Iowa’s Implied Consent Law: Refusal to Take a Chemical Test

If you are stopped in Iowa for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, can you refuse BAC testing?

Under Iowa’s implied consent law, a person who operates a motor vehicle is deemed to have given consent to a chemical test of breath, blood, and/or urine if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person was “operating while intoxicated” (OWI).

Under What Circumstances Will a Chemical Test be Requested?

An officer is authorized to request a chemical test if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is OWI and:

  • the person is lawfully under arrest for OWI
  • the person was involved in a motor vehicle accident resulting in injury or death
  • the person refused to take a preliminary breath screening test (PBT)
  • a PBT indicated a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or more
  • a PBT indicated a BAC of less than .08% and the officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person is under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol
  • a PBT indicated a BAC of .04% or more and the person was operating a commercial motor vehicle, or
  • a PBT indicated a BAC of at least .02% or more and the person is under the age of 21.

Once a driver is under arrest for OWI, the officer generally gets to decide whether to request a breath, blood, or urine test. Though a driver who agrees to take a breath or urine test can typically refuse a blood test without penalty. The test must be requested within two hours after the PBT is administered, refused, or the arrest is made, whichever occurs first. If the officer fails to request a chemical test within that time frame, a driver isn’t required to submit to any test.

Consequences of Refusing a Test

Before administering a chemical test, the officer must advise drivers of the consequences of failing and refusing a test. Consequences of refusing a test include license revocation, a civil penalty, and ineligibility for a deferred judgment. Evidence of the refusal can also be used against a defendant at trial.

Administrative Suspension

The Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will suspend an offender’s driving privileges for one year for refusing a chemical test. If the driver has previous OWI license revocations, the suspension is for two years. A person whose license has been revoked will be assessed a $200 civil penalty.

When a driver refuses to take a chemical test, the arresting officer can immediately take the person’s license and issue a temporary ten-day license. A driver whose license has been revoked for refusing a chemical test is entitled to contest the revocation at an administrative hearing.

The offender 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 the offender owns or operates.

Evidence of the Refusal Can Be Used Against a Defendant in a Criminal Case

Another consequence of refusing a chemical test is that the prosecutor is allowed to present evidence of the refusal in the criminal case and can suggest to the judge or jury that the refusal is evidence of guilt. In other words, the prosecutor can argue that you refused the test because you knew you would fail.

Ineligibility for a Deferred Adjudication

Successful completion of the deferred adjudication program results in an OWI charge being dismissed and allows an offender to avoid mandatory penalties including jail time and fines. A chemical test refusal renders drivers ineligible for a deferred judgment.

Deciding Whether to Submit to Chemical Testing

A driver can refuse to submit to chemical testing, but the penalties for refusing are generally more severe than those for failing a test: The duration of license revocations for test refusals are usually twice as long as revocations for test failures.

There are also circumstances allowing police to administer a chemical test without the driver’s consent. Generally, if an OWI arrest resulted from an accident causing death or personal injury likely to cause death, a chemical test can be administered without the consent of the person arrested. In other situations, police can obtain a search warrant to get a sample of a driver’s breath, blood, or urine without consent.

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