WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT Iowa OWI Laws
If you have been arrested for Operating While Intoxicated, contact an attorney immediately to assist you. An arrest for an OWI results in the State taking action against you in criminal court and in civil proceeding.
In criminal court:
- An OWI First Offense is a serious misdemeanor. Punishment includes:
- Imprisonment up to one year
- 48 hours in jail
- Pay a minimum fine of $1,250.00
Additionally, the State in a civil proceeding can:
- Revoke your driver’s licenses for up to 180 days if you fail the breath test
- Revoke your driver’s license for 1 year if you refuse the breath test
- Deny you a work permit for up to 30 days depending on breath results
If you have previously been convicted of OWI or had your license suspended due to an alcohol violation, the criminal punishment and civil penalties can increase dramatically. A new OWI, when enhanced by prior OWI convictions can result in an Aggravated Misdemeanor (2 years in prison) or Felony OWI (5 years in prison). Even more serious charges can result from charges of Serious Injury by Vehicle or Vehicular Homicide charges if an accident with injuries occur to persons in other vehicles or persons in your vehicle regardless of your criminal history.
Most OWI investigations begin with an officer stopping your vehicle. When the officer approaches your car and speaks to you, they will ask you questions to determine if you have been drinking. Moreover, their questions will be used by them to detect the odor of alcohol, if you slur your words and if your movements are impaired. It is important to note that your statements, appearance, and actions during your entire interaction with the officer WILL be used against you in Criminal Court and with the Department of Transportation in the civil proceeding to take your driver’s license.
While you are not entitled to an attorney during these initial stages of the officer’s investigation, you should request to speak with an attorney immediately upon the officer asking you to perform tests. If the officer determines that you appear to have been drinking, he will ask to perform some tests. These tests, although not 100% accurate, are used to aid the officer. He will ask you to perform:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmous (HGN) – by holding a pen and asking you to follow it with your eyes. He is looking for involuntary twitching, or
- Walk and Turn – walk a straight line heel to toe and then turn around and walk back; or
- One Leg Stand – stand on one leg and count to 30.
While not 100% accurate, a failing score (which can be contested in court) on these tests triggers the officer to ask you to blow into a device that checks the amount of alcohol in your system. This is known as the Preliminary Breath Test (PBT). A PBT score of .08 or greater will result in your arrest for OWI, a refusal to the PBT will also trigger an arrest. If you are arrested, the officer will take you into custody and transport you to the station where he will read you an Implied Consent Advisory and request another breath sample on the DATAMASTER machine. PRIOR TO SIGNING THE IMPLIED CONSENT AND TALKING THE TEST YOU SHOULD ASK TO SPEAK WITH AN ATTORNEY AND/OR CALL SOMEONE REGARDING TAKING THE TEST. A test of .08 or greater or a refusal will result in your arrest for OWI. These test results have criminal and driver’s license (civil) implications.
If you refuse the Datamaster Breath test at the station you face a suspension of your driving privileges for one or more years depending on your prior history. If you submitted to a test that indicates an alcohol concentration of .08 or more your driver's license may also be suspended for 60 days up to 6 years depending on your history. If you are under the age of 21 and you test above .02 (which takes a very small amount of alcohol, possibly one beer for some people) you may lose your license. If you test .04 or more while operating a commercial vehicle you will also lose your driving privileges.
The D.O.T. will suspend your driver’s license if you test over .08 or refuse to take the test. You only have 10 days to file an appeal and request a hearing with the Iowa Department of Transportation to try and stop the suspension of your driver’s license. Although you can conduct the appeal on your own it is important to know that you will carry the burden of proof and you will be responsible for providing the witnesses, evidence, and legal arguments necessary to win your appeal. Moreover, all information testified to at the D.O.T. will be used in other hearings.
If you take the breath test the officer cannot by law substantially interfere with your right to an independent test. Asking for an independent test can aid your case in numerous ways. If you choose to refuse the Datamaster Breath test you do not have a right to have an independent test.
If you are charged with a criminal offense arising out of the officer’s investigation, most Courts in Iowa will require that you obtain a substance abuse evaluation prior to your arraignment for your Operating While Intoxicated case.
Operating While Intoxicated cases involve both criminal court and civil court proceedings, both processes are complex with many variables that most people are not aware of, so contacting an attorney as soon as you are able, may greatly assist you with dealing with this process.