Steve Palmer
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Does an OVI show up on a background check

In Ohio (and probably most other states) the run-of-the-mill DUI or OVI is a misdemeanor traffic offense. That means it is not a criminal offense. Notice the italics in traffic and criminal. They are in italics because those are terms of art. That means they have a specific legal definition.

Traffic offenses are codified in Chapter 45 of the Ohio Revised Code. Most traffic violations we know (speeding, fail to signal, OVI, etc.) are spelled out in 4511. By contrast, criminal offenses are mostly contained in Chapter 29 of the Ohio Revised Code.
So why the deep dive into the weeds of such legalese and definitional nonsense? Because it matters. Criminal convictions (those defined and codified in Chapter 29) are just that. Criminal convictions. This definitional nonsense tells us how to answer questions about “criminal convictions” on a job or government license application. Traffic convictions, in other words, are not criminal convictions.

At the outset, be sure to know what they are asking when referring to your “background.” Most applications ask for criminal convictions (specifically felonies or theft offenses). Some ask for criminal convictions including DUI and/or alcohol related traffic violations. If that’s the case, the specificity of the question requires disclosure.

Now to the question. Does OVI or DUI show up on a background check? Yes. No. Maybe.

I know. Typical attorney vagueness. But there’s a reason for that.

OVI and other traffic convictions are permanent in Ohio. They are always on your record, they just get older. And older matters when it comes to things that matter. “Points” on an Ohio Driver’s License will fall off after 3 years. And enhancements for First, Second, Third, or more OVIs can depend on the age of the prior convictions. There is some nuance to this depending on the jurisdiction. But generally, under the Ohio Revised Code (4511.19), the “look back” period for a prior OVI is 10 years. This means that if there is a prior conviction in the last 10 years, the next one will be an enhanced “second offense” with all the draconian trappings of enhanced penalties. It gets worse as the priors stack up. For those who care, check out Ohio Revised Code 4511(G)(1)(b) for some “light reading” on the topic.

Again back to the question. Does OVI or DUI show up on a background check?

Well, we know that the prior OVI or DUI is always on the traffic record. Whether it will show up on an employer’s background check depends on what they are looking for.

Most employers rely on internet search databases to conduct such checks. They can dictate parameters of their search. They may not care about DUI or OVI convictions. They may only care about criminal stuff. Why ever care about traffic convictions? Consider the sales company that provides a vehicle for its employees to use (maybe even full time for personal use). They will care if their employee has an OVI or bad traffic record. They probably have fleet insurance for their vehicles. And the insurance underwriters don’t like such things. It’s high risk. And consider whether the job requires driving, even in the employee’s personal vehicle. If there’s a DUI (or two or three), this may impact the employee’s ability to drive. It’s a different scenario for a job that doesn’t require a company car or regular driving. They may not care at all about prior (or even current) DUIs.

Final answer. Yes. DUIs and OVIs show up on our personal traffic record (kept and maintained by the government) forever. And if employers want or care to find them on their private background checks, they probably can.

The good news is that we routinely help people answer such questions in real time as they fill out applications, negotiate for a new job, or if they just want to know.