Does Ohio law permit officers to seize and impound a vehicle following a DUI arrest if the driver is a first offender? No. The mere fact the driver is being arrested for DUI / OVI does not legally justify the tow and impoundment of a vehicle. Of course, if the vehicle is blocking traffic or some other legitimate reason to tow the vehicle exists, then Ohio law permits the tow and impound of the vehicle.
However, many police officers believe that they can tow and impound a vehicle following a first offense DUI arrest. Even if the vehicle is parked in a parking lot, the driver's driveway, or otherwise legally parked.
R.C. 4511.195 controls DUI seizures and impounds of vehicles. R.C. 4511.195 requires law enforcement officers to seize and immobilize
the vehicles of persons who have been arrested for a second offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol ("OVI") and up. Not a first offense. If the vehicle was otherwise lawfully parked and the officer still tows it, it is my opinion that the police department has to pay the tow and impound fee. Not our client.
R.C. 4511.195 (D) states:
(4) If the impoundment of the vehicle was not authorized under this
section, the court shall order that the vehicle and its license plates be
returned immediately to the arrested person or, if the arrested person is
not the vehicle owner, to the vehicle owner, and shall order that the state
or political subdivision of the law enforcement agency served by the law
enforcement officer who seized the vehicle pay all expenses and charges
incurred in its removal and storage.