Iowa's Implied Consent Law: What Happens if You Refuse to Take a Chemical Test

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An individual who operates a motor vehicle in the state of Iowa gives implied consent to have a chemical test performed on them. The peace officer who stops the individual must have reasonable grounds to believe the driver was operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI). In other states this offense may be known as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI).

In Iowa, operating while intoxicated can also mean sitting in a running vehicle, not actually driving the vehicle. A peace officer has reasonable grounds to approach a vehicle if they believe the person in charge of the vehicle might be under the influence, even when the vehicle is parked.

The peace officer determines whether the driver's blood, breath or urine will be tested, according to Iowa Code Chapter 321J. A refusal to submit to a blood test is not considered a refusal to submit to any test. If a driver refuses a blood test, the peace officer then decides which of the other two tests will be used.

Penalties for Test Refusal

When a driver refuses to take a chemical test in Iowa, they suffer a driver’s license revocation. The length of the period of loss of driving privileges is determined by whether this is their first or a subsequent refusal. If it is a first refusal, the driver will suffer a one-year driver’s license suspension. If it is a second or subsequent refusal, the driver will suffer a two-year driver’s license revocation.

Applying for a Temporary Restricted License

An individual who refuses to submit to a chemical test may be eligible for a temporary restricted license (TRL). The Iowa Department of Transportation requires the individual to pay a $200 civil penalty and show proof of financial responsibility in the form of an SR-22 policy in order to reinstate the driver’s license. A TRL allows the individual to drive to and from specific places, including work, school, home, a place where they receive health care, and the place where they receive substance abuse treatment.

A driver who has refused to take a blood, urine or breath test in Iowa can apply for a TRL after a certain period. The length of the waiting period is determined by whether it is the driver’s first or second refusal. A driver who has engaged in a first refusal is eligible to apply for a TRL after 90 days, according to Iowa Code Chapter 321J.

A driver who has engaged in a second or subsequent refusal is eligible to apply for a TRL after one year. A driver who refuses to take a chemical test and wishes to get a temporary restricted license (TRL) must install an ignition interlock device (IID) on all vehicles they own or operate. The Iowa Department of Transportation will not grant a TRL until the driver installs the IID.

Iowa’s Zero Tolerance Rule

Iowa has a zero tolerance rule for persons under 21 who drink and drive. Under Iowa OWI law, a driver under 21 who is suspected of having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.02 percent to 0.07 percent is in violation of this law. Violation of this law incurs an administrative penalty that involves a period of driver’s license revocation.

A driver under 21 who is suspected of having a BAC of 0.02 percent or more and who refuses a chemical test will have their driver’s license revoked for one year. A second or subsequent refusal will result in a two-year driver’s license revocation. A driver under the age of 21 who refuses a chemical test must participate in a youthful offender substance abuse program, and is not eligible for a temporary restricted license.

Consequences of Underage and Regular OWIs

The penalties for refusing a chemical test are less severe if the driver has a BAC of less than 0.08 percent. The penalty for a first offense of a minor operating while under the influence (OWI) with a BAC of between 0.02 percent and 0.07 percent is a driver’s license revocation of 60 days. The penalty for a second or subsequent underage OWI is a driver’s license revocation of 90 days.

The penalties for an actual OWI is more severe than the penalty for a first or subsequent refusal. A driver will be charged with an OWI if their BAC is 0.08 percent or above. The penalty for a first Iowa OWI is a period of incarceration between 48 hours and one year, a fine up to $1,250, a 180-day driver’s license revocation, the requirement to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and recommended treatment, and a possible six-month probation after the completion of a substance abuse treatment program.

Penalties for Subsequent OWIs

The penalty for a second Iowa OWI is jail time of between seven days and two years, a fine between $1,875 and $6,250, a one year-driver’s license revocation, the requirement to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and recommended treatment and a possible six month probation after the completion of any program.

The penalty for a third or subsequent Iowa OWI is a period of incarceration between 30 days in county jail and five years in state prison, a fine between $3,125 and $9,375, a six-year driver’s license revocation period, the requirement to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and recommended treatment, and a possible six-month probation after any program.

A driver convicted of OWI is also required to attend a drunk driving education program and pay the applicable surcharge for their case.

Evidence of Driver's Refusal of Chemical Testing

A prosecutor is allowed to present evidence of a driver’s refusal of a blood, breath or urine test in a criminal case for OWI. The prosecutor is able to suggest to the judge or jury that the refusal is evidence of guilt. It can be risky for a driver to testify on their own behalf because they will then be subject to cross-examination.

Preliminary Breath Tests

A preliminary breath test (PBT) is a small box-shaped testing device that a peace officer carries in the field. A PBT is not completely accurate. An officer uses it to determine whether they have probable cause to arrest a driver. A prosecutor will not use a PBT result in court to show that a driver was operating while under the influence, but may use it to charge a driver with public intoxication.

If a driver refuses a PBT test, this does not count as a refusal that can result in a driver’s license revocation. A driver can be arrested whether or not they refuse a PBT test. If a driver refuses a PBT test and is brought to a police station, a peace officer can make a second request for a breath test. They usually test a driver at a police station with an Intoxilyzer or Breathalyzer device. A driver will suffer a driver’s license revocation if they refuse a Breathalyzer test.

When an officer requests that a driver take a Breathalyzer test, the officer must read to the driver the implied consent laws. The implied consent laws explain to the driver the consequences of refusing to take the test, or taking the test and failing. An officer’s failure to read the implied consent laws before requesting a chemical test can be a defense to an OWI charge. A refusal means no deferred judgment.

Refusal Means No Deferred Judgment

A driver who meets certain conditions for a first OWI offense can seek deferred judgment. This involves pleading guilty to an OWI criminal charge and meeting specific conditions during a probation period. If the individual meets the conditions, the prosecutor will drop the OWI charge, and the individual does not have to serve the mandatory minimum sentence.

A defendant is not eligible for a deferred judgment if they refused an OWI test. The defendant is also not eligible for a deferred judgment if they have a prior deferred judgment for an OWI or DUI in another state. A prior deferred judgment for OWI or DUI counts as a conviction. This makes the defendant ineligible for another deferred judgment.