In Ohio, it is illegal to operate any motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you’re stopped while driving drunk, you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI). DUI, which is also known as Operating a Vehicle Impaired (OVI), is a serious crime that can potentially affect you for the rest of your life. In some, but not all, cases, DUI/OVI can be a felony offense.

Drunk Driving Can Be a Misdemeanor or a Felony in Ohio

The first time you’re arrested on suspicion of OVI, you’ll probably be charged with a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors tend to be less serious offenses than felonies. However, thanks to Annie’s Law, OVI/DUI can have some harsh consequences, even when charged as a misdemeanor.

A first-time OVI conviction in Ohio is punishable by:

  • Between three days and 180 days in jail
  • Up to $1,075 in fines
  • Driver’s license suspension for between one and five years
  • Five years of probation, and
  • Mandatory drug and alcohol treatment.

Penalties for a misdemeanor OVI in Ohio will ultimately depend on whether or not you’ve been charged with “low tier” or “high tier” OVI. Simply put, you’ll face harsher penalties if your BAC exceeded .17 percent at the time of your arrest.

When Is OVI a Felony in Ohio?

Operating a Vehicle Impaired can also be a felony in the state of Ohio. In fact, you could potentially face felony charges the very first time you’re arrested for OVI, under certain circumstances.

You Have Several OVI Convictions

The second and third time you’re convicted on OVI charges, those offenses will still probably be misdemeanors. However, things change the fourth time you’re stopped for suspected drunk driving. If you have three prior convictions within a six-year period, you’ll be charged with a felony. You can also face felony OVI charges if you have six OVI convictions in a 20-year period.

You’ve Been Convicted of Felony OVI Before

Ohio has a “lookback” period to determine if felony OVI charges are applicable. Racking up multiple OVI convictions in a short period of time often warrants felony charges. However, once you’ve been convicted of felony OVI, all future OVI arrests will result in felony charges. It doesn’t matter if the lookback period doesn’t apply.

You Cause an Accident and Someone Gets Hurt

Operating a Vehicle Impaired is automatically a felony offense if, while driving under the influence, cause an accident that results in serious harm to another person. This other person could be a pedestrian, driving in another vehicle, or even the passenger in your own car. In this situation, you could face charges for aggravated vehicular assault in addition to OVI charges.

You Cause an Accident and Someone Dies

It’s the worst-case scenario. You get behind the wheel after having a few drinks, get into an accident, and someone is killed. In this situation, you’d be charged with felony OVI and aggravated vehicular homicide. The specific circumstances of your accident and case will dictate whether you’re charged with a first, second, or third-degree felony.

How is Felony OVI Punished in Ohio?

The penalties for felony OVI depend on why you’re being charged with a felony. OVI crimes involving injury or death will be subject to harsher penalties and additional criminal charges.

First Felony OVI: The first time you’re convicted of felony OVI in Ohio, you’ll be required to spend a minimum of 60 days behind bars. Your sentence can include up to 30 months in prison.

Second Felony OVI: The second time you’re convicted of felony OVI in Ohio, you’ll have to spend at least 120 days behind bars. Your sentence can require you to spend up to five years in prison.

OVI Causing Injury or Death: If you’re arrested for OVI and someone was injured or killed, you could face first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree felony charges. All of these charges carry mandatory time in prison, ranging from one to ten years. An additional term of imprisonment can be added on top of this required time behind bars.

When you face felony OVI charges, you should also be prepared to pay up to $20,000 in fines and lose your license, perhaps permanently.