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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 experience 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 Driving Under the Influence (DUI), or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). In Iowa, the charge is called Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). It is a crime to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of such substances, 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 .08 or above. 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 the 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 Iowa Drunk Driving Charges

first OWI is a serious misdemeanor. On a first OWI conviction, the offender is sentenced to imprisonment for a minimum of 48 hours and is required to pay a $1,250 fine, plus surcharges and fees.

Your driver’s license will also be revoked for at least 180 days and up to a year. If your license is revoked, a temporary restricted license may be issued allowing you to drive for specific reasons and during specified times. Temporary restricted licenses (TRL) are available to Iowa residents who are at least 18 years old.  You must install an approved ignition interlock device on all vehicles operated to be eligible for a temporary restricted license.

second OWI is an aggravated misdemeanor. If convicted of a second OWI, you will face at least seven days in jail and a fine of at least $1,875, and up to $6,250, plus surcharges and fees. Your driver’s license will also be revoked for a minimum of one year. You must also install an ignition interlock device on all vehicles owned or operated as a condition of your temporary restricted license.

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

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

If there is any personal injury involved in the accident, you will have an additional year added to 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.

A disposition involving 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. The portable breath test (PBT) is not admissible in court, but you should take it on scene if the officer will allow you to see the results once you take it.

It is your constitutional right to refuse an OWI 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 OWI test when you get your license. Refusal means civil penalties. Your license will be revoked administratively, for one year for the first offense and two years for a subsequent offense.

The defendant may apply for a temporary restricted license but must first pay the $200 civil penalty and install an ignition interlock device (IID) in all vehicles he or she owns or operates.

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 but less than .08. 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) and up to two years on a second or subsequent violation. Individuals under the age of 21 are ineligible for a temporary restricted license if their offense occurred under Iowa Code section 321J.2A.

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 two 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.

OWI / Drug Recognition Testing by the Des Moines Police DepartmentAll traffic officers with the Des Moines Police Department are certified to investigate and apprehend drivers under the influence of alcohol after a roadside investigation. The Traffic Unit of the DMPD has several officers who are specially trained and certified as Drug Recognition Experts. These DRE officers are skilled in identifying drivers who are accused of being under the influence of drugs or narcotics.

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OWI 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. Let us put our experience to work for you after an arrest in the greater Des Moines-Newton-Pella area.