Child Endangerment Can Increase Ohio OVI Criminal Penalties

Ohio, like all other states, does not allow operation of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In addition, Ohio courts can enhance the sentence for operating a vehicle while impaired, or OVI, if a child under the age of 18 is in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

One Ohio woman was recently accused of such an enhanced OVI crime. Allegedly, Mindy Sotak was operating her vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. She backed into another vehicle while exiting a local WalMart parking lot. An officer was at the scene addressing another issue and attempted to stop Ms. Sotak when she tried to leave.

When the defendant finally pulled over she refused field sobriety tests. At the time, she had her two children, ages three and five, in the car with her. She was charged with drunk driving, child endangerment, leaving the scene of the accident and failure to comply.

OVI and Child Endangerment

Under Ohio state law, no person can create a “substantial risk to the health or safety of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support.” The child endangerment statute specifically includes operation of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol within the definition of child endangerment when one or more children under 18 are passengers at the time.

The child-endangerment crime is in addition to the underlying OVI offense, so a drunk driver can be found guilty of two crimes in the same legal proceeding for the same drunk-driving incident. Ohio law provides that the child-endangerment crime under these circumstances is considered a second OVI for punishment and sentencing purposes.

Ohio OVI Penalties

Criminal penalties for OVI include both prison time and monetary fines. Most first-time OVIs bring from three days to six months in prison, and potential fines from $375 to $1,075. In addition, the penalty may also include a license suspension (with possible restricted plates or a car immobilizing device), restitution, a drivers’ intervention program, treatment or classes. Sanctions are enhanced accordingly for multiple offenses.

The addition of a child-endangerment crime allows the court to consider there to be two – not just one – DUI offenses, meaning a corresponding increase in the severity of penalties.

The sanctions associated with OVI and related child endangerment charges are serious. In addition, such charges on your record can make it difficult to find employment and a place to live, to say nothing of the personal challenges related to remorse and stigma.

If you or a loved one is charged with OVI or a similar crime, it is important to take the charge seriously. Contact an experienced Ohio drunk driving defense attorney to discuss your options.