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Iowa DUI lawyer: do prior OWIs "drop off" my record?



Woman holding up a calendar
In Iowa, the classification, or level of penalty, for drunk driving, called Operating While Intoxicated, is determined by the number of convictions, including expungements, the defendant has accrued in a 12 year period. These convictions by no means automatically expunge in 12 years. Far from it, prosecutors and judges can use lifetime convictions to determine plea offers and overall sentences, respectively.

Many, many people understandably confuse the 12 year look-back for Operating While Intoxicated in a Cedar Rapids or Iowa City drunk driving prosecution.


In Iowa, the penalty for drunk driving is based on its classification as a serious misdemeanor, aggravated misdemeanor, or felony. This determination is based on how many convictions, including deferred judgments, have accrued for that arrestee in a 12 year period.


Convictions and deferred judgments for OWI and DUI-equivalent prosecutions in other states that are older than 12 years are not used to classify whether the charge will be a serious misdemeanor, aggravated misdemeanor, or felony.


So what happens if 20 years ago, a defendant had three prosecutions for OWI, including a deferred judgment, but they have had no convictions for OWI in the last 12 years?


That defendant would be considered a lifetime fourth offender if charged with a new OWI criminal law offense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, but they would still only be charged with a serious misdemeanor.


This limits the range of penalty-- but not the penalty within the range. So, let's say that fourth life time offender wanted to obtain a deferred judgment. Not possible. Prior convictions for drunk driving, even those older than 12 years, are disqualifying for a deferred judgment.


What about the mandatory minimum 48 hour jail sentence and the weekend program? Well, that depends on the prosecutor. In our hypothetical, the Linn or Johnson County, Iowa, prosecutor could consider the defendant's entire criminal record in making an offer. That might not include a recommendation for the mandatory minimum 48 hour jail sentence and $1250 fine + 15% crime services surcharge and court costs taxed to Defendant for a lifetime fourth offender.


In addition, the judge does not have to sentence the Defendant to mandatory minimums in an open plea situation (no plea agreement) and may consider the prior three convictions in determining an appropriate sentence within the legal range-- in this case no more than a year for a serious misdemeanor prosecution.


It's easy to get confused about this subject matter. The 12-year look-back suggests that OWIs "fall off" a defendant's record as if expunged but that is not the case.


If you or a loved one has been arrested for Operating While Intoxicated, Iowa's DUI law, contact us for a free initial consultation.