An OWI (operating while intoxicated) charge describes driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. It is another name for DUI or drunk driving in Iowa. This charge carries severe criminal and administrative penalties in Iowa, including incarceration, fines, license revocation and attendance at substance abuse courses. An OWI stays on a driver's criminal record permanently and on their motor vehicle record for 12 years.
What Is an OWI?
In Iowa, it is unlawful to operate a vehicle under certain circumstances:
- While under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.
- With a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater.
- While having controlled substances in one's body.
Drivers of commercial vehicles are legally intoxicated when their BAC is 0.04 percent or greater. Drivers under 21 have an even lower threshold – Iowa considers them drunk when their BAC is 0.02 percent or greater.
DUI Conviction on Criminal Record
A DUI conviction will be part of a driver's criminal record, as well as their motor vehicle record. The court criminal record contains their conviction and sentencing information and is generally kept permanently. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) holds their motor vehicle record, which reflects the DUI conviction for 12 years.
The DOT also tracks the number of points on the offender's driving record. Accruing too many points can result in the loss of their driving privileges, even if that isn't ordered by the court. If a driver is convicted of another DUI in less than 12 years from their last conviction, the penalties will be enhanced for each subsequent conviction.
DUI Expungement in Iowa
An expungement is a process by which the court destroys or seals a criminal conviction. It is not a pardon – it does not forgive the crime. Instead, it removes the crime from a person's record. A DUI expungement can occur when an offender received a deferred judgment, paid money they owed and fulfilled their probation requirements.
Even if a driver receives an expungement of their OWI conviction, it may never completely disappear. Expungements apply only to criminal records, so they have no impact on public records or a driver's motor vehicle record, where the DUI remains for 12 years.
Criminal Penalties for an Iowa OWI
Penalties for an Iowa OWI conviction are steep:
- First offense: Fines from $625 to $1,259 and jail time from 48 hours to one year.
- Second offense: Fines from $1,875 to $6,250 and jail time from seven days to two years.
- Third offense: Fines from $3,125 to $9,375 and jail time from 30 days to five years.
All offenders must complete a substance abuse treatment program. In addition, the court may issue an emergency response) restitution charge of $500 for agencies dispatched to the drunk driver, including ambulances, firefighters, paramedics, police and other emergency services.
Administrative Penalties for an Iowa OWI
Iowa drivers with OWI convictions also face administrative penalties, including driver license revocation. Revocation penalties are:
- First offense: 180 days.
- Second offense: one year.
- Third offense: six years.
- OWI offense involving personal injury: One year, plus the period of revocation for that offense.
- OWI offense involving death: six years.
During the time period of license revocation, most offenders can apply for a temporary restricted license (TRL), which allows them to drive to work or school. To be eligible, they must also install an ignition interlock device (IID) on all vehicles they drive. TRL requirements are:
- First-time offense: Driver must install the IID during the time that TRL is in effect.
- Second and subsequent offenses in the past 12 years: Driver must install the IID for one year.
- Any OWI offense involving death: The offender is not eligible for a TRL for two years.
OWI Penalties for Drivers Under 21
If a driver under 21 has a BAC of at least .02 percent, but less than 0.08 percent, they will see revocation of their license for 60 days with their first offense and 90 days with their second offense, and they are not eligible for a TRL license.
First offenders are eligible for a deferred judgment program, which typically includes paying fees, reporting to a probation officer and completing an alcohol abuse treatment course. After fulfilling these requirements, the charges are dismissed.
A person under 21 who doesn't participate in the deferred judgment program or who does not complete it faces these penalties:
- Jail time of 48 hours to one year.
- Fine of $625 to $1,250 or period of unpaid community service.
- Driver's license revocation from 180 days to one year.
- Attendance at substance abuse evaluation and treatment program.
OWI Penalties for Drivers Under 18
Underage offenders generally face the same criminal penalties as adults do. However, there are additional consequences for drivers under 18. When an underage driver is charged with OWI, law enforcement must make a reasonable attempt to contact their parents or legal guardians. They do not have to notify these parties if they believe the notification isn't in the minor's best interest or if it will endanger them. They must also inform school authorities of the charge.
Offenders under 18 will also see their license revoked by the DOT or the court. The revocation of their license continues until the period ends or the offender turns 18, whichever comes later. Drivers under 18 are not eligible for a TRL.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.