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Iowa OWI Laws

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 a civil proceeding with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. If you file a DOT appeal within 10 days of the OWI charge, then you will be allowed to still drive for 2-4 months while the case is pending, and you will not need SR22 insurance or a breathier in your car during the appeal.  Most people hire a lawyer on an OWI or DUI case to see if the officer made a mistake.  If the officer made a legal mistake, then the case can be dismissed, and your driving privileges can be restored.  Many people arrested for an OWI will presume that the officer did not make a mistake, but most people would not know if an officer complied with the requirements of Iowa law such as Iowa Code section 804.20 regarding communications or 321j.6 regarding the implied consent notice.   Other examples of officer mistakes include the legality of the stop.  If the officer do the field tests correctly and use a calibrated field breath test.  If the officer complies with the state DCI requirements regarding the breath test at the station or jail.  Was the officer required to give an independent test?  Can you use a prescription drug defense?  Was there a violation of the 2 hour rule? These and other important issues must be explored before a person can know if they should take a deal on an OWI case or go to trial.  You may call for a free consultation to learn more about this material and other topics related to your OWI arrest. 


In criminal court, An OWI First Offense is a serious misdemeanor.  
Punishment may include:

Additionally, the State in a civil proceeding can:

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 (25 years in prison) 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 to detect the presence of alcohol, if you slur your words and if your movements are impaired etc. 


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 driving privileges.


While you are not entitled to an attorney during these initial stages of the officer’s OWI/DUI 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 at all 100% accurate, are used to aid the officer.  The officer will ask you to perform:

While not 100% accurate, a failing score (which can be contested in court) on these tests triggers the officer to be able 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. 




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 stop the revocation 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.


Clients do not have to be present for DOT administrative hearings. We represent out clients on the initial appeal as well as the second level of appeal called administrative review.  Both of these appeals require the DOT to stay the revocation, so the client can still drive.


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 a sentencing hearing. However, some jurisdictions (such as Polk County) require it before the arraignment hearing for your Operating While Intoxicated case.  If you do not have it done by the arraignment, then the Court will order you arrested for violating you release conditions. 

Any OWI/DUI charge requires that you obtain a substance abuse evaluation.  We recommend Alternative Interventions. (515) 778-7989.


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.



Criminal Court Penalties

OWI 1st offense –test failure
Minimum 2 days in jail unless granted a deferred judgment or other permitted exception.  2 day OWI class required.
Probation is possible. 
Community service is possible. 
$1250 fine or civil penalty unless qualify for 50% reduction.  All fines have a 35% surcharge
OWI 1st offense –test refusal
Minimum 2 days in jail or class substitution.  
Probation is possible. 
Community service is possible. 
$1250 fine unless qualify for 50% reduction.  All fines have a 35% surcharge
OWI 2nd offense –test failure or refusal 
Minimum 7 days in jail.  Maximum 2 years. 
Probation is possible. 
Community service is possible. 
A deferred judgment is not possible. 
$1850 minimum fine.  All fines have a 35% surcharge
OWI 3rd offense –test failure or refusal 
Minimum 30 days in jail maximum 5 years.  
Placement in a halfway house is possible.  
$3125 minimum fine.  All fines have a 35% surcharge
Felony conviction


Criminal Court hearings

There are numerous hearings in criminal cases.  Here is a list of most of them including ones we can handle without the client missing work/school etc.


Appearance hearing- we can handle this hearing for the client in writing
Preliminary hearing- we can handle this hearing for the client in writing
Arraignment hearing- we can handle this hearing in some counties without the client but the level of the OWI and the county will be controlling factors
Pre-trial conference – client has to be present in most counties
Motion to suppress hearing- client must be present
Plea or sentencing- client must be present in most counties


.02 violations
The driver's license of a person under age 21 who submits to a chemical test that indicates an alcohol level of .02 or more, but less than .08, will be revoked for 60 days on a first violation and 90 days on subsequent violations. If a person is suspected of operating a motor vehicle with an alcohol level of .02 or more, and refuses chemical testing, the driver's license revocation will be one year for a first violation and two years on a second or subsequent violation. These revocations (.02/"zero tolerance") are administrative and are not dependent upon criminal charges being filed. If a driver's license is revoked for a .02/"zero tolerance" violation, the driver is not eligible for a temporary restricted license at any time during the revocation period.  An .02 violation will count as a prior OWI with the DOT on subsequent OWI matters.
CDL holders lose their CDL for 1 year on a first OWI and for life on a OWI if during any other time in their life when they had a cdl, they received an OWI.



Recent News

11-19-20: Frank Steinbach argued that his client’s rights were violated as the State prosecutor neglected to file the charging documentation in the time frame required by the criminal procedure rules. The judge who heard the matter, agreed. As a result the OWI charges were all dismissed and the Court even ordered the state to pay the court costs resulting from the arrest. The client will also have the arrest expunged from his record.


9-16-20: Daniel Rothman argued that his client’s rights were violated when police officers in Dallas county made an illegal traffic stop and seizure of the client. The Dallas county judge that heard the matter, agreed and suppressed all evidence obtained by the state. As a result, the client’s OWI and weapons charges were dismissed with prejudice. Also, the IDOT must now withdraw the OWI sanction from the client’s DOT record and reinstate his driving privileges in full


3-4-2020: After a 2 year struggle, the Iowa Court of appeals granted a unanimous decision for our OWI client, regarding when an officer must inform an arrested person of their Iowa Code Section 804.20 communication rights. The Court of Appeals held that even a vague request for communication must prompt an officer to explain communication rights and offer calls or other options. The Court of Appeals further held that as a result of this violation the trial court judge’s ruling must be overturned and that judge must now exclude the breath test and all incriminating evidence obtained after the violation of our client’s rights.


03-02-20: Daniel Rothman’s client took a deal for a public intoxication charge, that can be expunged off his record and will not effect his DOT record. Although he tested above the legal limit the jury refused to convict and after a mistrial was ordered by the judge, the State decided not to try the case again.


02-24-20: A Polk county prosecutor decided to offer a reduction to public intoxication, from the OWI charge, as they did not think they would win at trial. Although the client had a great chance to win the trial they decided to take the deal as they needed to move out of state for work.


1-10-20: Daniel Rothman argued that his client’s Iowa Code Section 804.20 rights were violated by denying him communications to his wife. The Dallas county judge that heard the matter, agreed. As a result the client’s .318 test result is deemed inadmissible at trial and the DOT must also restore the Defendant’s driving privileges. The State dismissed all charges.


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