Third Offense OWI in Iowa: Laws, Penalties & More

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"Third time's the charm" does not apply to OWIs in the state of Iowa. A driver charged with a third offense of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated in the state will find that the penalties are much more severe than for a first or second offense. Anyone driving in Iowa with two OWIs on their record, or with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions from other states, is going to want to be very clear about the Iowa OWI laws, including understanding the potential penalties involved.

A third offense OWI is a Class D felony. The court can punish the driver with a prison sentence of up to five years and must send them to jail for at least 30 days. The fine for this offense can be up to $9,375, and the court must give the person a fine of at least $3,125.

Iowa Drunk Driving

Iowa calls the crime of drunk or drugged driving "operating while intoxicated," or OWI. The laws regarding this crime are set out in Iowa Code Chapter 321J. A person can be convicted of an OWI under three different scenarios: If the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs; if the person has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent; or if the person has any trace of a controlled substance in their blood.

The first type of OWI is based largely on testimony of the law enforcement officers who stopped the driver. Testimony that the car was driving erratically, swerving a lot or switching lanes, could be evidence that the driver was impaired. If, when the car was stopped, the driver looked inebriated, smelled like alcohol and was unstable when exiting the vehicle could be evidence that the person is under the influence.

Per Se and Controlled Substance OWIs

If a driver exceeds the blood alcohol content level of 0.08 percent, it is a "per se" OWI. That means that the BAC test results are sufficient evidence to convict the person of an OWI; no additional evidence of intoxication is required. For a commercial driver in Iowa, the legal BAC limit is 0.04 percent.

The controlled substance OWI is different from an OWI based on driving under the influence of drugs. The drugs involved in this type of charge are those specifically noted on the controlled substance list in Iowa Code Sections 124.204 to 124.206. This list includes illegal drugs, prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs that make a person disoriented or fatigued.

It is not necessary that the person's faculties are actually impaired by the controlled substance, and there is no requisite amount of drug that the person must consume. If the driver has any trace of one of these drugs in their system, they can be convicted of an OWI.

Prior OWI Convictions

Anyone wondering about the consequences of a third OWI in Iowa should understand that penalties go up as a driver accumulates OWIs. A first offense carries the lowest fines, jail time and driver's license revocation period, and a second offense is penalized more severely in all sanctions. A third offense is a felony in Iowa, which is the more serious type of crime, and carries a longer potential jail sentence and higher fines.

Note that there are limitations on which convictions will count as priors. Iowa imposes a 12-year look-back period. That means that convictions that happened more than 12 years ago will not count as prior convictions. The time is measured from the date of a prior conviction to the date of the arrest for the current arrest.

The prior offenses do not have to be Iowa OWIs. The state also counts as prior offenses any conviction the driver received in other states for drunk/drugged driving violations, provided the laws are similar. That means two DWIs in New York a decade ago will make a current OWI in Iowa a third offense.

Penalties for Third OWI

Iowa sentencing for OWIs is intended to both punish the driver for the illegal behavior and to help them overcome substance abuse. The punishments for an OWI offense include mandatory jail time as well as fines and restitution to victims. Everyone convicted of an OWI must also complete a substance abuse evaluation and participate in a substance abuse treatment program, which sometimes includes a reality education substance abuse prevention program and a class for drunk drivers.

In addition, the individual's driver's license is revoked for a period of time. The specifics depend on the driver's record.

While both first and second OWIs are misdemeanors, the less serious type of crime in Iowa, a third offense moves into the more serious category of crimes called felonies. A third offense OWI is a Class D felony. The court can punish the driver with a prison sentence of up to five years and must send them to jail for at least 30 days. The fine for this offense can be up to $9,375, and the court must give the person a fine of at least $3,125.

Loss of Driving Privileges

A driver convicted of a third-offense OWI will also be subject to an administrative driver's license suspension of one year, or two years if the driver refused to take a chemical test under Iowa's implied consent laws. Everyone who drives on Iowa roads is deemed to have consented to provide a sample of their breath, blood or urine if stopped for an OWI. Refusal to do so is illegal and punishable by an administrative license revocation.

In addition, when the third OWI case goes to court, the judge will suspend the person's driver's license for an additional six years. The court can also order that the vehicle used for the OWI be impounded or immobilized for 180 days.

In some cases, when a person's license is revoked, they are eligible for a temporary restricted license. This license can be used only for specified purposes, like driving to work and back or to college classes. A person whose driver's license has been revoked as a result of a third OWI is allowed to apply for this type of license two years into their license revocation. But the license cannot be issued until the driver pays a civil penalty and installs an ignition interlock device (IID) in every vehicle they own or use.

Ignition Interlock Device

What is an ignition interlock device? An IID is a type of breathalyzer, like the one a police officer presents to a driver to blow into to determine blood alcohol content. The IID is attached to the car's ignition and prevents it from starting until the driver blows into the machine. If the driver's breath is free of alcohol, the vehicle will start. However, the IID will ask for a retest periodically while the car is being driven.

Someone convicted of a third-offense OWI must install an IID on every vehicle they own or use for one year. The year begins at the end of the revocation period. If the person was granted a temporary license with IID installation, that time is included in the one-year IID requirement.

Anyone calculating the amount of money a third conviction for an Iowa OWI will cost should include the IIDs. The driver must use an approved IID provider and pay a hefty installation fee for each vehicle. In addition, the driver must pay a monthly maintenance fee for each IID.