Iowa’s OWI Timeline

What is the timeline for an Operating While Intoxicated case in Iowa?  Much of it can depend upon which county the criminal case is filed but there are a number of constants across the board.  Here is an general outline of Iowa’s OWI timeline.

It is important to first understand that there are two sides to every operating while intoxicated case.  One is the criminal prosecution, and the other is the driver’s license suspension action.  Each proceeding is triggered by a different event and they each proceed on independent timelines.  Think of them as separate trains moving down separate tracks.

The licenses suspension proceedings are triggered by either a test “failure” or a test refusal.  The criminal case is triggered by an arrest or citation for the offense of operating while intoxicated.

Once the triggering event occurs the following is a general timeline applicable to the license suspension and criminal operating while intoxicated case.  Remember they are separate proceedings that do not depend upon the other one.  They continue to move on their own timelines.


License Suspension Criminal Case
10 Days – The driver has 10 days from the test failure or test refusal to make a request to the Iowa Department of Transportation to appeal the drivers license revocation.  Filing this appeal STAYS (puts on hold) the license revocation allowing the individual to continue driving normally. 24 HoursInitial Appearance:  The arrested individual must enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.  The Initial Appearance must occur within less than 24 hours from the arrest.
45 Days – The Department of Transportation must schedule the driver’s license revocation hearing for a date less than 45 days from the date the appeal is filed.

The hearing is conducted by telephone.  The burden is on the driver to prove that the evidence did not authorize the request for a breath, blood, or urine test or that a procedural mistake was made by the investigating officer.

10/20 DaysPreliminary Hearing:  Must be held within 10 days of arrest if the individual is still in custody or 20 days after arrest if not in custody. The question for this hearing s whether there is probable cause (“reason to believe”) to believe the individual arrested committed the offense.   The Preliminary Hearing may be avoided by the prosecutor if the Trial Information is filed prior to the hearing date. Even if the defendant prevails at this hearing, the State may still file a Trial Information and re-arrest the defendant.  For this reason, unless the defendant is in custody, the Preliminary Hearing is ordinarily waived.
10 Days – The losing party to the driver’s license appeal has 10 days from receipt of the DOT’s proposed decision to file an additional appeal requesting a review by the Director of Driver Services.

If the appeal is made, additional time may be granted to submit written arguments.  If the appeal is not filed, the license suspension goes final ,and a separate notice is sent out by the Department of Transportation stating when the license revocation begins.

45 Days – The formal charges must be filed by way of a Trial Information or Indictment within 45 days of the defendant’s arrest, or the charges must be dismissed.  The Court determines if the evidence contained in the information and attached minutes of testimony, if unexplained, would warrant a conviction by a jury.  If the Indictment of Trial Information is NOT filed after the 45 days without a good explanation by the County Attorney, the charge is dismissed with prejudice which means it cannot be refiled.
  Within 45 days – Arraignment: Court date where the defendant is presented with a copy of the Trial Information and is required to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges.  The arraignment may be conducted in writing if the proper procedures are followed. If you have hired an attorney from GRL, we will handle this for you. Your attendance is not required.
  Approximately 30-60 Days from Arraignment – Pretrial Conference

The pretrial conference is a time for defense counsel and the county attorney to resolve the case by way of plea bargaining prior to jury trial.  Requirements of personal appearances varies from county to county.

  90 Days from Arraignment – Jury Trial.

Jury Trials are always automatically calendared.  It does not mean the case must go through trial.  Most cases are resolved prior to a jury trial but if the case does proceed to trial, the prosecution must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

A criminal defendant has the right to demand to be brought to trial within 90 days from their arraignment date.  If the defendant is not being held in jail, this is ordinarily waived to permit additional time to adequately prepare the defense.