Drunk Driving Laws in Iowa Explained

It can happen to anyone.  You have a few too many drinks at dinner or a party.  Then you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror on the drive home.  If the police officer suspects intoxication, you may be charged with a DUI and face severe penalties.

Given the grave consequences of a DUI, everyone should be aware of their rights and responsibilities under the law.

What is a DUI in Iowa?

From a legal standpoint, Iowa refers to DUI as OWI, which stands for “operating while intoxicated.”  Iowa defines OWI as operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.  Specifically, Iowa law applies a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 as the legal limit.  Iowa law also makes it illegal to drive with the presence of even the smallest amount of controlled substances in your body.

Is OWI a Felony in Iowa?

Iowa employs a tiered system for OWI offenses.  In certain circumstances, OWI charges can rise to level of a felony in Iowa.

Below is a breakdown of the charges and penalties for OWI in Iowa:

  • First Offense: Constitutes a serious misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of $1,250.00.
    • The judge has discretion to waive $625 or less of the fine in the event the defendant obtains his/her restored driving privileges; or, the judge may assign community service in lieu of a fine.
    • Offenders must serve at least 48 hours in jail, unless the defendant receives a deferred judgment.
    • Offenders are also responsible for completing substance abuse education and treatment courses.
  • Second Offense: Constitutes an aggravated misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine between $1,875 and $6,250.
    • Offenders must serve at least seven days in jail.
    • Offenders are also responsible for completing substance abuse education and treatment courses.
  • Third Offense and Beyond: Constitutes a Class D felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine between $3,125 and $9,375.
    • Offenders must serve at least 30 days in jail.
    • Offenders are also responsible for completing substance abuse education and treatment courses.

 What to do if You are Stopped by Police Suspecting OWI?

First and foremost, no one should drink and drive.  That much is clear.  But whether or not you were drinking and driving, police can still pull you over.  In such cases, it is important to remember your constitutional rights.  You should cooperate with law enforcement, while also declining to incriminate yourself.  You have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Use it.  It is also advisable to ask for an attorney as soon as possible.

Should I take the breath test?

This is probably the most difficult question that an arrested person for OWI must consider.  In Iowa, a person is not required to take the breath test.  However, if a person refuses the breath test, there will be severe consequences to the person’s ability to quickly restore their drivers license.  If a person takes the breath test, and blows over the legal limit, it is the most damning evidence in the case.

The best advice – speak to an attorney prior to your decision on whether or not to take the breath test.  Everyone’s situation is different (have you ever been convicted of OWI before? how much did you have to drink? how did you perform on the sobriety tests at the scene? etc.), and an attorney knowledgeable in the law can assist you in making the best decision.  In Iowa, you have the absolute right to consult with an attorney prior to making the breath test decision, whether you consult with the attorney by phone or in person.

 How Long Does it Take for OWI to Drop Off Your Record in Iowa?

If you are convicted of OWI, that conviction will remain on your record for sentencing purposes for 12 years in Iowa. Stated otherwise, if OWI convictions happen less than 12 years apart, the sentences and penalties will be enhanced to a 2nd or 3rd offense if you are arrested again.  An OWI conviction will be a part of your permanent criminal record.

Five Reasons Why an Attorney Can Help With OWI

If you are on the fence about seeking legal counsel, consider that an experienced DUI/OWI attorney can help you by:

  • Explaining intricate DUI/OWI laws,
  • Defending your rights in court, including attacking the validity of the traffic stop;
  • Helping you quickly restore your drivers license;
  • Helping you obtain a work permit if you are unable to restore your drivers license, and,
  • Helping you win your case if you are forced to go to trial.

Do You Have Questions for an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney?

Facing charges for DUI/OWI can be scary.  With harsh penalties and jail time, not to mention social stigma, DUI/OWI charges can turn your life inside out.  That is why it is vital to seek counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney.  That way you have a champion in your corner to help you navigate toward an effective resolution.

If you have questions about DUI/OWI or other criminal offenses, the Law Office of Raphael M. Scheetz is available to assist you. Serving the Iowa community, you can contact us by calling 800-450-3140 (toll free) or 319-378-7416, emailing info@scheetzlaw.com, or completing an electronic form on our website.


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