Iowa prohibits operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) by drugs or alcohol. (Some people also refer to the offense as "driving under the influence" or "DUI.") But at what point is alcohol or drug consumption considered intoxication? And does "operation" require actual movement of the vehicle?
This article outlines how these terms are defined, the requirements for an OWI conviction, and the possible penalties an offender might face for an arrest or a conviction.
To convict a driver of an OWI in court, prosecutors must prove the driver was operating a vehicle:
In other words, an OWI conviction can be based on actual impairment or a failed BAC or drug test.
Iowa law defines operation to include being in immediate, actual physical control of a motor vehicle. Under this definition, a driver can be convicted of an OWI if the vehicle is either moving or the engine is running.
OWI charges are generally based on actual impairment or a test failure.
A driver is considered to be intoxicated when the consumption of drugs or alcohol affects his or her reasoning or mental ability, impairs his or her judgment, or causes the loss of control over bodily functions.
A driver with a BAC of .08% or more or who fails a drug test can be convicted of an OWI without proof of actual impairment. An OWI based on an illegal BAC or failed drug test is often called a "per se" offense. To get a per se conviction, the prosecutor will generally just need test results showing a BAC that's at least .08% or the driver had any amount of a controlled substance (such as methamphetamine, marijuana, or cocaine) in his or her system.
Drivers who have properly used prescription medications can't be convicted of a per se offense. However, prescription medications can still result in an impairment OWI conviction.
The penalties for an OWI conviction generally vary based on the number of prior convictions the driver has. Convictions that occurred more than 12 years prior generally won't be considered for sentencing purposes.
Generally, a first or second OWI conviction will be charged as a misdemeanor, but a third offense will be charged as a felony.
The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a misdemeanor OWI conviction in Iowa.
48 hours to 1 year
7 days to 2 years
$1,875 to $6,250
A third or subsequent OWI conviction in Iowa will be charged as a level D felony and carries 30 days to five years in prison and $3,125 to $9,375 in fines. The offender must also complete a court-ordered treatment program.
Impaired driving can result in a separate felony charge if it resulted in the loss of life. An OWI that results in a fatality can be charged as homicide-by-vehicle. As a class B felony, a conviction carries up to 25 years in prison and a six-year license revocation.
All drivers convicted of OWI must complete a substance abuse evaluation. The offender must then complete a drinking driver course or treatment program suited to their assessment results.
An offender who spends time at an inpatient treatment facility can generally receive credit toward any required jail time.
Depending on availability, the court can also order participation in the state's RESAPP program. This program includes an educational tour of a hospital or morgue to witness the harms that can result from impaired driving.
Judges generally place OWI offenders on probation as part of an OWI sentence. While on probation, offenders must comply with certain requirements (such as treatment and maintaining sobriety). Failure to comply can result in additional jail time.
Generally, offenders must serve the minimum required jail penalty before being placed on probation.
For any repeat OWI or OWI involving a revoked license, the judge can order that the offender's vehicle can be impounded and immobilized. The offender's vehicle will remain impounded or immobilized until the driver's license is reinstated or 180 days, whichever is longer.
An OWI offense will typically lead to license-related penalties. These penalties vary depending on the number of prior OWI-related incidents as well as the driver's cooperation with testing.
License-related penalties can result from an OWI arrest and/or conviction.
Iowa's "implied consent" law generally requires all drivers who are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence to submit to breath, blood or urine testing when requested to do so by an officer. While a driver can refuse to comply with the officer's requests, doing so will result in additional driver's license penalties.
When a driver refuses to take a chemical test, the officer will seize the driver's license and submit a report of the refusal to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV will then suspend the driver's license for:
Also, prosecutors can use the fact that a driver refused testing in court while trying to prove an OWI charge.
If a driver submits to testing and produces a BAC that's at least .08% or a drug test positive for controlled substances, the officer will seize the driver's license and submit a report to the DMV. The DMV will suspend the driver's license for:
A test result showing drugs or excessive alcohol will likely be used by the prosecution in court to prove the impairment of the driver.
All OWI convictions result in driver's license suspension. As part of sentencing, the court will order the driver's license be suspended for:
Drivers subject to both criminal and administrative suspensions are only required to complete the longer of the two. In other words, a test failure suspension won't stack with an OWI conviction suspension.
As a condition of probation, the judge can require the convicted person to install and maintain an ignition interlock device (IID) on all operated vehicles.
Generally, a driver can also voluntarily install an IID to obtain restricted driving privileges during the suspension period. To get a restricted license, the driver must submit an application, a $200 fee, and proof of a completed drinking driver education course.
In Iowa, drivers who are under 21 years of age are prohibited from driving with a BAC of .02% or more. While a violation is not a criminal offense, it will result in the loss of driving privileges.
When a driver under 21 produces a BAC test result of .02% or more, the officer will submit a report to the DMV. The DMV will then revoke the driver's license for:
The offender might also be required to complete the state's youthful offender substance abuse program. The program includes a substance abuse class, an evaluation, and possibly a supervised education tour of a hospital or morgue to witness the dangers of substance abuse.
Drivers facing a first-offense OWI can possibly get the charges dismissed by completing the state's deferred judgment program.
This program generally requires the payment of a $1,250 civil penalty and completion of a substance abuse treatment or education program and one year of probation. The driver's license will also be revoked for 30 to 90 days, but IID restricted driving privileges are generally available. Drivers who successfully complete the program can get the OWI charges completely dismissed (though it may be considered as a prior offense for future OWI charges).
Repeat offenders, drivers who refused testing, and drivers with a BAC of .15% or more are not eligible for deferral.
Consult with an attorney regarding your case to determine if you are eligible for deferral or other first-offender options. Even if you aren't eligible for any of these programs or options, a qualified OWI lawyer can help you decide on the best course of action.