Q.: I was arrested for drunk driving for the first time last night, and the officer took my license. When can I get my license back?
A.: It depends. If you submitted to a test to determine your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and your BAC was under the legal limit, the officer should not have taken your license, and it should be returned to you immediately. If the officer did not ask you to take a BAC test (if, for example, the test could not be administered), the law requires the officer to turn your license over to the court for disposition at your initial appearance. Your license may be returned to you at the initial appearance or, in some cases, the court may impose a suspension of your driving privileges under a “public safety” suspension.
If your BAC was at or above the legal limit, you have been placed under an Administrative License Suspension (ALS) for 90 days. The duration of the suspension will be lengthened if you are convicted of OVI (drunk driving). If you refused to submit to a BAC test, the ALS will be extended to one year, but if you are convicted of OVI, the length of this “refusal” suspension may be shortened. If you are convicted of OVI, the court must suspend your license for a minimum of six months and may suspend it for a maximum of three years.
Q.: When can I drive again?
A.: If you did not refuse to submit to a BAC test, and your BAC was not at or above the legal limit, you most likely were not placed under an ALS and you should be able to drive immediately. If, however, you submitted to a test and your BAC was at or above the legal limit, you will not be eligible for even limited driving privileges for 15 days from the date of arrest.
If you refused to submit to a BAC test, you are not eligible for driving privileges for 30 days from the date of arrest. The time during which the court cannot grant driving privileges is commonly referred to as a “hard” suspension. In many courts, the judge will not grant privileges at any time before the case ends if you refused to submit to a BAC test.
If granted, the limited privileges are valid for the remainder of the suspension.
Q.: What kind of privileges can I get after my ”hard” suspension is over?
A.: Under Ohio law, the judge has broad discretion in determining whether or not to grant privileges, but the scope of the privileges is usually limited to occupational, educational, vocational and medical purposes, or for taking a driver’s license examination and attending court-ordered treatment.
Q.: Can I get privileges that go beyond work and work-related trips?
A.: It is possible, depending upon the judge’s interpretation of the law. A liberal reading of the law permits the court to grant limited privileges for a variety of reasons, while a strict reading does not.
Q.: I need to drive to and during work tomorrow. Can I get the court to take away the “hard” suspension?
A.: A judge cannot grant privileges before the end of the “hard” suspension, but an ALS can be “stayed” (put on hold) by the court until the final disposition of the case. This would allow you to drive while the suspension is on hold. If you are subsequently convicted of OVI, the judge must impose the full suspension including the “hard suspension,” and must give you credit for all of the days you have already spent under suspension, including credit for the “hard” suspension.
Q.: I refused to take the chemical test when I was stopped, but I was obviously drunk. Now I wish I’d taken the test, since I know the penalty will be less severe. Can I somehow undo my refusal and the one-year suspension that goes with it?
A.: Possibly. If you plead “guilty” or “no contest” to the OVI charge, then your refusal to submit to the chemical test is set aside (“vacated”). The judge, by law, must impose a court suspension for a period between six months and three years on a first OVI conviction. In most cases, the judge will impose the lesser six-month suspension and will grant credit for any time already served under the initial ALS suspension. This may shorten the suspension, but you will have an OVI conviction on your record. The length of the suspension should not be the sole factor in deciding whether or not to plead guilty. n most cases, having an OVI conviction on your record is much worse than having your license suspended.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by attorney Darrell M. Crosgrove of Crosgrove Law Offices in Toledo, and attorney Jon J. Saia, a partner in the Columbus law firm, Saia & Piatt, Inc. It was updated by attorney Jon J. Saia.