Ohio DUI / OVI And Diversion Programs

The consequences of an OVI/DUI conviction can go well beyond the fines, jail time, and license suspensions imposed by a Judge. Collateral effects like higher insurance premiums and lost employment opportunities can follow someone well after their case has been resolved in court. Some states, even notoriously tough-on-crime states like Texas, allow first-time OVI/DUI offenders to avoid the long term consequences of a conviction by completing a pretrial diversion program.

Get-out-of-jail-and-uncle-sam-300x224What is Diversion?
The general idea of diversion is that first offenders should be given an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and correct the underlying causes of their criminal offense without the stigma of a conviction. If an applicant meets the entry requirements, typically meaning the person has no prior criminal history and is charged with a qualifying offense, the applicant can be accepted into a diversion program. These programs typically require the participant to complete counseling and/or educational courses, perform community service, attend regular meetings with a probation/diversion officer, and maintain a clean criminal record for the duration of the program.

Many jurisdictions have diversion programs, covering a variety of offenses. The specifics of the programs vary depending on the jurisdiction and the offense. For example, the Texas program allows first-time DUI offenders with otherwise clean records to complete a year of probation supervision which includes monthly meetings, community service, drug/alcohol counseling, and the installation of an ignition interlock device on their vehicles. Successful completion of this year-long program results in the DUI charges being dismissed, which means they are able to move forward without a conviction on their record.

Does Ohio Have Diversion Programs?
Ohio offers diversion programs for a variety of offenses. First-time offenders are eligible for diversion on everything from minor traffic tickets to underage drinking and from misdemeanor shoplifting and marijuana possession to felony theft and felony drug possession. One charge noticeably absent from the list of diversion-eligible offenses in Ohio is OVI.

A person charged with a first-offense OVI is specifically excluded from eligibility for diversion. Instead, a first-offender must go through the traditional prosecution process. If convicted, a first-offender faces a mandatory jail sentence with a minimum of three days and a maximum of 180 days, a mandatory fine of $375 to $1,075, a mandatory driver license from one year to three years, and other discretionary sanctions like yellow license plates, ignition interlock, and probation. The only option to avoid an OVI conviction, and the mandatory penalties, is to fight the case and obtain a Not Guilty verdict or a plea agreement for a lesser offense.

Maybe It’s Time For Ohio To Have Diversion For DUI/OVI
It seems odd that people charged with felonies are able to avoid the consequences of criminal convictions while people charged with a first-offense OVI/DUI are shut out of the process entirely. Perhaps it is time for Ohio courts to consider allowing people to learn from their mistakes and better themselves through education and counseling without having to carry the added baggage of an OVI/DUI conviction.

Unless and until Ohio courts make that change, the only way to avoid the long-term consequences of an OVI/DUI conviction is to contest the charges in court. That’s why it is so important to seek attorneys who understand the complexities of Ohio’s OVI/DUI law, contest OVI charges on a regular basis, and help their clients receive favorable outcomes.