Physical Control v. Reckless Operation - 5/12/2017

Prosecutors sometimes will present a client a plea offer involving a reduced charge called “physical control.” Physical control is being in control of a car while you are impaired. It is a zero point violation under Ohio law and does not require a mandatory driver’s license suspension. Physical control is often presented in conjunction with reckless operation. Read the following article to determine which is more advantageous.

“Physical control” involves being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A close reading of this definition will reveal that you do not have to be driving or operating the vehicle to be charged with physical control. An example can be found in the case of Cincinnati v. Kelley, where the court found that a person who is in the driver’s position of the front seat of a vehicle with possession of the vehicle’s keys is in “physical control” of the vehicle.

The definition of “vehicle” can be found in ORC 4511.01(A), which states that a vehicle is defined as “every device, including a motorized bicycle, in, upon, or by which any person or property may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except that “’vehicle”’ does not include any motorized wheelchair, any electronic personal assistive mobility device, and device that is moved by power collected from overhead electric trolley wires, or that is used exclusive upon stationary rails or tracks, or any device, other than a bicycle, that is moved by human power.”

Thus, a person can be convicted of physical control of a bicycle, but not a unicycle or tricycle. This same logic applies to Ohio’s DUI/OVI (drunk driving) statue, ORC 4511.19.

“Operate” is defined in ORC 4511.01(HHH) as “to cause or have caused movement.” However, State v. Adams held that slumping over the wheel of a vehicle while the vehicle is running is operating a vehicle. A case that offers an excellent discussion of how to define “operation” is State v. Mackie, where the defendant’s vehicle was stuck in the snow and incapable of movement. The defendant’s conviction was reversed due to insufficient evidence demonstrating intoxication while the vehicle was operable.

Now that we have discussed the statutory definition of physical control, what are the penalties for a physical control conviction in Ohio. Physical control is a 1st degree misdemeanor in Ohio, which carries a maximum 6 months in jail, $1000 fine, and a driver’s license suspension of up to 1 year. Unlike a reckless operation charge, physical control carries zero points on your Ohio driver’s license. In addition to these penalties, the court may require that you attend a 3-day driver’s intervention program. Another benefit of physical control (and reckless operation) is that a prior DUI/OVI conviction will trigger enhanced minimum penalties for future DUI/OVI conviction, but a prior physical control conviction will not trigger the enhanced penalties for future DUI/OVI convictions.

Reckless operation in Ohio can be charged as one of several types of offenses when dealing with the operation of a vehicle with willful or wanton disregard to persons or property. Reckless operation is often charged under ORC 4511.20, but it can be charged under ORC 4511.201 (reckless operation while off-road) and ORC 1547.07 (while on a watercraft).

The statutory definition of ORC 4511.20 is as follows:

  1. No person shall operate a vehicle, trackless trolley, or streetcar on any street or highway in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property.
  2. Except as otherwise provided in this division, whoever violates this section is guilty of a minor misdemeanor. If, within one year of the offense, the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to one predicate motor vehicle or traffic offense, whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. If, within one year of the offense, the offender previously has been convicted of two or more predicate motor vehicle or traffic offenses, whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree.

If you have been arrested for DUI/OVI near Bowling Green, Ohio, contact Potter Law Office to discuss your case. Attorney Skip Potter is an experienced DUI/OVI attorney who will speak with you about the facts of your case and vigorously defend you and your ability to drive. Don’t face the serious consequences and repercussions of a DUI/OVI charge alone. Contact us now.



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