unique, and the degree of the offense and the potential penalties are important factors to consider in every case.
EXPUNGEMENT / SEALING OF YOUR RECORD
The consequences of a criminal charge or conviction on one’s record may impact current or future employment, school or education, as well as other opportunities. It may be possible to have these records sealed – commonly referred to as an expungement. The application process to expunge the records of a conviction in Ohio has three primary steps. The individual must be an “eligible offender” as defined by Ohio law, the required period of time must have passed and a judge must approve the individual’s application. A hearing may or may not be required.
In 2012 Ohio legislators changed the definition of “eligible offender.” Under the old law, expungements were only available to first time offenders, so an individual with a prior criminal or serious traffic offense conviction was not eligible to apply for an expungement. Under the new law, many more people are eligible for an expungement, and a person can apply even if a prior conviction exists. Now, a prior felony conviction, a prior misdemeanor or an OVI (drunk driving) conviction may not disqualify a person once the applicable waiting period has passed. The waiting period is one year after a misdemeanor case has been closed and three years after a felony case has been closed. A case is not considered “closed” until all probation has been completed and all fines have been paid.
NOTE: An individual may apply to expunge dismissals or not guilty verdicts without a waiting period. Certain types of convictions can never be expunged regardless of the amount of time that has passed.