Steve Palmer
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Does A First Offense For An OVI in Ohio Lead To Jail?

One of the main philosophies of our justice system is deterrence. The idea is to impose enough of a punishment for crimes to make others (who haven’t yet committed a crime) think twice.

This happens in two ways. First, some laws have mandatory penalties. Anyone who reads the law should know what will happen (at least at a minimum) if they get caught doing the wrong deed. Second, judges impose a punishment sufficient to send the proverbial message to others. If you do the same thing, watch out. This will happen to you also.

This, the philosophy goes, will deter crime from happening in the future.

Here’s the problem. It’s BS. Bunk. Nonsense. How do I know? Because I’ve been practicing for over 25 years and crime rates haven’t dropped. There are still murders. People still traffic in drugs. They still commit arson, theft, assault, etc. We would think at some point, if deterrence worked, crime would drop. It hasn’t. People still commit crimes, even though they see others in similar cases face jail, prison, fines, and even execution.

The same is true for OVI and drunk driving. No matter what the penalties or consequences, it seems people still get caught drinking and driving. They are undeterred.

There are probably lots of reasons for this. But I suspect the chemistry of alcohol has a lot to do with it. Alcohol rids us of inhibition. It helps us let go of our worries (at least for a few hours). It lets us check our self-consciousness at the barroom door so we can talk to the girl or guy sitting across from us. It does these things by attacking the frontal cortex of our brains—the part that we use to make rational decisions.

This is the bitter irony of alcohol. It’s a blast to forget about our problems for a while, blow off some steam, and dance the night away with a stranger. But the same inhibition that held us back from doing these things (without alcohol) also helps us make the wise decision about how we are getting home. Alcohol is indiscriminate in its impact on our frontal cortex. It impacts all of our inhibition, not just the parts we don’t like. That’s why so many of the best laid plans to get home safely are swiftly discarded after a good night of drinking. Before the first drink, we might worry about how we are getting home: “Better take an Uber tonight.” But after the last drink, we’ve forgotten all about our Uber. It might even seem ridiculous: “Heck, I’m only a few minutes from home…I can make it.”

Famous last words, indeed.

Back to the question. Will I go to jail for a first offense OVI in Ohio? Yes. No. Maybe.

OVI law in Ohio mandates at least 72 Hours (three days) in jail or in a certified Driver’s Intervention Program (think weekend drunk driving school).

Sometimes the individual gets to choose. But most courts prefer people to do the program. After all, why waste precious jail time, money, and resources when they can force the individual to pay for a program privately. And, to some extent, courts figure folks may learn a thing or two about the evils of drinking and driving.

But like most things in this not-so-black-and-white world of law and criminal justice, there are variables and gray areas.

If the letter of the law is followed, a first OVI/DUI offender is getting 72 hours. But sometimes attorneys can work some magic and avoid the conviction or find a plea resolution that doesn’t require jail or a program.

The opposite is also true. Sometimes courts impose more. That’s right. The minimum is only a minimum. There are lots of judges out there who will impose more than three days on a first offense OVI. Some double it. Some go higher than that. In fact, courts have discretion to impose the max—6 months in jail.

There are lots of reasons this might happen. Maybe the case facts are egregious. Maybe there was a crash, open container, or something else going on. Maybe the defendant told the judge or police to “Go f*&K yourself!”

There also maybe a reason for a defendant to agree or cut a deal for more than the minimum. There may be other crimes (drugs, fleeing and eluding, assaulting a peace officer, etc.) that are being dismissed in exchange for such an agreement.

In the end, the over simplified answer is three days or 72 hours for a first offense OVI in Ohio. But, like most other legal answers, the truth lies in the gray areas of the shadowlands where our individual circumstances reside.

What’s the takeaway? Nothing is certain. Get a good attorney experienced in DUI defense (also referred to as OVI defense in Ohio). And get one now. If possible, talk to someone before you make any decisions and before you go to court. It can (and often does) make all the difference. You need one, even if to just make sure you understand what’s happening. They speak a different language in DUI cases. Trust an old warhorse. You don’t speak that language, even if you’ve been there before and think you do. And you never know. Your gray might be brighter than you think.