One too many at your favorite tavern? Drunk driving penalties in Ohio

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You see the flashing lights in your rearview, and your heart sinks; you've been pulled over for drunk driving.

Known by Ohio police officers as operating a vehicle under the influence, or OVI for short, drunk driving offenses can carry serious repercussions in the Buckeye State. If you were arrested for OVI, you might want to know more about the kind of penalties you could be facing - and the legal defense options that may help your case.

DUI/OVI penalties range from jail time to vehicle forfeiture

For most Ohio drivers, a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher can result in an OVI charge. However, commercial drivers and those under 21 have lower limits, at .04 and .02, respectively.

A first time OVI conviction will result in a minimum jail term of three days; three days is only a floor, however, and the sentencing court has discretion to increase the sentence up to six months. For a first time OVI, the judge may allow you to substitute three days in a state-approved Driver Intervention Program for the minimum jail term. If your BAC was .17 or above, the minimum jail term doubles, to six days.

Jail time is not the only consequence of an OVI conviction. Fines from $250 to $1,000, a drivers' license suspension from six month to three years and, when it comes time to get your license back, a reinstatement fee of $450 also come with a first-time OVI in Ohio.

Unsurprisingly, penalties go up for second and subsequent drunk driving convictions. For sentencing purposes, prior OVIs are relevant for a period of six years. In addition to progressively harsh minimum jail terms, longer license suspensions and higher fines, vehicle immobilization and alcohol treatment programs come with a second or third OVI conviction within six years. A fourth Ohio OVI is a felony, and in addition to more severe versions of all the aforementioned penalties, you will forfeit your vehicle.

Retain an Ohio DUI attorney to take advantage of legal defense strategies

If you've been arrested for drunk driving, looking over the laundry list of possible sanctions can be imposing, even scary. But, you should remember that you have a right to contest the charges against you and to stage a legal defense.

There are many ways to challenge your OVI charge. Perhaps the arresting officer stopped you for an invalid reason, or violated your rights when gathering evidence. There may be a question of whether the equipment used to measure your BAC was properly calibrated and in full working order. In cases where the amount of alcohol found in your system was only borderline illegal, you may even be able to secure a plea bargain for "wet reckless" - in other words, a charge of reckless driving involving alcohol, which is a less serious offense than OVI.

An experienced Ohio defense attorney can advise you on your full range of legal options and will represent your interests in court. If you have been arrested for drunk driving, the most important step you can take is to contact an attorney as soon as possible.