What Are the Penalties for a First OVI Offense in Ohio?

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In our last blog, we shared the story of Sandra, who was arrested and later convicted of driving under the influence. When we left Sandra, she decided to fight her conviction and pursue an appeal. This month, we’re taking a closer look at the penalties for a first OVI offense in Ohio that Sandra faced and what else you need to know if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Ohio is one of the more strict states regarding OVI charges. Being charged with an OVI can have serious consequences beyond legal penalties.

At Fortress Law Group, we know the legal ramifications alone can put a severe financial dent in your pocket, so it’s essential to understand what could happen if you are charged with your first OVI offense in Ohio.

Have you been charged with a first OVI offense? Contact our experienced OVI defense attorney at (440) 340-1740 to schedule your case evaluation so we can discuss your options. We defend good people accused of bad things.

What is an OVI?

An OVI, or Operating a Vehicle Impaired, is Ohio’s term for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s similar to a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) in other states.

Difference between OVI, DUI, and DWI

While the terms OVI, DUI, and DWI may be used interchangeably, they all essentially refer to the same thing: operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. The specific terminology used depends on the state in which the offense occurs. In Ohio, the term OVI is used.

First-Time OVI Offenses: Potential Penalties

A first-time OVI offense in Ohio is typically classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a range of penalties. The following are potential penalties for a first OVI offense:

  • Fines: A first-time OVI offender can expect to pay a minimum fine of $375 and a maximum fine of $1,075.
  • Jail Time: Ohio law mandates a minimum jail sentence of three days (72 hours) for first-time OVI offenders, with a maximum sentence of up to six months.
  • Driver’s License Suspension: A first OVI offense in Ohio will result in an administrative license suspension ranging from one to three years and a court suspension of six months to three years. Reinstating your driver’s license will cost you $475, and you must provide proof of insurance.
  • Driver Intervention Program: First-time OVI offenders may be required to attend a 72-hour Driver Intervention Program instead of serving the minimum jail sentence.
  • Vehicle Immobilization and Impoundment: If the first-time OVI offender is convicted, the court may order the offender’s vehicle to be immobilized for up to 90 days and the license plates impounded.
  • Restricted Plates: Following the suspension period, first-time OVI offenders may be required to use restricted (yellow) license plates on their vehicle for a specific duration.
  • Ignition Interlock Device: In some cases, the court may require the installation of an ignition interlock device on the offender’s vehicle, which prevents the vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath.
  • Insurance Consequences: First-time OVI offenders can expect a significant increase in their auto insurance premiums and may be required to obtain high-risk insurance.

Understanding the Impact of an OVI Conviction

A first-time OVI offense in Ohio can have long-lasting consequences, both legally and personally. In addition to the penalties outlined above, an OVI conviction may negatively impact your employment opportunities, professional reputation, and personal relationships.

In addition, a first-time OVI conviction can lead to a criminal record, which may have additional implications in your life.

Legal Defenses and Options for First-Time OVI Offenders

If you are facing a first-time OVI charge in Ohio, seeking legal representation from an experienced Ohio OVI lawyer is critical. A skilled lawyer can review the facts of your case, identify potential defenses, and help you navigate the legal process. Some common defenses in OVI cases include:

  1. Challenging the Traffic Stop: If the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop, any evidence obtained during the stop may be inadmissible in court.
  2. Challenging the Field Sobriety Tests: Field sobriety tests can be unreliable, and an attorney may argue that the tests were not properly administered or that the results were inaccurate.
  3. Challenging the Chemical Test Results: An attorney may question the accuracy of the chemical test results, including the proper calibration and maintenance of the testing equipment, the qualifications of the person administering the test, and any possible contamination or mishandling of the sample.
  4. Medical Conditions or Prescription Medications: Certain medical conditions or prescription medications may cause symptoms similar to intoxication or affect the results of a chemical test.
  5. Diversion Programs and Plea Bargaining: In some cases, first-time OVI offenders may be eligible for a diversion program or a reduced charge through plea bargaining. These options can help minimize the impact of an OVI charge on your life and may result in a dismissal of the charges upon successful completion of the program or probation.

By being aware of the potential fines, jail time, license suspension, and other penalties, you can make more informed decisions about your actions and seek appropriate legal representation if faced with an OVI charge.

How Hiring an OVI Defense Attorney Can Make All the Difference

Facing an OVI charge can be a stressful and life-changing experience. The consequences of a conviction can significantly impact your personal and professional life. Hiring an experienced OVI defense attorney can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Here’s how a skilled attorney can help:

Experience in OVI Laws and Procedures

OVI laws and procedures can be complex and challenging to navigate without professional assistance. An experienced OVI defense attorney will have a thorough understanding of the legal system and the intricacies of OVI cases.

They can guide you through each step of the process, ensuring your rights are protected and you have the best chance at a favorable outcome.

Building a Strong Defense

A skilled OVI defense attorney will meticulously examine the evidence in your case and identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s arguments. They can challenge the validity of field sobriety tests, chemical tests, and the procedures followed by law enforcement during your arrest.

By doing so, they can create reasonable doubt and potentially secure a dismissal or reduction of charges.

Negotiating Plea Bargains

As mentioned earlier, plea bargains can be a valuable tool in resolving OVI cases. An OVI defense attorney can negotiate with the prosecution to secure a reduced charge or lesser penalties in exchange for a guilty plea.

This can help you avoid the most severe consequences of an OVI conviction, such as lengthy jail time or extensive license suspension.

Representation in Court

If your case goes to trial, having an experienced OVI defense attorney by your side is crucial. They can present a persuasive case on your behalf, cross-examine witnesses, and challenge the prosecution’s evidence.

A skilled attorney can make all the difference in swaying the judge or jury’s decision in your favor.

Support and Guidance

Facing an OVI charge can be an emotionally challenging time. An OVI defense attorney provides legal representation and offers support and guidance throughout the process.

They can help you understand your options, explain potential outcomes, and advise how to move forward with your life after an OVI case.

Summary of Penalties

In summary, Ohio has two tiers of OVI offenses which determine the penalties: “low-level” and “high-level” OVI. The severity of the offense and the number of prior convictions determine which tier you fall under. Some of the penalties you’ll face include the following:

OVI Tier BAC Penalties
Low-Level OVI 0.08 – 0.169
  • 3 days jail time (can be substituted with a driver intervention program)
  • $375 (minimum) up to $1,075 fine
  • 1 year (minimum) up to 3 years license suspension
  • Ignition interlock device and restricted special license plates at the court’s discretion
High-Level OVI 0.17 and above or refusal of chemical test
  • 6 days jail time (3 days can be served in a driver intervention program)
  • $375 (minimum) up to $1,075 fine
  • 1 year (minimum) up to 3 years license suspension
  • Mandatory ignition interlock device if granted unlimited driving privileges
  • Mandatory restricted special license plates if granted driving privileges

Keep in mind that these penalties are for first-time OVI offenders in Ohio. The court may impose additional penalties or requirements at its discretion, and the penalties can become more severe for repeat offenders. An OVI conviction can have long-lasting effects on your life, so it is imperative to seek experienced legal representation if you are facing OVI charges.


Q: What is the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit in Ohio?

A: In Ohio, the legal BAC limit is 0.08% for drivers aged 21 and older. For drivers under 21, the limit is 0.02%.

Q: Can I refuse a chemical test if I’m pulled over for suspicion of OVI?

A: You can refuse a chemical test, but doing so will result in an automatic administrative license suspension. In Ohio, this is called an “implied consent” law, which means that by obtaining a driver’s license, you consent to chemical testing if suspected of OVI.

Q: What are the penalties for refusing a chemical test in Ohio?

A: Refusing a chemical test will result in an automatic administrative license suspension of one year for a first refusal, two years for a second refusal, and three years for a third refusal within a 10-year period.

Q: How long does an OVI conviction stay on my record in Ohio?

A: In Ohio, an OVI conviction stays on your driving record for life. However, for the purposes of enhancing penalties for subsequent OVI offenses, a “lookback” period of 10 years is used.

Q: Can I get an occupational or restricted license after an OVI conviction in Ohio?

A: In some cases, you may be eligible for a restricted license, also known as “driving privileges,” after an OVI conviction. These privileges typically allow you to drive to and from work, school, or medical appointments during specific hours. An experienced OVI attorney can help you determine if you’re eligible and assist you in applying for driving privileges.

Don’t Face a First OVI Offense in Ohio Alone

A first OVI offense in Ohio is serious business. You face the possible consequences of jail time, license suspension, and expensive fines. You may also be asked to attend alcohol or drug treatment programs or counseling sessions. Getting the best legal help you can to protect your rights and fight for justice in court is critical.

Attorney Matthew Bangerter is an experienced Ohio criminal defense attorney who formerly worked as an Assistant Prosecutor in Lake County, Ohio. His invaluable experience gives him powerful insight into how the other side works.

As your criminal defense attorney, Matthew and his team will leave no stone unturned to preserve your liberty and protect your future. Don’t wait to pursue your second chance. At Fortress Law Group, we defend good people accused of bad things.

Contact us today at (440) 340-1740 for a case evaluation so we can explore your options. You can also fill out our online form here.