Operating while intoxicated (OWI) is a relatively common criminal charge. Given that an OWI is traffic-related and that many people consider it a minor offense if the driver did not cause a crash, injuries to others or property damage, some individuals in Iowa facing OWI charges may not take them as seriously as they should.

Any criminal charge has the potential to negatively impact your career, education and overall life experience. The more previous OWI charges you have faced or gotten convicted of, the more significant the penalties become. Understanding the way that Iowa penalizes impaired driving can help you make the best decisions about your criminal defense strategy.

Even first-time offenses carry significant penalties

A first-time OWI arrest will result in serious misdemeanor charges. The courts will have substantial discretion regarding how they choose to penalize you, with penalties including jail time, fines and the loss of your license.

For example, an OWI conviction means at least 48 hours in jail, but the courts can sentence you to as long as a year of incarceration. There can also be fines of as much as $1,250, although the court can choose to reduce that amount by 50% if the incident did not result in property damage or injury to a person. Finally, the driver will lose their license for anywhere between 180 days and a year.

Consequences are higher for second offenses

OWI charges have a relatively high recidivism rate, which means that if a person gets arrested once for impaired driving, they could very well get arrested for a similar charge again in the future. A second OWI conviction or guilty plea is an aggravated misdemeanor. The charges will mean serving between seven days and two years in prison and paying a fine of as much as $6,250. Finally, the driver can lose their license for a full year.

If a person has a third or subsequent OWI charge, the charges become felony offenses that can carry as long as five years in prison with a mandatory minimum of 30 days. The maximum fine increases to $9,375, while the time frame for the driver’s license revocation increases to as long as six years. Fighting even a first charge will decrease the risk of facing such serious penalties in the future.

Losing your license also requires consideration

Getting arrested for an OWI often means spending the night in jail. It also typically means that the state immediately revokes your license. Even if the state drops the charges against you, you could still have to deal with a suspended license. Much like defending against pending charges, getting your license back can require a legal strategy and a hearing with the court. The more proactive you are about asserting your rights after an OWI arrest, the better your chances of minimizing the fallout on your life.