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Impaired Driving Offenses: OVI, DUI, DWI, and OMVI — What Sets Them Apart?

Updated: November 9, 2023
Nicholas G. Gounaris
By Nicholas G. Gounaris

Nicholas G. Gounaris is a skilled trial lawyer and founding partner of Gounaris Abboud law firm. He provides clients of the firm with competent legal representation and focuses his law practice in the areas of DUI Defense, Criminal Defense, Family Law Issues, Federal Criminal Law and Personal Injury cases.

Ohio State seeks stiff criminal penalties and fines against those charged with impaired driving offenses. However, there is some confusion about the various acronyms used to describe the act of operating a vehicle while using drugs or alcohol. DUI, DWI, OVI, and OMVI — is there a difference?

If you are facing an OVI charge but are unsure about what to do next, reach out to the experienced Dayton OVI attorneys at Gounaris Abboud for a robust defense.

What Does OVI Stand for? The History of the Term

The term OVI stands for operating a vehicle while impaired. Originally, the charge was known as DUI and DWI — driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated. However, prosecutors in the early ’80s abandoned the term, and a new one was put in place: OMVI (operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated).

However, in the early 2000s, the state decided that a vehicle need not be motorized for a person to face a charge of operating a motor vehicle while impaired. So the name of the charge changed once again to what it is today: OVI, which allows the state broad latitude when processing offenders.

What Is an OVI in Ohio Law?

The OVI law in Ohio prohibits and punishes the operation of a vehicle while impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both. Within its provisions, the OVI law establishes blood, serum, and plasma concentration thresholds that determine an individual’s culpability based on the substance they have ingested.

Because OVI is a serious offense in Ohio, offenders who are convicted can face significant penalties.

Even first-time offenders must contend with serious criminal consequences, such as:

  • Mandatory three days of jail time;
  • Fines of up to $1,075;
  • License suspension of up to three years.

Having a prior drunk driving record exacerbates the judgment you receive.

What Is Impaired Driving According to Ohio Law?

what is ovi in ohio

The following examples are all instances of impaired driving in Ohio:

  • Breath or blood alcohol content at .08 or greater;
  • Urine alcohol content at .11 or higher;
  • Blood serum or plasma alcohol content at .096 or higher;
  • Marijuana blood concentration at or above 2 nanograms per milliliter;
  • Marijuana urine concentration at 10 nanograms per milliliter.

Keep in mind that a person can still be considered impaired even if they have blood, urine, plasma, or serum levels below each legal limit listed above.

Understanding DUI, DWI, OVI, and OMVI in Ohio

If you are still unsure about OVI’s meaning, it may be helpful for you to consider the other acronyms that were once used to prosecute these types of crimes in Ohio. Due to confusion and other issues, these past terms were changed or dropped to make way for the current acronym and manifestation of the law, which is OVI.

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)

This term gave prosecutors problems because they had the burden of proving intoxication, that drugs or alcohol had in fact diminished the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle.
The term “driving” also caused problems for the state because it required prosecutors to prove that the defendant was actually driving. But many who are caught impaired while in their cars are not driving at the time and proving that they had indeed driven before was a difficult burden for prosecutors. So the term was changed from “driving” to “operating”.

Operating a Motor Vehicle Impaired (OMVI)

To deal with the problems caused by the terms “driving” and “intoxicated”, the legislature changed these terms to “operating” and “impaired”. With these changes, prosecutors no longer had to prove intoxication or that the driver was driving.

For example, previously, a person who was drunk but not driving could elude prosecution. However, with the new law, the prosecutor need only prove that the defendant was inside the vehicle impaired and operating one of the vehicle’s systems, such as the radio.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

The term DUI has never been an official charge in Ohio. However, because of the wide use of the term, it is often used as a general, synonymous term for OVI. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear police, prosecutors, and other officials using the term DUI to refer to the charge of OVI. However, there is no driving requirement in Ohio.

Operating a Vehicle Impaired (OVI)

OVI is now the official DUI offense in Ohio. As you can see, the term “motorized” has been removed. Because of this, prosecutors have an easier time winning convictions than before, when they had to prove that a defendant was actually driving or had driven while impaired.

What Are the Penalties for an OVI or DUI in Ohio?

ovi vs dui ohio

The penalty for OVI can be harsh and depends heavily on the circumstances of your case, such as your level of impairment and your past criminal record. If you have a previous OVI arrest and conviction, you will face heightened criminal consequences.

First-time OVI offenders in Ohio face:

  • Jail time of three days to six months;
  • Fines ranging from $375 to $1,075;
  • License suspension that may last between six months and three years;
  • A license reinstatement fee of $475.

For habitual offenders, prison time and higher fines are on the table. For example, if you are facing a fourth offense, the OVI will be bumped up from a misdemeanor to a felony and include mandatory prison time. For more information, have a look at the OVI Ohio penalty chart.

Some defendants may have to participate in the Community Control Sanction, and this may reduce their jail time. Also, some defendants may be ordered to house arrest or be ordered to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.

Regarding license suspension, there are two instances when your license may be suspended by the BMV: when you fail to submit to a chemical test or other alcohol test, and as part of your sentence for an OVI charge.

But criminal penalties and fines are not the only negative consequences of an OVI charge in Ohio.

An offender may also be subject to:

  • Higher insurance premiums;
  • Decreased job and educational opportunities;
  • A permanent OVI charge on their record;
  • Inability to obtain a professional license;
  • Professional license suspension.

Additionally, a judge has the authority to order a defendant to undergo qualified drug or alcohol therapy if they are convicted. Although therapy is typically ordered for repeat offenders, a defendant may be ordered to undergo treatment even for their first OVI offense.

What Minors Need to Know About DUI/OVI Penalties

drunk driving defense attorney

Ohio is a zero-tolerance state, so minors who are charged with OVI face stiff penalties for their actions.

If you or a loved one is facing an underage OVI charge, you could be looking at:

  • Incarceration of up to 30 days;
  • Fines reaching $250;
  • Attendance at a drug or alcohol program;
  • Suspension of your driver’s license;
  • License retesting, both written and driving;
  • Required completion of a remedial driving class;
  • Required maintenance of an SR-22.

Because of the seriousness of these consequences for minors, it is important for every underage defendant to have a criminal defense lawyer defending them.

Need an OVI/DUI Defense in Ohio? Contact Gounaris Abboud, LPA!

OVI/DUI is a serious offense that can heavily impact your life and livelihood. However, being charged does not equal being convicted.

If you are facing an OVI charge, the Dayton criminal defense attorneys at Gounaris Abboud can potentially help you beat or reduce the charges. Contact us for a consultation. We have offices in Montgomery, Warren, and Butler Counties.

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Accused of OVI? Get a Free Case Review Today!

Charged with OVI/DUI? Let our skilled Dayton drunk driving defense attorney fight the charges and win a favorable outcome for your case. Contact us today!

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What is the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for OVI in Ohio?

The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for OVI in Ohio is 0.08% for those drivers who are 21 and older. Drivers under 21 have a lower legal BAC.

Can I be charged with OVI for driving under the influence of drugs?

Yes. You can be charged with OVI for driving under the influence of drugs. The OVI statute includes any substance that can lead to impairment, not just alcohol.

Are there different penalties for first-time and repeat OVI offenders in Ohio?

Yes. In Ohio, first-time offenders face far less harsh penalties than repeat offenders but still may find themselves behind bars. Repeat offenders risk eventually incurring a felony charge after the fourth conviction and may spend time in prison.

Can I refuse a breathalyzer or field sobriety test during an OVI stop in Ohio?

Yes. You can refuse a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer test. However, Ohio is an implied consent state. So if you refuse a chemical test, such as a breathalyzer, you can have your license suspended by the BMV, and you can also be arrested.

What are the potential consequences for an OVI conviction in Ohio?

There are many potential consequences for an OVI conviction in Ohio, such as jail and prison time, fines, license suspension, mandatory drug or alcohol programs, probation, and installation of an ignition interlock device.

Will I lose my driver’s license if I’m charged with OVI in Ohio?

If you are charged with OVI, you can potentially lose your license to a suspension for a time. How long the suspension lasts depends on the seriousness of your circumstances and other factors.

How long will an OVI conviction stay on my criminal record in Ohio?

If you are convicted of OVI in Ohio, the arrest, charge, and conviction will remain on your record permanently. There is no expungement of OVI charges in Ohio.

Can I face enhanced penalties for OVI if there were minors in the vehicle?

Yes. If you are caught operating a motor vehicle while impaired, and there are minors (individuals under 18 years old) in the vehicle, you can face enhanced penalties, such as harsher jail or prison time, extended license suspensions, and steeper fines.

What is the difference between an OVI and a DUI in Ohio?

In Ohio, the terms OVI and DUI are used interchangeably quite frequently. However, OVI (operating a vehicle while impaired) is the official charge and includes the activity of driving within the term “operating”.