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Your Cleveland OVI Case: The Basics

You had a great Friday evening at MIX at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The music was great, the cocktails were delicious, and you even took in a little art. You may have had one more Pisco Sour than was strictly necessary, but you decide that leaving your car and taking a cab would be too much of a hassle. You jump in your car and start to head down East Boulevard. Within minutes, you see the police lights behind you. Looks like you may be in for a charge of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI). Here is some information about what to expect, generally, in an OVI case in Cleveland.

Legal Limits

The law in Ohio states that no person shall operate any vehicle under the influence of alcohol, "drugs of abuse," or a combination. If you are 21 or older and driving while impaired, or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or more, you will be subject to prosecution for an OVI. If you are under 21, the limit is even lower - 0.02%. A conviction for OVI in Ohio cannot be expunged (set aside) from your record and not only can you face criminal penalties (jail time, fines, etc.), but you may also have to deal with additional proceedings with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles involving license suspension.

Being Pulled Over - Can They Stop Me?

The police cannot simply pull you over without some reason for doing so - however, they do have fairly broad discretion. Here are a few of the primary causes to stop a vehicle according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety's OVI Interdiction Handbook:

  1. Reasonable articulable suspicion (for example: driver is weaving across lanes);
  2. Probable cause (officer has a reasonable belief that a traffic offense has occurred);
  3. Anonymous tips (these must be reliable);
  4. Tips by identified citizens; and
  5. Sobriety checkpoints.

The Stop Itself - What to Expect

The officer will likely ask for your license, registration, and insurance card. He may then ask you to step out of the car and perform a series of tests. There are three tests (the One Leg Stand, the Walk and Turn, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus) that make up the Standardized Field Sobriety Test, although the officer may seek to administer others. These tests can assist the officer in determining whether you are impaired and may establish probable cause for an arrest. You are not required to submit to these tests.

The officer will determine whether he has probable cause to arrest you at this point and, if so, will likely do so. Probable cause for an arrest for driving under the influence can exist even without failing the field sobriety test, as it can be based on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, the smell of alcohol, the time and day, the driver's demeanor, and the driver's actions.


If you are placed under arrest, you will probably be transported to the police station where the police will collect your information. You will likely be asked at this time whether you will voluntarily submit to an evidential alcohol test (this can be either breath, blood, or urine). If you refuse the test, or if your blood alcohol content tests at or above 0.08%, your license will be immediately suspended. The length of suspension will depend on the circumstances of your case. In certain situations, your car may be impounded at this point, as well.

You will likely be placed in a holding cell or the Cleveland City Jail. Your next concern will be getting out. You can be released on your own recognizance or through bail. A release on your own recognizance means that you promise to appear in all court proceedings. Posting bail or providing an "appearance bond" provides money to make the same guarantee. Municipal court bonds are issued at the City Clerk of Courts Office.

Potential criminal penalties vary depending on the specific circumstances of your case. For example, for a first time conviction, an OVI is often considered a misdemeanor of the first degree, and an offender will be subject to jail time (or participation in a driver intervention program with probation), fines, and license suspension. The penalties increase with each subsequent violation.

Legal Proceedings

Defendants often turn to a defense attorney for help in criminal and/or administrative proceedings. Hearings (including arraignment, pre-trial, and trial if you proceed) will most likely be held at the Cleveland Municipal Court. A variety of defenses may be available against an OVI charge, and a skilled legal professional may be able to assist with determining what makes sense given the circumstances of a particular case.

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