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Des Moines OWI Defense Lawyer

Drunk driving, or Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), may be an extremely common charge in the greater Des Moines area. The charges are serious. An OWI (also known as DUI or DWI in other states) can have a significant effect on a person's finances, freedom, and even their job.

An arrest for OWI does not necessarily mean that you will be convicted. Keep in mind that unless you enter a plea admitting to the charge, the prosecutor must prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced criminal defense attorney can contest the OWI charge and the evidence being used to support it. Your attorney can challenge the field sobriety exercises and the chemical tests. These tests are not above challenge, nor are the assertions of an arresting officer. Your attorney can help you fight the charges.

If you are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or any other substances, a Des Moines drunk driving lawyer from McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. can fight for your rights. Our lawyers can push back against accusations of drunk driving, using our more than 40 years of combined experienced to advocate for you. We can seek the best possible results for you, challenging test results or the details of your arrest. We can also represent you in any legal hearings that may occur that are related to DUI charges. Call us today at (515) 279-9700 to set up a free consultation.

We represent those accused of drunk driving throughout Polk County and Dallas County, including in Des Moines, West Des Moines, Ankeny and Johnston, and anywhere in the state of Iowa.


Iowa OWI / DUI Information Center


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OWI Laws in Iowa

Drunk driving is commonly called DUI, or Driving Under the Influence, or DWI, or Driving While Intoxicated. In Iowa, the charge is called OWI, or Operating While Intoxicated. It is a crime to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or above, or with any amount of any controlled substance in the blood or urine.

Under the law in Iowa, it is always illegal to drive while your BAC is above is .08. Although most people equate being over .08 with having consumed more than two drinks, it is important to remember that BAC can vary widely and depends on a person's sex, height, weight and many other factors. A person under 21 may face OWI charges if they have a blood-alcohol content of .02 or more.

In some circumstances, an adult can be charged with OWI even if the BAC reading is below .08, yet police still say you were under the influence while driving. For instance, even if your test result returns a .07 BAC, the police officer can still say you were slurring your words, unsteady on your feet, or seemed disoriented, which may be used as evidence against you.

Under Iowa Code § 321J.2, the law is particularly hard on those charged with OWI and drugs. If a test shows drugs in your system, you might face OWI charges, despite the fact that some substances stay in a person's system for weeks, long after any effect has disappeared.  

The offense of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated consists of two essential elements:  

  1. the operation of a motor vehicle;
  2. while under the influence of alcohol.

A person is “ ‘under the influence’ when the consumption of alcohol affects the person's reasoning or mental ability, impairs a person's judgment, visibly excites a person's emotions, or causes a person to lose control of bodily actions.” State v. Truesdell, 679 N.W.2d 611, 616 (Iowa 2004). A person's conduct and demeanor are important considerations in making this determination. State v. Price, 692 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Iowa 2005). The court may also consider an officer's opinion regarding another person's sobriety. See State v. Murphy, 451 N.W.2d 154, 155–56 (Iowa 1990).

Therefore, the court will consider the officer’s testimony concerning the driver’s appearance, the odor of alcoholic beverages, his watery, bloodshot eyes, and the officer's belief—based on years of experience and training—that the driver was intoxicated. See id. The court will also consider other factors such as visibly-excited behavior or emotional and agitated interactions with the officer as evidence of a lack of normal reasoning and mental ability.


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Punishment for Des Moines Drunk Driving Charges

A first OWI is a serious misdemeanor. If convicted, you will face at least 48 hours in jail and a fine of at least $625 if there is not bodily injury or property damage involved and $1,250 if there was. The court may order community service in lieu of a fine.

Your driver's license will also be revoked for at least 180 days and up to a year. If your BAC test came in under .15, you might be eligible for a temporary restricted license. If above .15, you must wait at least 30 days. If there was an accident involved with your arrest or your BAC was above .10, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device on your car., but still may get a temporary license after 30 days. The device will test your breath and not allow you to start the car until you submit a passing test.

A second OWI is an aggravated misdemeanor. If convicted, you will face at least seven days in jail and a fine of at least $1,875, and up to $6,250. You license will be revoked for a year, you will not be eligible for a temporary restricted license for 45 days, and you must have an ignition interlock device installed for a year after your license is restored.

A conviction for a third offense or any subsequent OWI is a Class D felony, with a minimum 30-day sentence and possibility of up to five years in prison. The fine is at least $3,125, up to $9,375. Your license will be revoked for six years.

Any OWI offense will also involve an evaluation for substance abuse and a required course, which you must pay for.

If there is any personal injury involved in the accident, you will have an additional year added onto any revocation. If there is a death, the revocation will be for six years, in addition to the serious penalties that come with homicide by vehicle charges, a Class B felony.


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OWI Deferral with Polk County Education Program

If you are facing your first OWI charge, your BAC was below .15, and there was no accident connected to your arrest that caused another person's bodily injury, you may be eligible for a deferred judgment. A deferred judgment means that, if you fulfill the requirements of the court, the charges are dismissed, and you do not have a conviction on your record.

For deferred judgment, you will be required to take a course on drinking and driving, and may be required to pay fines and meet other conditions. If you fail to meet these requirements, you may be convicted of the underlying offense. 

If you received deferred judgment, it could be counted as a conviction for any subsequent OWI charges.

Deferred judgment is at the discretion of the court. Your Des Moines criminal defense attorney can argue why you deserve deferred judgment.


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OWI / DUI Test Refusal in Iowa

Police have a few ways to test for alcohol in the body, including breath, urine, and blood. Breath is by far the most common, as police carry portable devices to test the breath of drivers. Police may also conduct field sobriety tests.

It is your constitutional right to refuse a DUI test. By doing so, you deny the prosecution critical evidence in the case against yourself. The prosecution must prove all charges against you beyond any reasonable doubt. Without evidence, they may not be able to secure a conviction.

However, denying the tests comes at a cost. Iowa has "implied consent," meaning you consent to a DUI test when you get your license. Refusal means civil penalties. Your license will be revoked administratively, for one year for a first offense and two years for a subsequent offense.

Your license is revoked for only 180 days if you fail a test for a first offense, and you can immediately apply for a temporary restricted license if your BAC is under .15. If you refuse, you cannot apply for a temporary license for 90 days.

You may have a license suspension hearing where your OWI / DUI defense lawyer may challenge the suspension. You must act soon to do so, however. The hearing must be requested within 10 days of the test refusal or failure. Call McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. today so we can immediately start on your case.


Iowa's Zero Tolerance Laws for Underaged Drivers

If you are under 21 years of age, you will lose all driving privileges for up to 60 days if you are caught driving with a blood-alcohol content greater than .02. A BAC of .02 can result from even one drink or one beer. Subsequent violations will result in license revocation for a minimum of 90 days with no school or working driving permit. If you refuse to take a BAC test, you will lose your license for up to one year (for the .02 offender). If you are under 21 years of age and you are caught driving with a 

Subsequent violations could result in license revocation for a minimum of 90 days with no school or working driving permit. If you refuse to take a BAC test, you will lose your license for up to one year (for the .02 offender). If you are under 21 years of age and you are caught driving with a 

If you refuse to take a BAC test, you will lose your license for up to one year (for the .02 offender). If you are under 21 years of age and you are caught driving with a 

If you are under 21 years of age and you are caught driving with a blood-alcohol content greater than .08 or more, you will face a misdemeanor charge. Penalties for OWI can include up to jail time, a fine of $1,250, and a license suspension for 180 days.


Information on OWI Prosecutions in Polk County, Iowa

OWI Unit at the Polk County Attorney's Office - This article on the Polk County Attorney website written by John P. Sarcone discusses the OWI unit. The OWI unit in the Polk County Attorney’s Office is a subdivision of the Intake and Screening Bureau. It includes three full-time Assistant County Attorneys and two full-time support staff members. The OWI Unit also receives support from Investigators with the Investigation Bureau of the Polk County Attorney’s Office. The OWI Unit screens the police reports and other information related to the arrest before deciding whether to formally file criminal charges for OWI. The attorneys in the OWI Unit also appear in court until the cases are resolved. 


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McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. | DUI Attorneys in Des Moines IA

You do not have to settle for the penalties if you are charged with Operating While Intoxicated. A Des Moines drunk driving lawyer from McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. can fight for your rights. We can challenge the prosecution's evidence and seek the best possible result for you.

Call us today at (515) 279-9700 for a free consultation to discuss your OWI case or related charges Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Possession of Controlled Substances, Driving While License is Barred/Suspended, Child Endangerment, Eluding, and traffic citations that accompany the arrest in the greater Des Moines-Newton-Pella area.


This article was last updated on Tuesday, September 27, 2016.

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