What Is Considered "Operating" in a Drunk Driving Case in Ohio?
Learn the elements of an Ohio operating a vehicle impaired (OVI) offenseBy Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on June 26, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Shawn Dominy
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Requirement 1: The Term “Vehicle” is Defined Broadly
- Requirement 2: The Legal Limit in Ohio
- Requirement 3: Movement is Required
- Remember: The Burden of Proof for OVI is on the Prosecution
- Find an Ohio Criminal Defense Attorney if Facing OVI Charges
Driving while intoxicated is extremely dangerous. Impaired drivers put other motorists and pedestrians at risk of serious injury or fatal crashes. As in all states, you can be charged with a serious criminal offense in Ohio if you operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
To obtain a conviction for a DUI/OVI (operating a vehicle impaired), Ohio prosecutors must prove three basic elements:
- The driver was in a “vehicle”;
- The driver was legally intoxicated; and
- The driver was ‘operating’ that vehicle.
While these elements may appear to be relatively straightforward, there are plenty of cases in which disputes arise over whether or not the offense actually occurred.
Here, you will find an overview of the definition of the required legal elements of driving under the influence in Ohio.
Requirement 1: The Term “Vehicle” is Defined Broadly
Under the Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.01, the term “vehicle” is defined in a relatively broad manner.
Certainly, cars, trucks, vans, and other similar automobiles are covered. However, beyond that, many other motorized vehicles are covered by the statute as well. In fact, a person could be charged with an OVI in Ohio if they operate a motorized bike, golf cart, ATV, or boat.
“People in Ohio can even be charged for an OVI on a bicycle, scooter, or unicycle,” says Shawn R. Dominy, an attorney in Columbus. “OVI cases involving these types of vehicles are relatively rare and do not pose any special challenges… The evidence in OVI cases is, for the most part, the same—whether the case involves a car or some other type of vehicle.”
Dominy adds, “People should be aware: If you are under the influence, using a bicycle, ATV, golf cart, et cetera, is not a safe alternative to driving a car.”
Requirement 2: The Legal Limit in Ohio
Similar to other jurisdictions, the maximum legal limit in Ohio is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08.
For drivers of commercial vehicles, the blood alcohol level limit is 0.04. For drivers under 21 years old, the legal limit is 0.02 per Ohio’s zero-tolerance policy.
If a driver is highly intoxicated, meaning that an alcohol test shows their blood alcohol content is at or above .170, they can be subject to heightened penalties.
BAC levels are commonly established via breath tests, blood tests, or other chemical tests administered by law enforcement officers. Arresting officers may also administer field sobriety tests at a traffic stop if they suspect impairment.
Requirement 3: Movement is Required
Ohio state law requires that the person was operating a vehicle in order to be charged with an OVI.
Operation is defined as causing or having caused the movement of the vehicle. In other words, a drunk person who is merely sitting in the driver’s seat of a car should not be charged with an OVI. This offense requires actual movement.
While you cannot be charged with an OVI if a vehicle does not move, you can still be charged with a lesser offense called Physical Control of a Vehicle Under the Influence. Though this is a lesser offense, and it is not a moving violation, it is still a serious crime that can potentially lead to jail time.
Remember: The Burden of Proof for OVI is on the Prosecution
As with other criminal cases, it is important for defendants to remember that the burden of proof is always on the prosecution.
An accused person is always presumed to be innocent until they can be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution has a duty to prove each element of the crime. If you or your loved one was arrested and charged with an OVI, it is crucial that you consult with an experienced Ohio lawyer right away to potentially avoid an OVI conviction.
“Someone who has been accused of OVI in Ohio will have the first court appearance within five days, so they need to quickly decide whether they are going to plead guilty to the OVI or contest the OVI,” says Dominy. “Before making that decision, they should call a lawyer to gain an accurate understanding of the situation so they can make an informed decision about how which way to proceed.”
Find an Ohio Criminal Defense Attorney if Facing OVI Charges
An experienced lawyer who understands Ohio’s drunk driving laws will be able to give you expert legal advice and guidance through your case. When meeting with an attorney for the first time, here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What are your attorney’s fees?
- Will I lose my driver’s license or driving privileges?
- How long does a driver’s license suspension last? What about my commercial driver’s license (CDL)?
- What are the penalties for a first-time offense versus subsequent offenses?
- What are the penalties if I was driving under the influence of drugs rather than alcohol?
For more information on this area of law, read our overview on DUI laws.
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