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Ohio Law: When Drinking And Driving Becomes A Felony

Under Ohio law, an OVI charge is ordinarily a misdemeanor and not a felony. Unlike felonies, misdemeanors are not punishable by any prison time and the most serious misdemeanor is punishable by only up to six months of local jail time with a few exceptions. Under certain circumstances, however, operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol can elevate to felony charges.

A felony OVI charge occurs when someone is charged with:

  • A 4th or 5th OVI in a 10 year period;
  • A 6th OVI in a 20 year period;
  • A 2nd felony OVI in the offender's lifetime.

The penalties on the various OVI felony convictions differ depending on whether the individual refused a chemical test or, if the individual did submit to such test, whether the chemical test was considered a low or high tier. That said, OVI penalties are drastically more serious in nature than those of misdemeanor OVIs.

Felony OVI penalties include mandatory incarceration and potential prison time, mandatory and significant fines, mandatory treatment, as well as a mandatory driver's license suspension and a potential lifetime driver's license suspension. Additionally, an individual convicted of any felony OVI must permanently forfeit his or her vehicle to the State of Ohio if the car in which the offense occurred was registered in the offender's name.

Operating a vehicle under the influence can also become a felony when the driver causes an accident and seriously injures another person. Under these circumstances, in addition to an OVI charge, the driver faces an aggravated vehicular assault charge even if they have never been accused of an OVI in the past. Aggravated vehicular assault is a third-degree felony and carries with it a mandatory minimum one year prison term even if it is the driver's first accusation of drinking and driving in his or her lifetime. The court, however, in its discretion may impose up to five years in prison. Further, the offense carries with it a mandatory minimum one year driver's license suspension, which the court could suspend for up to five years. The offense also carries a $10,000 fine, none of which is mandatory.

Drinking and driving undoubtedly carries serious consequences above and beyond statutory penalties, including the guilt, shame, and embarrassment associated with putting lives at risk.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense involving drinking and driving, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Rittgers & Rittgers for a free consultation at 513-932-2115. 

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