Iowa OWI – Drunk Driving Laws – Iowa Code Section 321J

Iowa’s OWI, operating while intoxicated, law makes it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle in any of the following conditions.

  • While under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of such substances.
  • While having an alcohol concentration of .08 or more.
  • While having any amount of a controlled substance in the body.

Burden of Proof – Elements

The State of Iowa holds the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. At trial, the State of must prove that you were operating a motor vehicle and one of the following:

  • You did so while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • While having an alcohol concentration of .08 or greater.

What is Implied Consent?

Iowa’s implied consent law means that any person who operates a motor vehicle in the state agrees to have a blood, breath and/or urine test performed to determine alcohol level or presence of drugs, whenever a peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person is operating under the influence. Before a test of samples of the blood, breath, or urine of an OWI suspect can be had, the officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the person was operating while intoxicated. The officer must make a written request, and any one of the following conditions must exist:

  • the person was placed under lawful arrest for OWI;
  • the person was involved in a motor vehicle accident or collision resulting in personal injury or death;
  • the person refused to take a preliminary breath test;
  • a preliminary breath test was taken and the results indicate a BAC above .08 or between .02 and .08 if under the age of 21 or above .04 if commercial driver (CDL);
  • a preliminary breath test was administered and it indicated a BAC result under the legal limit, and the peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person was under the influence of a controlled substance, a drug other than alcohol or a combination of alcohol and another drug.

If any one of these conditions were met, the officer can request a test.

By driving a motor vehicle in Iowa, you agree to give the test. If you refuse to provide the test, you will be punished more severely than you would if you consented and the tests reflected that you were under the influence.

What does the word “Operation” mean?

This has been defined by the Iowa Supreme Court as the immediate, actual physical control over a motor vehicle that is in motion and/or has its engine running. If, for example, you are sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked vehicle with the keys in the ignition, if the engine is not running, you are not operating the vehicle. If you start the motor, you are now operating the vehicle, even though it is parked. Riding a riding lawn mower while intoxicated will get you charged with OWI.

What is BAC?

Blood alcohol content (BAC) or blood alcohol concentration is a measure of the concentration of alcohol in blood, and is represented in percentages. BAC can be measured either by blood, urine or breath testing. Having a BAC of 0.10% means that your blood contains 1 gram of alcohol per 1000.

What is a Serious Injury?

This means a bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ or major bodily member, or which causes the loss of any bodily member.

What are Field Sobriety Tests?

If an officer suspects you are intoxicated, you may be asked to perform field sobriety tests. If you chose to submit to the request, you are not required to do so, you will be asked to The driver must perform simple physical or cognitive tests. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines were set up to help make these tests more accurate. They are now called standardized field sobriety tests.

As with all field sobriety tests, they are subjective and dependent on the officer making the observations. It’s like someone saying they are in pain and you look at them in an effort of trying to figure out how much pain they are in.

One Leg Stand Test The officer must first ensure that the conditions are ideal for testing. The test must be given in a safe area where the driver will not be hurt if he or she falls. The surface must be hard, flat, and dry. If the driver is over the age of 65, has a physical impairment, or is more than 50 pounds overweight, the test should not be conducted. If the testing site is appropriate, the officer must explain and demonstrate the test instructions.

The test is performed by the driver raising one foot six inches off of the ground while keeping both arms at the side. Once in this position, the driver must then count out loud to 30 out loud before putting the foot back on the ground.

The officer will watch the driver’s performance, looking for clues that the driver is intoxicated such as: swaying, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, putting foot down pre-maturely, or simply an inability to complete the test. If the driver shows two or more of these behaviors, this is considered a test failure.

Walk and Turn Test This test is demonstrated by the officer who will show you that you must take nine heel-to-toe steps forward, pivot, and then take nine heel-to-toe steps back. While performing this test, you will be asked to count out loud the number of steps that you have taken. Obviously, the surface needs to be flat and level. If you are walking around in gravel and weeds, this is not an ideal setting and may result in inaccurate evaluation.

The officer will watch for signs that you are under the influence. Signs include missing steps, taking an incorrect number of steps, having difficulty maintaining balance, turning incorrectly, and failing to count your steps out loud. If you have to use your arms to balance or you do not complete the test, the officer will count this as a failure to perform the test adequately.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus This is a test conducted by the officer requesting you to follow a small object, such as a pen or pen-light. The officer is looking for involuntary jerking of the eye. For most people, this typically occurs at what is called maximum deviation. Maximum deviation is the point when you look with your eyes as far to the side as possible without moving your head. If you are under the influence, the jerking of the eyes becomes more pronounced.

The HGN test is considered the most scientific, with an accuracy rate of 77% to 88% when administered correctly by the officer. The officer is watching to see if you are able to smoothly follow the object with your eyes. The officer is also watching for distinct nystagmus when your eyes are at maximum deviation. The officer is also looking for the onset of nystagmus before your eyes move to 45 degrees.

There are three clues the officer is looking for in each of your eyes for a total of six clues. If the police officer believes that four clues were exhibited, you meet the criteria of being under the influence.

The major flaw with the HGN test is that there are over 100 different physical and medical problems that may cause nystagmus and are not related to alcohol. Poor vision and ocular blindness may cause nystagmus. Diabetes, brain tumors, and head traumas also lead to nystagmus. Since most police officers are not trained as ophthalmologists, it is almost impossible for them to say that nystagmus is caused by alcohol rather than another medical disorder.

Contest the Revocation

If you wish to contest the revocation of your license, this is started as an administrative proceeding. A hearing with the department of motor vehicles may be requested to contest the revocation of a driver’s license for a chemical test refusal or failure. The request for a hearing must be made within 10 days following the date of receipt of the notice of revocation. Once requested, the department must hold a hearing within 45 days of the request in the county where the alleged events occurred. The hearing may be by telephone conference call.

At the administrative hearing, the only issues are: whether the police had reasonable grounds to believe that the person was operating a motor vehicle under the influence, and

  • whether the person refused to submit to the test or tests, or
  • whether a test was administered and the results indicated a prohibited BAC level, or
  • whether a test was administered and the test results indicated the presence of alcohol, a controlled substance or other drug, or a combination of alcohol and another drug.

After the hearing, the DMV will order the revocation to be rescinded (voided) or sustained (confirmed as valid). If the revocation is sustained, you may file a request for review within 10 days. The director or the director’s designee shall review the decision within thirty days and will either rescind or sustain the revocation or order a new hearing. If the director orders a new hearing, it must take place within 20 of the director’s order.

If you can show that new material evidence exists and there were valid reasons the evidence was not presented at the first hearing, the department will stay the revocation until a new hearing can be held. Your license revocation will be rescinded if the DMV fails to comply with the time limitations under which a hearing must be held. Furthermore, if the trial court finds in your case that the peace officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe that an OWI violation occurred to support a request for or to administer a chemical test or that the chemical test was otherwise inadmissible or invalid, the license revocation will be rescinded and your full driving privileges will be reinstated.