Suspected drunk drivers in Iowa are charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, which is usually abbreviated as OWI in that state. Getting behind the wheel while impaired by alcohol or drugs is a serious misdemeanor in Iowa, but OWI charges can become aggravated misdemeanors or even felonies in certain situations. Aggravating factors that could elevate drunk driving charges include exceeding the posted speed limit by 30 or more mph, having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.20% or higher, driving while impaired with a minor in the vehicle and refusing to submit to toxicology testing, but aggravated OWI charges are usually filed against suspected drunk drivers who are involved in accidents or have prior OWI convictions.
Prior OWI convictions
If the suspected drunk driver has been convicted of driving under the influence one or two times during the last 12 years, they will face an aggravated OWI charge. If they have three or more prior OWI convictions within the last 12 years, the charge against them will be elevated to a Class D felony. This is a serious charge that carries penalties including a fine of up to $9,375 and a jail sentence of up to five years.
When a suspected drunk driver in Iowa causes an accident that injures a child or seriously injures and adult, they will be charged with a Class D felony and face up to five years behind bars. If they are involved in an accident that leads to the death of one or more people, the charge against them will be elevated to a Class B felony. This is a form of vehicular manslaughter under Iowa law, and it carries a maximum custodial sentence of 25 years.
Avoiding drunk driving penalties
The drunk driving penalties are harsh in Iowa, and they are even more severe when aggravating factors are present. Suspected drunk drivers with prior OWI convictions pay higher fines and spend more time behind bars, and defendants who cause fatal accidents can be sent to prison for up to 25 years. The best ways to avoid these penalties after having a few drinks is to appoint a designated driver or call a taxi or ride sharing service.