OWI First Offense, OWI Second Offense, and OWI Third Offense

With Memorial Day weekend just around the corner, it means nicer weather and more travel time for people around the state. It also means graduation parties, boating, and vacationing. With that said, this usually means there is some alcohol drank at these events. After these events, someone usually needs to drive home. If an officer stops you, he/she can prove an OWI in three different ways. In Iowa, a person commits an OWI under any of the following circumstances:

  1. A person operates a motor-vehicle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of such substances; or
  2. A person operates a motor-vehicle while having an alcohol concentration of .08 or more; or
  3. A person operates a motor-vehicle while any amount of a controlled substance is present in the person, as measured in the person’s blood or urine.

When stopped for an OWI, the officer will usually tell you the reason you were stopped and request your driver’s license, insurance, and registration. They will go back to their patrol vehicle and run your information to make sure there are no issues with your license and there are no warrants out for your arrest. Then the officer will reapproach your vehicle and ask if you have been drinking. Remember, your response will be used against you at your OWI trial so be careful what you say. Sometimes, people can incriminate themselves even though they have done nothing wrong.

If the officer believes you have been drinking, he is going to request that you perform field sobriety tests (FSTs). The tests consists of the 9-step walk-and-turn test, the one-leg balance for thirty seconds, and the HGN test (eye test). I’d always recommend refusing these tests because you can fail them even if you’re sober; and even if you do well on them, the officer still may take you in to the police station for further investigation of an OWI.

Once at the police station, the officer most likely will make a request for a breath specimen. I’d highly recommend you make as many phone calls to attorneys, friends and family before you make a decision on whether or not to blow into the datamaster (breath machine). Note if you refuse to blow, your driver’s license will be revoked for twice the amount of time than if you would have blown and failed the test, but the State will be unable to convict you under #2 above because it won’t have a test. If you fail, or refuse, the test I should note that you are immediately eligible for a temporary restricted license (TRL), which will allow you to drive wherever and whenever you want as long as you have an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) installed in your vehicle, SR-22 insurance, and pay a $200 civil penalty.

In regard to the offenses of OWIs, the first offense carries up to one year in the county jail and a $1,250.00 fine. The minimum on an OWI first offense is two days in jail and a $1,250.00 fine (yes the min and max fine are both the same).

In regard to an OWI second offense, it carries up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of $6,250.00. The minimum is seven days in jail and a $1,875.00 fine.

In regard to an OWI third or subsequent offense, it carries up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $9,375.00. The minimum is 30 days in jail and a fine of $3,125.00.

It should be noted that there are some ways to reduce the “minimum” amount of days on these offenses. I would recommend calling an OWI criminal defense attorney so that you can be advised on how to reduce your sentence, if possible.

With respect to which offense OWI you will be charged with, the State takes into account how many OWI’s you received within the past 12 years when deciding how to charge you. For example if you received an OWI in 2010, 2013, and then recently was charged with an OWI in 2024, you would be charged with an OWI-Second Offense since your OWI in 2010 was outside the 12-year rule. I should note, that the sentencing court in the matter can take into account your 2010 OWI in deciding how to sentence you.

In addition to handling court matters, you will need to deal with the DOT regarding your license throughout the process. If this is an unfamiliar territory for you, I would highly recommend you reach out to a criminal defense attorney to help you out. You don’t need to be stopped for driving while revoked when you actually thought you were driving legally and you don’t need a warrant put out for your arrest when you missed a court date because you didn’t know about it.

If you or a friend have been charged with an OWI, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about your OWI in Iowa.
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