Iowa Drugged Driving

In Iowa, a person is guilty of a DUI if he or she operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of such substances, or while detectable amounts of a controlled substance is present in the person, as measured in the person's blood or urine. Iowa Code Ann. § 321J.2 (1)(a),(c)(West 2010) (effective December 1, 2010). However, the statute further states: "The department of public safety shall adopt nationally accepted standards for determining detectable levels of controlled substances in the division of criminal investigation's initial laboratory screening test for controlled substances." Presently, such standards only exist for the carboxy THC metabolite urine, not for THC in blood. As a result, in practice, the law typically only criminalizes drivers who possess levels of carboxy THC metabolites in urine above 50 ng/ml.

NOTE: Actual impairment is not an element of this offense. Cannabis metabolites can be detected in a person's body for weeks after cannabis ingestion, thus it is possible to be convicted of this type of DUI weeks after a person last ingested cannabis.

Implied Consent

  • A person who operates a motor vehicle in this state under circumstances which give reasonable grounds to believe that the person has been operating a motor vehicle while under the influence is deemed to have given consent to the withdrawal of specimens of the person's blood, breath, or urine and to a chemical test or tests of the specimens for the purpose of determining the alcohol concentration or presence of a controlled substance or other drugs. Id. § 321J.6 (1).
  • Arrested persons may assert the right to consult counsel before deciding whether take test for impairment. Fuller v State Dept. of Transp., 275 NW2d 410 (1979).
  • If the peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person was under the influence of a controlled substance, a drug other than alcohol, or a combination of alcohol and another drug, a blood or urine test shall be required even after another type of test has been administered.Iowa Code Ann. § 321J.6(3) (West 2010).
  • Upon first withdraw of consent defendant shall be ineligible for a temporary restricted license for a minimum period of ninety days. Id. § 321J.2(3)(d). Upon the second refusal the defendant's license shall be revoked for a period of two years. Id. § 321J.2(4)(c).
  • A refusal to submit to a chemical test of blood is not deemed a refusal to submit, but in that case, the peace officer shall then determine which one of the other two substances shall be tested and shall offer the test. If the peace officer fails to offer a test within two hours after the preliminary screening test is administered or refused or the arrest is made, whichever occurs first, a test is not required, and there shall be no license revocation. Id. § 321J.6 (2).


  • First offense serious misdemeanor - minimum period of imprisonment of forty-eight hours, but not to exceed one year (sentence may accommodate the defendant's work schedule); fine of up to one thousand two hundred fifty ($1,250) dollars; for a minimum period of one hundred eighty days up to a maximum revocation of one year. Id. § 321J.2(2)(a); Id. § 321J.2 (3).

    NOTE: deferred judgment not available if defendant refuses to submit sample for chemical testing Id. § 321J.2 (3)(b)(2)(d).
  • Second offense aggravated misdemeanor - minimum period of imprisonment of seven days but not to exceed two years; minimum fine of one thousand eight hundred fifty ($1,850) dollars and a maximum fine of six thousand two hundred fifty ($6,250) dollars (surcharges and fees shall be assessed); revocation of the defendant's driver's license for a period of one year (if a revocation occurs due to test refusal, the defendant's license shall be revoked for a period of two years); offender will be assigned to substance abuse evaluation and treatment. Id. § 321J.2(2)(b); Id. § 321J.2(4).
  • Third and subsequent offense class "D" felony – term of imprisonment not to exceed five years, with a mandatory minimum term of thirty days; minimum fine of three thousand one hundred twenty-five ($3,175) dollars and a maximum fine of nine thousand three hundred seventy-five ($9,375) dollars (surcharges and fees shall be assessed); license revocation for a period of six years; offender will be assigned to substance abuse evaluation and treatment. Id. § 321J.2(2)(c); Id. § 321J.2(5).

Sobriety Checkpoints

In Iowa, sobriety checkpoints are not permitted because statute authorizing roadblocks controls and does not authorize sobriety checkpoints. Id. § 321K.1.

  • Although court interpretation of statute does not allow sobriety checkpoint, DUI arrests may be made at roadblocks authorized by statute. State v. Day, 528 N.W.2d 100 (Iowa 1995).
  • Turning to avoid a checkpoint does not justify stop. State v. Heminover, WL 564049 (2000).

Per Se Drugged Driving Laws

Iowa has a zero tolerance per se drugged driving law enacted for cannabis and other controlled substances. Cannabis metabolites are excluded under the law. (Code of Iowa, Section 321J.2)

Iowa's law calls for mandatory imprisonment of 48 hours and not more than 12 months upon conviction for a first offense.