Ohio’s OVI/DUI Laws and Conviction Penalties

The consequences of a misdemeanor or felony OVI/DUI in Ohio.

Impaired driving is prohibited in all states, including Ohio. Most states call the offense "DUI" (driving under the influence), "DWI" (driving while intoxicated), or "OWI" (operating while intoxicated). However, Ohio uses the term "OVI" (operating a vehicle under the influence).

This article explains how Ohio defines OWI and what specific conduct can lead to an OVI conviction. This article also covers the possible penalties of an OVI violation.

Ohio's OVI/DUI Laws

To establish an OVI charge in court, prosecutors must prove that the accused was operating a motor vehicle:

  • while "under the influence" of drugs or alcohol
  • with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .08%, or
  • with an unlawful drug concentration in his or her system.

In other words, an OVI conviction can be based on BAC, actual impairment, or a failed drug test.

What It Means to "Operate" a Vehicle Under Ohio's OVI/DUI Laws

In most states, you can be convicted of a DUI offense without actually putting your vehicle in motion. This is because the DUI laws of most states prohibit not only driving while under the influence, but also being in "actual physical control" of a vehicle while in an intoxicated condition.

However, Ohio is one of the few states where a motorist can be convicted of an OVI only where there's actual driving. To establish an OVI charge, the prosecution must prove the accused motorist caused the vehicle to move appreciably.

In Ohio, you can still be convicted of a crime for being in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, but it's a separate offense that's not considered to be an OVI.

How Ohio Law Defines "Under the Influence"

Generally, an OVI will be based on either actual impairment or chemical test results showing an unlawful concentration of drugs or alcohol. An OVI based on a failed chemical test is called a "per se" OVI.

Ohio OVI Charges Based on Impairment

A driver is considered to be under the influence if he or she is impaired by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two to an extent that "it adversely affected and appreciably impaired the defendant's actions, reaction, or mental processes."

The fact that the driver was legally permitted to use the drug (due to a prescription or otherwise) is not a legal defense to an OVI charge based on impairment.

Ohio Per Se OVI Charges

Officers often use breath, blood, or urine tests (the testing requirements are discussed below) to determine the presence of drugs or alcohol in the driver's system.

A driver with a BAC of .08% or more can be convicted of an OVI regardless of their actual physical impairment. Similarly, drivers with drug concentrations above a certain threshold can be convicted of an OVI. The listed drugs and the prohibited concentrations are as follows:

Blood (nanograms/liter)







Lysergic Acid Diethylamide


The threshold for marijuana is based on a urine test and is set at 20 ng/ml of urine.

Per se OVI limits do not apply to persons who are medically prescribed the intoxicating substance and have taken it as prescribed.

Penalties for a Misdemeanor OVI/DUI in Ohio

An OVI is generally a misdemeanor. Ohio statutes set certain minimum and maximum penalties for OVI convictions, generally based on the number of prior offenses within the last ten years.

Jail and Fines for Ohio Misdemeanor OVI Convictions

These are the minimum and maximum jail and fines for a first, second, and third misdemeanor OVI charge.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense


3 days to 6 months

10 days to 6 months

30 days to 1 year


$375 to $1,075

$525 to $1,625

$850 to $2,750

An actual physical control offense is also a misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to $1,000 in fines, a maximum of 180 days in jail, and license suspension of up to one year.

Jail Time for Ohio Aggravated OVI Offenses

An OVI that involved a BAC of .17% or more is considered "aggravated" and carries increased penalties. Also, an OVI is considered aggravated if the driver has a prior chemical test refusal (explained below) within the last 20 years. An aggravated OVI carries:

  • at least three days in jail for a first offense
  • at least 20 days in jail (or ten days in jail, followed by 36 days of house arrest) for a second offense, and
  • at least 60 days in jail (or 30 days in jail, followed by 110 days of house arrest) for a third offense.

For a first aggravated OVI, the motorist will also have to complete three days in a driver's intervention program.

"Community Control Sanctions" for Ohio OVI Offenses

The court is permitted to reduce the mandatory jail term by instead ordering participation in Ohio's "Community Control Sanctions" (CCS) program. The program often includes driver's education programs, monitored sobriety, and other treatment requirements. Program participants must complete:

  • three days of driver's intervention for a first-offense OVI (but no jail time)
  • five days in jail and 18 days of house arrest for a second offense, and
  • 15 days in jail and 55 days of house arrest for a third offense.

Persons on house arrest under the CCS program are required to wear an alcohol-monitoring (SCRAM) bracelet at all times.

Substance Abuse Evaluations for Ohio OVI Offenders

While not mandatory for first offenders, repeat OVI offenders are required to complete a substance abuse evaluation. The judge will review the evaluation results and order an appropriate treatment program. Treatment for a third offense OVI must include community addiction participation in addition to the evaluation's recommended treatment.

Ohio's Felony OVI/DUI Penalties

An OVI can be charged as a felony if the offender has at least three prior convictions or caused injuries or the death of another person.

Ohio's Habitual OVI Law

An offender with at least three prior OVI convictions in the last ten years (or at least five in the last 20 years) can be charged with a felony OVI.

A conviction carries one to five years in prison, a license suspension of at least three years, and $1,350 to $10,500 in fines. In some situations, the judge can order 60 to 120 days of jail time, followed by participation in the CCS program, instead of prison time.

Ohio OVIs Involving Serious Injuries

An impaired driver who causes serious injuries to another person can be charged with aggravated vehicular assault. A conviction is generally a third-degree felony and carries 12 to 60 months in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.

Ohio OVIs Involving Fatalities

An impaired driver who causes the death of another person can be charged with aggravated vehicular homicide. As a level two felony, a conviction carries at least two years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

OVIs Following a Felony Conviction in Ohio

Following a felony OVI conviction, any subsequent OVI offenses within the driver's lifetime will be charged as felonies.

License-Related Penalties for Ohio OVI/DUI Offenses

Getting arrested for OVI will generally result in the loss of driving privileges. The duration and type of penalty depend on the driver's BAC, criminal history, and level of cooperation with law enforcement. When determining driver's license penalties, all test failures, test refusals, and OVI convictions within the last ten years are counted.

License-related penalties can result from an OVI arrest and/or conviction.

Ohio's Implied Consent Law

Under Ohio's "implied consent" law, drivers who are lawfully arrested for operating or being in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence are presumed to have given consent to a breath blood, or urine test. While a driver can refuse to comply with an officer's request for testing, doing so can result in certain penalties.

Refusing a Chemical Test in Ohio

When a driver who's arrested for OVI refuses to submit to a chemical test, the arresting officer will submit a report to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). The BMV will then suspend the driver's license for:

  • one year for a first offense
  • two years for a second offense
  • three years for a third offense, and
  • five years for a fourth or subsequent offense

A driver who refuses testing can still be subject to testing if the officer obtains a blood search warrant from the judge.

Failing a Chemical Test in Ohio

Drivers who submit to testing but provide an unlawful BAC or drug concentration will also face license suspension. Generally, a BAC or drug test that's over the legal limit will result in:

  • a three-month suspension for a first offense
  • a one-year suspension for a second offense
  • a two-year suspension for a third offense
  • a three-year suspension for a four or subsequent offense.

You'll note that these suspension periods are substantially shorter than those that apply to an unlawful refusal.

License Suspension for an Ohio OVI Conviction

The court also has the authority to suspend the driver's license during the criminal proceeding. In fact, the court can temporarily suspend the driver's license until the criminal trial is completed. A driver convicted of OVI will be suspended for:

  • one to three years for a first offense
  • one to seven years for a second offense, and
  • two to 12 years for a third offense.

A driver who was already suspended due to a test failure or refusal will generally receive credit towards the conviction suspension period.

Obtaining Restricted Driving Privileges in Ohio

Suspended drivers can apply to the court for restricted driving privileges. The court will require the offender to install an ignition interlock device (IID) and can restrict when and where the offender is allowed to drive. Drivers must generally complete 15 to 180 days (depending on the number of priors) of the suspension prior to receiving restricted driving privileges.

Ohio's Underage OVI/DUI Laws

Ohio prohibits any person under the age of 21 from operating a vehicle with a BAC of .02% or more. Underage drivers who are caught operating a vehicle with a BAC of .02 to .08% can be charged with an underage OVI and face up to 30 days in jail and a maximum of $250 in fines. The driver's license will also be suspended for three months to two years, but restricted driving privileges are available.

Repeat violations can be charged as a third-degree misdemeanor and carry up to 60 days in jail and a maximum of $500 in fines. The driver's license will be suspended for one to five years, and a restricted license is available after the driver completes 60 days of the suspension.

Offenders holding a graduated or probationary license will likely have to retest or face additional penalties.

Talk With an Ohio OVI Lawyer

Unlike many states, Ohio does not offer diversion programs for OVI offenders. However, a skilled attorney may be able to negotiate a plea reduction to a lesser offense or find some other way to fight the charges. If you've been arrested for operating while under the influence in Ohio, you should get in contact with a qualified OVI attorney in your area.

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