Under Ohio law, you can be charged with OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) if you are pulled over while driving and have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher.

You may also be charged with OVI if your BAC is below 0.8%, but the police believe they have probable cause to believe you’re impaired because of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of them.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for prosecutors to get a conviction. There are many effective defenses to OVI in Ohio. In practice, unless you plead guilty, or do something dumb like waive your right to remain silent and start flapping your gums talking to the cops and accidentally admit to it, law enforcement and prosecutors need to have all their ducks in a row in order to get a conviction to stick.

If your blood alcohol level is slightly under 0.8%, or only  or slightly above that level, and it’s your first offense, the prosecutor may be willing to cut you a break and let you plead guilty to a lesser offense.

They may also accept a plea deal if there are other problems with the case that put a conviction into doubt.

Doing a plea deal, allowing a driver arrested for DUI to plead down to a reckless driving charge or other lesser offense, may benefit both sides: For prosecutors, a plea deal gets a marginal case off his or her desk, and protects that attorney’s statistics. No DA wants to take a case to court, expend spend a lot of taxpayer money, and then lose the case.

If that happens too often, they won’t be a prosecutor for long.

If the prosecution has a strong case (for instance, if you failed to shut your trap and call a lawyer and instead tried to argue your way out of the arrest) you may not be offered a wet reckless plea.

They also probably won’t offer a plea deal if you hurt someone or damaged property after you were drinking and driving.


What is “Wet Reckless?” in Ohio?

There’s no specific “wet reckless” statute in Ohio – or in any other state. The term “wet reckless” is simply lawyer shorthand for an ordinary reckless driving charge that (probably) involves alcohol.

Usually, “wet reckless” pleas result in convictions under the Reckless Operation statute, Ohio Revised Code 4511.20 (Operation in Willful or Wanton Disregard of the Safety of Persons or Property)

Ohio OVI convictions are much more serious and carry harsher potential punishments than reckless driving charges.

So if you can’t afford a DUI conviction, or if you don’t think you’re going to be able to beat an OVI charge, having your attorney convince prosecutors to reduce your OVI charge to “wet reckless” may be your best strategy.

What are the Penalties for Wet Reckless vs. OVI in Ohio?

The maximum penalties for a wet reckless conviction (technically, reckless driving) are much less severe than they are for an OVI charge. Of course, it’s better to beat the charge altogether. But if that’s not in the cards, a reduction to a wet reckless plea is much preferable to taking the hit for drunk driving in Ohio.

It’s not just a matter of avoiding the maximum possible penalties for an Ohio OVI (although that’s important, too!) OVI charges have mandatory minimums. The judge can’t go below those minimums just because she likes you.

Getting a plea down to a Reckless Operation charge from an OVI allows you to avoid the OVI mandatory minimums. That gives the judge and prosecutors much more flexibility for leniency for a first-time, low-severity offender.

Also, OVI convictions for offenders 18 years of age or older cannot be expunged or sealed in Ohio. Once an OVI conviction is on your record, it stays there. Which can problems with future employers, creditors, landlords, and others.

The Ohio Civil Lookback Period

It used to be that Ohio only looked back six years when determining whether someone was a first-time or second-time offender. But in 2017, the Ohio legislature increased the state civil lookback period to ten years. That means that if you have an OVI conviction on the record at any time within the last ten years, you’ll be considered a 2nd-time offender in Ohio, and subject to much tougher penalties for an OVI.

For example, if you’re convicted of a third OVI offense within ten years, Ohio law mandates the criminal forfeiture of your vehicle.

If you own the vehicle, this penalty can have devastating financial consequences for you and your family.


Ohio Drunk Driver License Plates

Ohio is one of a handful of states that requires certain individuals convicted of OVI to use “Scarlet Letter” license plate. This is a special red-and-yellow license plate that indicates to everyone else in the world that you (or someone in your household, anyway) has been convicted of a DUI offense in Ohio.

Ohio OVI Effect on Car Insurance Rates

Once you’re convicted of an OVI in Ohio, or in any state, for that matter, you can expect your car insurance rates to go up. Some carriers will even drop you.

But not every insurance company treats an OVI the same. Some companies are more tolerant of SR 22 insurance filings and riskier drivers on their books than others. Car insurance premiums after an OVI will vary dramatically between carriers.

That’s why it’s vital to shop around for SR22 and OVI car insurance. The difference between one carrier and another could be worth thousands of dollars per year.

According to research from Forbes, the average car insurance premium nationwide after an OVI  conviction in Ohio is 95%. If they don’t cancel or reject your application outright!

For most drivers, the number one mistake they make after getting convicted of a DUI or requesting an SR 22 insurance filing is just taking the rate increase their current car insurance company sticks them with, and not shopping around to five, ten, or twelve different carriers doing business in Ohio.

Another related mistake is using a car insurance agent that is captive to a single company. Many car insurance companies – including “household names” that advertise heavily, use a captive sales force that can only write business for one single company.

And then, knowing that these agents’ clients aren’t shopping around much, and assuming their loyalty, they jack up premiums.

In contrast, we’re an independent car insurance broker that specializes in the high-risk/DUI market.

By going through an independent car insurance broker rather than a captive agent, and looking at all the alternatives, you can probably save a lot of money by going through a specialist.

To start the process today, just click here, and fill out a brief online form to get quotes from multiple insurance carriers.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the road!

Steve “Mr. Insurance” Ludwig
CEO, Select Insurance Group


For Further Reading

Ohio Revised Code, Section 4511.19 | Operating vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs – OVI 

What Does a DUI Cost? 

Six Cheap DUI Car Insurance Mistakes High Risk Drivers Make

Ohio Broad Form Car Insurance – Can It Save You Money?