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OWI in Iowa

What is an OWI in Iowa?

The term OWI is an acronym for "Operating While Intoxicated". In Iowa, an OWI refers to the offense of driving while under the influence of intoxicants.

According to Iowa driving laws, it is illegal for individuals to drive if they have ingested inebriating substances or controlled narcotics. The law also specifies a permissible blood-alcohol content for drivers operating on state roads and highways. Hence, aside from operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, an individual commits an OWI offense when operating a car with an alcohol concentration above the legal limit.

OWI convictions in Iowa can be significant enough to have long-term consequences on defendants. The courts and the Department of Transportation typically impose substantial fines, jail time, and license suspension or revocation on defendants. Aside from these, a conviction of this sort may impact the offender's employment eligibility, insurance rates, and reputation, especially where the conviction is included on the offender's Iowa criminal record.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and an OWI in Iowa?

Iowa refers to drunk or drugged driving as "Operating While Intoxicated" (OWI). Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated is unlawful in the state, so the abbreviation OWI is used. Because Iowa uses the term "operating" rather than "driving," its drunk driving laws are more extensive than some states in the country.

While some states prohibit driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI), Iowa prohibits operating while intoxicated, which refers to being in physical control of a moving or running motor vehicle. As a result, a person does not have to be driving a vehicle to be charged with an OWI. If the vehicle engine is running and someone is intoxicated, they may be charged with an OWI.

In Iowa, an OWI charge applies to any motor vehicle. It is not limited to automobiles, motorbikes, or mopeds. It can apply if the vehicle has a motor, wheels, and an individual controls it. Examples are motorized bicycles, lawnmowers, or farm machinery with wheels that move in response to an operator's input.

Regardless, DUI and OWI are both acronyms for drunk driving offenses and essentially mean the same thing.

Iowa OWI Laws

Iowa's OWI laws are stated in Chapter 321J of the Iowa State Code. Per these laws, an individual is guilty of an OWI offense when a driver is found under the influence of alcohol or drugs or with alcohol in their blood, breath, or urine exceeding a particular limit. The OWI laws apply if a driver:

  • Has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or more (or .04 or more for a commercial vehicle driver)
  • Has trace amounts of a controlled substance in their system, as determined by blood or urine tests. If someone used illegal drugs a week or two ago and it is still in their bloodstream, they can be charged with an OWI if they do a urine test and it comes up positive for that drug.
  • Mixes alcohol and prescription medications; an individual may be charged with an OWI if they misuse or abuse their prescription drugs.

It is worth noting that, like most states in the US, Iowa has a "zero tolerance" policy for drivers under the age of 21. The state reduces the BAC limit for these drivers to .02 to discourage driving while intoxicated.

Aside from driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or more, or with any level of a controlled substance in one's system, a driver may be charged with OWI if they are genuinely impaired while driving. A judge or jury may believe the driver was under the influence with:

  • Evidence indicating the driver's reasoning or mental ability was disturbed
  • Indications of impaired judgment
  • Visible signals of heightened emotions
  • Loss of bodily control over actions or movements

Iowa's OWI laws also mandate consent to OWI tests. Hence, any driver who travels on Iowa highways consents to an OWI test. As a result, all motorists in Iowa are presumed to have consented to the withdrawal of blood, breath, or urine specimens to test for alcohol concentration or the presence of a prohibited substance. The driver's license will be suspended for a year upon a refusal to take this chemical test.

OWI Penalties in Iowa

After an OWI arrest in Iowa, administrative (license-related) punishments are often imposed on the offender. The penalties largely depend on the case's circumstances, such as the driver's BAC level, driver's age, harm or damage caused, the number of previous offenses, etc. Common administrative penalties include license revocations by the Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), temporary restricted licenses, and ignition interlock devices.

In addition to the administrative sanctions, if an offender is convicted of an OWI in a state court, the individual will face criminal consequences such as incarceration, fines, community service, substance abuse evaluation and treatment, probation, etc. The penalties might be harsher if the driver was previously convicted of OWI. OWI penalties for first convictions are less severe than for second and subsequent offenses.

Additionally, the penalties for OWI convictions that result in severe injury or death may be heightened. For instance, If an intoxicated driver causes another person to suffer significant harm, the offender's license will be revoked for one more year, in addition to possible jail time and hefty fines. If a drunk driver kills someone else, the offender's driver's license will be revoked for six years.

Iowa's OWI laws also assess penalties based on if a person is a commercial driver or not. A non-commercial driver, for example, can only be arrested for OWI if their blood alcohol content is 0.8 or below. On the other hand, a commercial driver, such as a school bus driver, maybe arrested if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.04 or higher.

A commercial driver may face harsher fines in addition to other penalties associated with violating Iowa's OWI legislation. For instance, a commercial driver convicted of OWI while driving any vehicle will be barred from operating a commercial vehicle for a year. The disqualification period would be three years if the person were driving a commercial vehicle and transporting hazardous chemicals at the time.

Vehicle operators under the age of 21 are also served by the state OWI laws. The legislation states that any driver under 21 with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .02 percent or more is driving under the influence. An underage driver who commits an OWI will serve all the penalties that apply to their offense and have their driver's license revoked according to the regulations that apply to adult offenders. However, the underage driver will have to wait at least 60 days before applying for a restricted license.

Finally, a judge may order a $500 emergency response restitution for each agency summoned to the intoxicated driver's scene. Firefighters, police, ambulances, medical care, and other emergency services are examples of emergency services.

What Happens When You Get a DUI in Iowa?

All drunk driving charges in Iowa are addressed as OWIs (operating while intoxicated), not DUIs (driving under the influence). Iowa uses a tiered structure for OWI crimes (first, second, third offense, etc.). Thus, OWI charges, while ordinarily misdemeanors, can become felonies if the offender has a certain number of OWI convictions.

To establish whether the present charge is a first, second, or subsequent violation, the Iowa Department of Transportation considers drunk driving license suspensions within the last 12 years. The state court considers prior OWI convictions. The number of previous convictions and license suspensions determine the type of penalties an offender will incur.

What Happens When You Get an OWI for the First Time in Iowa?

A first offense of OWI in Iowa is considered a serious misdemeanor. A minimum sentence of 48 hours in prison and a maximum sentence of one year in prison are possible penalties. The court may also enforce a $1,250 fine. However, if the offender caused no bodily or property damage and presented the court with a temporary limited license, the court may dismiss up to $625 of the fine penalty. Also, the offender's license can be revoked for a minimum of 180 days and a maximum of one year.

If the first-time offender is under 21, they may be ordered to attend Iowa's Substance Abuse Awareness Program for Young Offenders. The program includes an information session and a substance abuse consultation. It may also include a supervised educational visit to a hospital or emergency care center that often receives victims of traffic accidents or a visit to a morgue to get suitable instructional material and training regarding the harm caused by intoxicants.

A first-time offender may also be eligible for a temporary restricted license (TRL), which allows them to drive while their driver's license is suspended. However, every car they own or operate must have an ignition interlock device installed (IID). The device must be installed throughout the TRL period. However, if a first-time offender took a breath test at the time of arrest, had a blood alcohol level of less than .05 percent, had no prior DUIs, and did not cause any personal or property damage, the court may defer their punishment.

What is the Penalty for a Second OWI in Iowa?

A second OWI offense is considered an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine ranging from $1,875 to $6,250. Those who fall into this group must serve at least seven days in jail and complete a substance abuse education and treatment program. OWI offenders are often placed on probation after completing the prescribed treatment program.

The court can also order the seizure or impoundment of the vehicle used to commit an OWI offense if a person is found guilty for the second or subsequent time. Additionally, non-commercial drivers face a one-year license revocation period for a second conviction. These offenders may still apply for a temporary restricted license in the revocation term. However, suppose a commercial driver is convicted of OWI for the second time. In that case, the individual will be barred from operating a commercial vehicle for life, with the possibility of a reduction to ten years.

What Happens After a Third OWI in Iowa?

A third or subsequent OWI conviction in Iowa is a Class D felony. A maximum term of five years in jail and a fine of $3,125 to $9,375 are the penalties for this crime. These offenders must serve a mandatory minimum of 30 days in prison. They must also complete substance abuse education and treatment sessions and give up their driver's license for six years.

How Long Does an OWI Stay on Your Record in Iowa?

Per the Iowa Department of Transportation, an OWI violation will remain on a driver's record for 12 years. This may increase the cost of the driver's vehicle insurance and exclude them from specific jobs.

OWI Expungement in Iowa

The procedure in which a judge or the court clears or seals a criminal conviction is known as an expungement. In Iowa, there is no legal way to have a prior OWI conviction expunged unless an offender applies for and receives a pardon from the Governor. However, an OWI charge can be expunged if the offender received a deferred judgment, completed probation, and paid any incurred fines.

The court may grant someone a deferred judgment and place them on probation under Iowa Code Section 907.3. The court will discharge a person from probation without entering a conviction if the person completes the probation.

In Iowa, a person is not eligible for a deferred judgment after being arrested for operating while intoxicated if:

  • They refused to submit to chemical testing
  • They have been convicted of operating while intoxicated in the state or another
  • They have received a deferred judgment for operating while intoxicated in this state or another state
  • A person other than the accused was injured as a result of the offense
  • The chemical alcohol test obtained by the police was over .15 percent

Even if a person can remove an OWI conviction from a court record, the expungement order may not affect public records, including information from the press, Google, social media, public police records, etc. In addition, the DOT is independent of the state court system. As a result, an expungement will not erase the conviction from a driver's record.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First OWI in Iowa?

Although a first OWI offense is considered less severe than a subsequent OWI offense, offenders are still likely to spend time in jail. However, it is only for a short period compared to other OWI crimes. The mandatory minimum jail sentence for a first OWI offense is two days, and the maximum is a year.

What is the Average Cost of OWI in Iowa?

OWI convictions in Iowa come with a hefty price tag. These convictions have more stringent financial penalties than other offenses in the state. A first DUI conviction in Iowa may cost upwards of $5,000. The following are the financial repercussions of a first-time OWI conviction in Iowa, excluding legal fees:

  • Up to $1,600 in fines and fees, including a $1,250 fine and a $437.50 surcharge (35% of the fine).
  • $125 for a substance abuse evaluation program overseen by the DOT.
  • $1,200 to $1,500 in additional car insurance rates for at least three years.
  • $325 for probation (varies from county to county)
  • $100 in court costs (if the only charge filed is an OWI)
  • $200 for license reinstatement

For the legal fees, a criminal defense attorney may cost anywhere from $1,500 to $20,000, depending on the case and attorney. Also, the offender may accrue more expenses if they have to commute without their vehicle when their license is revoked or their vehicle is impounded.

How Much is Bail for an OWI in Iowa?

In general, Iowa law provides that an arrested individual may be freed from detention under specific conditions, provided the release is done according to pretrial release procedures or a bond schedule approved by the judicial council. However, the law is only applicable when the following requirements are met:

  • The individual was arrested for an offense other than a forcible felony.
  • The court is not in session.

The judicial officer has discretion in setting bonds based on the circumstances specified in Iowa Code, Section 811.2. However, the officer is not limited by the Judicial Council's uniform bond schedule. The following bond schedule became effective on July 1, 2017:

  • Class B felony: $25,000
  • Class C Felony: $10,000
  • Class D felony: $5,000
  • Aggravated misdemeanor: $2,000
  • Serious misdemeanor: $1,000
  • Simple misdemeanor: $300

Regardless, even if a person arrested on OWI charges posts bond, many Iowa counties and law enforcement agencies will not discharge them unless they give a breath sample that is less than .08 percent. In such circumstances, the arrestee will be detained until the next day or until taken to court the next day (if the court is in session), except they are no longer over the legal limit of .08 percent.

How to Get My License Back After an OWI in Iowa?

In Iowa, a person's driver's license can be suspended by the Department of Transportation when such a person refuses or fails a chemical test or is found guilty of an OWI.

It is best to engage a driver's license reinstatement attorney in Iowa to request a hearing and representation after getting a suspension notice. The hearing is held to assess whether the Department of Transportation has enough evidence to suspend the offender's Iowa driver's license. If the offender wins at the hearing, the license will be reinstated.

However, if the hearing was unsuccessful or no hearing was requested, the OWI offender's license will be suspended according to the law. When this suspension period expires, the affected party must reapply for an Iowa driver's license. This involves paying the related fines and complying with the requirements of the court and the Department of Transportation. For instance, the offender must complete a drunk driver's education course, pay the treatment cost ($180), pay the $200 reinstatement fee, and retake the driver's examination exams.

How Does an OWI Affect Your Life in Iowa?

Whether it is a first, second, or third OWI offense, an OWI can impact a person's life long term. A conviction may not destroy a person's life, but it can negatively impact work prospects, auto insurance rates, and professional relationships. Some of these consequences include:

  • Public exposure, as these records are open to the public.
  • Thousands of dollars in fines and several years in prison if convicted
  • Revocation of driver's license and driving privileges
  • Appearance on a criminal background check impairing the offender's employment possibilities and professional progress.
  • Insurance companies perceive an OWI offender as a "high-risk driver," resulting inexpensive auto insurance rates.

Although a misdemeanor OWI conviction may not bring up the same problems as a felony conviction, it can still impact a person's life. A felony conviction, on the other hand, is the most serious classification of a crime. In almost every scenario, a felony conviction will result in a heavy incarceration sentence. Also, a person convicted of a felony will forfeit rights generally taken for granted, including the right to vote and own weapons, among other fundamental liberties.

Can You Get Fired for an OWI in Iowa?

The stigma associated with an OWI arrest or conviction in Iowa can destroy an individual's professional reputation and lead to employment issues. OWI convictions show up on criminal background checks and may make it difficult for an offender to obtain a professional license. DUI conviction may also lead to job loss, depending on the employer, the offense's nature and severity, and the job type.

How Do I Find OWI Checkpoints in Iowa?

Sobriety checkpoints are permitted under federal law to maintain safer roadways, but states are free to utilize them or not. In Iowa, though roadblocks are permitted, the use of sobriety (or OWI) checkpoints is not. Iowa deems such checkpoints as unconstitutional. As such, law enforcement in the state cannot establish them.

Nonetheless, state law allows law enforcement authorities to set up emergency vehicle barriers in response to immediate dangers to the public's health, safety, or welfare. They may also conduct routine vehicle roadblocks to ensure:

  • The licensing of motor vehicle operators
  • The registration of motor vehicles
  • The required safety equipment for motor vehicles, etc.

Which is Worse, DUI vs. OWI?

In Iowa, a drunk driving offense is referred to as an OWI. The state does not use the DUI term or any other impaired driving term (e.g., DWI or Driving While Intoxicated, or OUI or Operating While Under the Influence). However, these terms all describe drunk or drugged driving offenses.

An OWI conviction in Iowa has severe implications. A first offense is considered a serious misdemeanor, a second offense is an aggravated misdemeanor, and a third offense is a felony.