Ohio DUI Law in a Nutshell

Ohio's DUI law is extremely complex. Many people, including attorneys who dabble in DUI law only occasionally, do not have a clear understanding of how it works.

Definitions

Ohio DUI laws prohibit anyone from operating a vehicle anywhere in the State if they are either under the influence or above the prohibited limits. Let's have a look at the definitions, since they are the key to understanding the DUI law.

"Operate" means to cause or have caused movement of a vehicle on any public or private property used by the public for purposes of vehicular travel or parking. Ohio's DUI law applies anywhere "within this state", not just on the roads.

When a driver is accused of violating Ohio's DUI law, they are typically charged with two violations:

  • First, they are charged with being "under the influence". This particular charge requires the prosecution to prove that the driver's ability to operate the vehicle was impaired, to a noticeable degree, by alcohol and/or drugs. "Drugs" includes prescription medication as well as illegal substances.
  • Second, if the driver took a breath, blood or urine test and the test results indicated a prohibited level (of either alcohol or drugs) then the person is typically charged with another DUI violation: Operating with a prohibited level of alcohol and/or drugs.

 

The Burden of Proof Is on the Prosecutor

The prosecution can attempt to prove both "under the influence" and "prohibited level", but the individual can only be sentenced on one. In cases where the alcohol level exceeds .17 or where the driver refuses the test, the penalties are dramatically increased. In cases where the driver refuses the test, the police sometimes file an additional charge of DUI Refusal.

Typically the prosecutor has to prove the "under the influence" charge as part of the DUI Refusal charge. When a driver refuses to take the test in a DUI case, it makes it far more difficult for the prosecutor to prove the case, especially if the driver was pulled over for a purely technical infraction (like No License Plate Light).

On the other hand, a refusal increases the potential penalties if the person is convicted, and causes some judges to be more reluctant to grant limited privileges, etc.

Probable Cause

An officer has to have a valid reason to stop or detain a driver. This simply means that he/she has to have a reasonable basis or justification to believe that the driver is breaking a law. Violation of any law will suffice (such as failure to signal a turn). Without a valid reason, the whole case may be thrown out.

Additionally, the officer must have a "reasonable suspicion" that the driver is under the influence in order to arrest for a DUI. Normally the officer uses his observations to meet this requirement. Most officers will conduct a series of field sobriety tests to help them make this determination.

Field Sobriety Tests

The three standard tests now in use are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (HGN), the Walk & Turn test and the One-Leg Stand test. The officer must substantially comply with a set of instructions when administering these tests.

Some departments also have portable breath testing devices that can be used at the scene. The results of the portable tests are not admissible in evidence to prove the DUI charge, but are simply meant to assist the officer. There is no penalty for refusing the field sobriety tests or the portable breath test, although most officers will not be happy.

Who gets to choose the test? State law allows the officer to choose the type of test required. Most of them will choose a breath test unless drugs are suspected. There are many detailed requirements concerning the use of tests in evidence, including proof that the test was taken within 3 hours of the time of the operation of the vehicle (2 hours if you hold a CDL).

Cruiser - Camera Videos

The most important piece of evidence in your case is usually the video recorded from the cruiser dash- camera.

Many departments have dash-mounted video cameras in their cruisers, which are automatically activated when the overhead lights are turned on. However, the officer can manually turn the camera (and the sound) off and on, using a device on his belt.

The camera is usually located just to the right of the rear-view mirror in a small 3-inch box. It can be manually aimed in all directions to record whatever the officer chooses. The audio track of these dash cams also picks up sound from a lapel microphone as well as a microphone in the roof of the cruiser interior.

To view the different types of DUI offenses, see this DUI Chart by Judge Jennifer P. Weiler, from Garfield Heights Municipal Court.

Experience Matters

To have any degree of success in a DUI case, you must have a criminal defense lawyer who handles DUI charges on a regular basis and understands the complexities of Ohio DUI Law.

"I am in court nearly every day on DUI cases. All too often, I see DUI defendants represented by lawyers who are clueless about DUI law. Many times these attorneys are relatives, friends of the family or practice in other areas of the law." - Dan Weisenburger.

Disclaimer

The ohiocrimelawyer.com website is designed for general information only. Any information on this site is not to be construed as formal legal advice from a criminal defense lawyer, a DUI lawyer, a family law lawyer or wills, probate, trusts and estate planning lawyer, nor formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Persons accessing this site are encouraged to seek personal advice regarding their individual legal issues.

The attorneys in our law firm primarily service Portage County courts (Ravenna and Kent), Summit County courts (Akron, Stow, Barberton), and Cuyahoga County courts (Cleveland, Garfield Heights, Bedford, Parma, Rocky River etc...). Cases in all other courts in NorthEast Ohio are handled under specific terms and conditions.