The Difference between DUI, OVI, Physical Control of a Vehicle While Impaired and Public Intoxication

Every state has their own laws for those alleged to be driving under the influence of alcohol. The common name for this charge is “Driving Under the Influence” (DUI). But in Ohio it is known as “Operating a Vehicle While Impaired” (OVI).  Although still commonly referred to as DUI, the Ohio legislature changed the name to OVI in 2003 to better reflect the widened scope of the law, which now specifically includes drug use.

Under current Ohio law, an OVI charge requires that a driver actually operate the vehicle while impaired.  Operation is defined as causing the movement of vehicle.  This is a change from the law prior to 2003 when a driver could receive a DUI for simply sitting in a car with the keys within the driver’s reach.  It is still an offense, however, to sit behind the wheel of a vehicle while impaired.  At the same time the OVI offense was clarified, the Ohio legislature created the new offense of Physical Control of a Motor Vehicle While Impaired (Physical Control).  The idea behind a Physical Control offense is that a vehicle is a dangerous instrumentality much like a firearm which should not be possessed by an impaired person.  While similar to an OVI in many ways, a Physical Control offense does not carry many of the mandatory penalties and license suspensions required by an OVI conviction.

The interplay between the offenses of OVI and Physical Control can lead to interesting issues in defending these charges.  In a “typical” OVI situation, a citizen who is observed by an officer actually driving a vehicle is certain to be charged with OVI.  But consider the situation of a citizen who exits a bar and decides he should not drive.  He sits behind the wheel of the car and waits to feel safe to drive.  That citizen would likely be charged with Physical Control.  But some drivers are found stopped on the side of the road.  This presents a difficult choice for the officer who never observed any impaired driving.  Was the driver impaired while actually driving or did he or she stop because they were fatigued or felt the effects of alcohol increasing?  Officers will often charge an OVI in these situations which arguably should have been charged as a Physical Control.  Many clients have been found not guilty of such an OVI offense because the officer chose to charge an OVI as opposed to a simpler offense of Physical Control.

Ohioans should be aware that drug and alcohol use can still have legal ramifications even if you decide not to drive.  While the rules vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, Ohio does not have a state law making public intoxication a crime.  Instead, public intoxication in Ohio is typically prosecuted as Disorderly Conduct which requires an individual to display offensive, dangerous, or turbulent behavior whether under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance or not.  Just being under the influence is not enough to support a charge for Disorderly Conduct.