Columbus OVI/DUI Attorney Blog

Articles Posted in DUI/OVI enforcement

I’m traveling to another state for a seminar next week. It just so happens the state is Nevada, and the seminar is in Las Vegas. For me, there is no risk of being convicted of DUI in Nevada because the trip is all about education! Sometimes, however, an Ohio driver comes home with the unwanted souvenir of an out-of-state DUI conviction. When it comes to DUI, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas: there are consequences in Ohio for a DUI conviction in another state.


The consequence in Ohio for an out-of-state DUI conviction is suspension of the person’s Ohio driver license. Another state cannot suspend an Ohio driver’s license. Instead, if that state is part of the Interstate Driver License Compact, that state transmits to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) information that the Ohio driver was convicted of DUI in the other state. The Ohio BMV then takes action against the person’s Ohio driver’s license according to Ohio law.

Ohio law instructs the Ohio BMV to impose a license suspension on any person who is convicted of DUI in another state. Ohio Revised Code 4510.17 states the suspension shall be a ‘Class D’ suspension, which means the suspension is six months. When the BMV receives the report from the other state, the BMV sends a notice to the driver indicating his or her driver license will be suspended beginning 21 days after the day the notice was issued.

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I thought they were all drunk: they were driving on the wrong side of the road. But they weren’t drunk, they were just driving in Scotland. And so was I. I drove on the left, sat on the right, and shifted with my left on the endless roundabouts and turns. I navigated all the sheep, stone walls, and cliffs as I drove from the English countryside to the Scottish highlands, so I consider my recent holiday a driving success. The trip prompted me to compare the drunk driving laws of Ohio to the ‘drink driving’ laws of Scotland.


My rental car, brilliantly parked outside our B&B in Portree on the Scottish Isle Of Skye.

Scotland has a lower ‘per se’ alcohol limit than Ohio. In Ohio, it is illegal to drive at or above an alcohol level of .08%. In Scotland, where the drinking age is 18, the prohibited alcohol level changed in December of 2014 to .05%. That limit is lower than the rest of the United Kingdom, which remains at .08%, but higher than some countries, like Sweden which is .02%. A comparison of the drunk driving laws of several nations is available on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There are differences in sentencing between Ohio and Scotland. For a first OVI offense in Ohio, the license suspension is a minimum of six months. For a first offense of driving whilst above the legal limit in Scotland, the license disqualification is a minimum of 12 months, and that disqualification period may be reduced by completing a 16-hour ‘drink driver’s rehabilitation course’. The fine in Ohio is a maximum of $1,000, but the fine in Scotland is a maximum of 5,000 pounds: about $7,600 with the current exchange rate. Both Ohio and Scotland have a maximum jail sentence of six months, but Ohio has a minimum of three days while Scotland has no minimum jail term. Both Ohio and Scotland increase penalties for subsequent offenses: Ohio has a six-year lookback period, and Scotland’s is ten years.

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When authorities found Donna Wardell in her Chevrolet Impala, the car was upside-down, held in the air by part of the utility pole she just hit (see the story at  Medics pulled her out of the car through the windshield and rushed her to the hospital.  The medical team determined the crash was the result of a seizure caused by a brain tumor.  Wardell did not know about the tumor:  she learned of it in the hospital.  She later learned something else:  she was being charged with DWI because, when the medics removed Wardell from her car, they observed the odor of alcohol.

Ambulance at accident scene

The odor of alcohol.  Based on that evidence alone, a police officer charged Wardell with DWI (called OVI in Ohio).  It was the only evidence suggesting Wardell might be under the influence of alcohol.  Upon closer examination, however, the odor of alcohol really is not evidence she was under the influence.  At most, it’s evidence she consumed alcohol.  There is no way to tell from the odor how much alcohol she consumed and whether that alcohol was affecting her ability to drive.

Her ability to drive was not affected by alcohol, as there was essentially no alcohol in her blood.  A toxicology report showed her blood alcohol concentration was .001.  At that level, the alcohol did not cause the crash.  Another hospital record concluded the crash was the result of a medical accident:  a seizure caused by the tumor.

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How frustrating would it be if your car won’t start because you recently used mouthwash, put on cologne, or ate a cinnamon roll? That frustration could be real if the federal government ultimately requires alcohol sensors in cars. According to the Columbus Dispatch, federal officials recently announced plans to implement a technological advancement in alcohol-detecting sensors for vehicles. The government anticipates the new alcohol sensors could significantly reduce drunk driving. The sensors may also increase headaches for non-drinking drivers.

Ignition interlock device


There are two ways alcohol sensors could be used in vehicles. First, a vehicle could be equipped with passive breath sensors to detect alcohol in the air inside the car. If the concentration of alcohol in the vehicle’s interior air exceeds a predetermined limit, the vehicle would not start.

Passive breath sensors may suffer from the same problem associated with ignition interlock devices. Those devices require the driver to blow into a tube with alcohol-free breath before the vehicle will start. The problem with interlock devices is false positives: the device prevents the vehicle from starting when the driver consumed no alcohol. Causes of false positives include mouthwash, toothpaste, bread, pastries, spicy foods, and high-protein diets.

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In September of 2014, CW was driving his motorcycle in northwestern New York and collided with another motorcycle. A police officer responded to the accident scene and reportedly noticed the odor of alcohol on CW. The officer asked CW to take a breath test, and CW refused. The officer ultimately obtained a blood sample from CW and charged him with DWI (known as OVI in Ohio). The officer then sent the blood sample to be tested. The test revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.00. Last week, five months after CW was charged with DWI, the case was finally dismissed, as reported by the Genesee Sun.

Blood draw

If this case occurred in Ohio, it would have likely gone through the same process. When an officer in Ohio suspects a driver is under the influence, the officer requests a breath test, blood test, or urine test. In cases where a blood test or urine test is used, the results of the test are not immediately known to the officer. Despite not having the test results, officers routinely charge people with OVI immediately after the blood or urine sample is obtained. The blood or urine sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis, and the analysis typically is not completed until weeks or months after the person is charged.

In cases involving blood/urine tests, there are two types of OVI charges which may be filed. First, the suspect is charged with OVI ‘impaired’. The ‘impaired’ charge accuses the suspect of operating a vehicle with driving ability impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. The ‘impaired’ charge is not dependent on the results of a blood/urine/breath test. Second, if the test results show an alcohol or drug level at or above the prohibited concentration (the ‘legal limit’), the suspect is charged with OVI ‘per se’. The ‘per se’ charge accuses the suspect of operating a vehicle with a prohibited alcohol or drug level. The ‘per se’ charge does not depend on whether suspect’s ability to drive was impaired.

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Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) recently released its “2015 Report To The Nation”. The report rates the efforts of each of the 50 states to prevent drunk driving. In the report, MADD uses a five-star system of measures which can be undertaken to prevent drunk driving fatalities. Ohio receives four stars.

1. Ignition Interlock Devices. MADD recommends the use of ignition interlock devices (IID). If a vehicle is equipped with an IID, the driver must blow into the IID before starting the car, and the car will only start if the alcohol concentration in the driver’s breath is below a predetermined limit. The MADD report indicates “Ohio has the opportunity to stop drunk driving. In 2014, Annie’s Law requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers was introduced. The legislation ran out of time and faced opposition from a fringe group of judges.” Although Ohio does not have mandatory ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, Ohio does use ignition interlock devices in two ways. First, ignition interlock may be required as a condition of limited driving privileges on an Administrative License Suspension, and its use is mandatory on a third or subsequent offense. Second, ignition interlock may be required as part of a defendant’s sentence on a first conviction and is a mandatory part of the sentence on a second or subsequent conviction.

2. License Revocation. MADD endorses the implementation of the administrative license suspension: “a swift punishment for drunk driving through the immediate confiscation of an offender’s driver’s license by the arresting officer.” Ohio imposes immediate administrative license suspensions whenever an OVI suspect refuses a chemical test or submits to a chemical test and produces a result over .08. Administrative license suspensions for a first offender are 90 days (test over limit) or one year (test refusal). For subsequent administrative license suspensions, the duration of the suspension increases, up to five years.

3. Child Endangerment Laws. MADD suggests legislation crating child endangerment laws and views drunk driving with a child passenger as a form of child abuse. Ohio’s child endangerment law makes it illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence or over the limit with a child under 18 in the vehicle. That Ohio law is punishable by up to six months in jail and a license suspension for up to one year. If violation of that law results in serious physical harm to the child, or if the offender has a prior OVI conviction, violation of the law is a felony.

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It won’t win a Pulitzer Prize, it will not be mentioned with the New York Times best sellers, and it will not be at the top of readers’ ‘wish lists’. In fact, most people may not find it very interesting. If you are charged with a DUI/OVI in Ohio, however, this book suddenly becomes a must-read. I’m talking about the new book: I Was Charged With DUI/OVI, Now What?!

I wrote the book to answer the questions most commonly asked by people charged with OVI.Cover image from book.jpg After answering those questions for 17 years, I recently came to the realization there was not a published book designed for individuals charged with OVI in Ohio. I thought it would be helpful to create a book which explains ‘what you need to know before going to court and before hiring an attorney for DUI/OVI in Ohio‘.

The book, published a couple weeks ago, is divided into four parts. The first part reveals what prosecutors need to prove for a person to be found guilty of OVI and outlines the potential consequences of an OVI conviction. The second part addresses the evidence used in OVI cases, including field sobriety tests and blood/breath/urine tests. The third part discusses the court process and its various stages. The fourth part addresses how to find a good OVI lawyer.

The book is available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The suggested retail price of the paperback is $9.95, and the e-book costs about half that. With the percentage I receive in royalties, I may buy a few cups of coffee…. The book is obviously not designed to be a money-maker for me. In fact, I will email a pdf version of the book to anyone who requests it, and I intend to make the paperback available in central Ohio libraries.

The book is designed to help people charged with OVI. People in that position need help, and one way I can help is providing this book. I can’t represent every person who contacts me after being charged with OVI: I typically only accept one new client per week. I certainly can’t field calls from every person who has questions about Ohio OVI laws. I can, however, answer those questions in the form of this low-cost book. I hope the book provides valuable information which is helpful to many people charged with DUI/OVI in Ohio.

This is Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer. A lot of people will be on the road: visiting friends, attending parades, and going to cookouts. Some unlucky people on the road will find themselves stopped at DUI/OVI roadblocks. Although they do nothing wrong, they will have to stop, wait, wait some more, produce identification, and answer questions. They aren’t suspected of doing anything illegal, but they are seized.

Sobriety checkpoint ahead.jpgAlthough this situation seems at odds with our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, sobriety checkpoints can be Constitutional if they are done correctly. How to do them correctly is not a mystery. The United States Supreme Court gave clear criteria in Michigan v. Sitz, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues a publication with procedures to follow.

Recent cases in New York illustrate what procedures not to follow. In Queens, New York, five cases of drunk driving were thrown out because they originated with illegal checkpoints, according to Each of the cases involved the same group of highway patrol officers. The officers routinely went to the same location, a service road connecting two highways, to conduct DUI enforcement. The officers called this type of enforcement “step out” surveillance because they waited for cars to approach their location, then stepped out and signaled for the driver to slow down or stop. The officers then looked for a reason to detain the driver, usually items hanging from a rearview mirror. If the officers observed something illegal, they detained the driver for a DUI investigation, including breath testing and field sobriety testing. It is estimated the officers arrested about 150 people using this method of DUI enforcement.

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Someone who has multiple conviction for DUI (called OVI in Ohio) faces increasingly severe consequences with each conviction. For example, while a first OVI typically results in three days in a hotel at a driver intervention program, a third offense with a high test or test refusal is a mandatory minimum of 60 days in jail. Ohio’s OVI sentencing law recognizes that a first offense may be an isolated incident, but a third offense is something more. If a person gets to the point of having five OVI convictions, that person is supposed to be listed in a registry of habitual OVI offenders.

Scarlet letter.jpgOhio’s habitual OVI offender registry is maintained by the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS). It is mandatory for courts to send the Department of Public Safety information about DUI / OVI offenders including the number of times these individuals have been convicted of these specific crimes in the last two decades. If someone is convicted of OVI, Physical Control Under The Influence, Boating Under The Influence, or a similar offense five times in 20 years, that person is to be placed in the registry of habitual offenders. This searchable internet database includes a lot of personal information about the individual, including the offender’s name, birth date, number of convictions within 20 years, and the person’s physical address.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety recently announced that a recent update to the registry added significantly more people to the registry. The total number of people on the registry now stands at 5,331; a stark contrast to fewer than 400 before the recent update. According to those responsible, they managed to improve the system by compiling information from computerized court records instead of waiting on the submission of paper forms. Franklin County now has 389 repeat offenders listed in the registry, a huge increase from the 15 people on the list just two months ago.

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It’s January in central Ohio, and the temperature is slightly above zero. It’s not exactly golfing weather, and at this time of year, I begin to wonder if we will ever see golfing weather again. It’s not the time of year we think about using golf carts, and most of us are not pondering whether people should be convicted of DUI/OVI for driving a golf cart under the influence. I am, because I recently resolved a case where my client was charged with a golf cart OVI in Columbus, Ohio.

My client was not golfing. She was doing work at the Ohio State Fair. Her work required her to stay at the fairgrounds in a camper. After her work day ended, she retired to the camper and had a few drinks. Late in the night, she was alerted by a ‘neighbor’ about an emergency with their work. They got in the golf cart, and my client drove toward the worksite. As they drove, the ‘neighbor’ was yelling at somebody, and this caught the attention of a law enforcement officer. The officer stopped them and observed that my client smelled like alcohol and had bloodshot eyes. There was a beer can in the cup holder, and my client acknowledged she had been drinking, so the officer administered field sobriety tests and a breath test. The breath test result was twice the legal limit, so the officer charged my client with OVI.

Golf cart inside driver view.jpgUnder Ohio law, a person can be convicted of OVI on a golf cart. OVI stands for Operating a Vehicle under the Influence, and the definition of vehicle includes a golf cart. This application of the law has been challenged a couple times. In both State v. Tramonte and State v. Sanchez, the court of appeals said the OVI law does apply to golf carts.

Even if the law technically applies to golf carts, the question is whether we want to go after people that drive golf carts under the influence. There are uncountable instances that laws are broken and those responsible are not prosecuted. Both police officers and prosecuting attorneys are given discretion in enforcing the law. An officer can choose not to write a ticket, and a prosecutor can choose to dismiss or reduce charges.

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