Cedar Rapids OWI (DUI) Best Options Series: what to consider when considering an OWI first offense plea bargain


This is the seventh in a series of blogs regarding an Iowa OWI (DUI) defendant’s best options during a criminal prosecution for drunk driving. 

A deferred judgment is an option in a first offense OWI (DUI) prosecution if and when a defendant either submits a guilty plea or is found guilty by a jury and the evidentiary test result is below .15 grams ETOH/210 L breath or .15 grams ETOH/100 mL blood or .15 grams ETOH/67 mL urine. Second, third, or subsequent OWI prosecutions are not deferred eligible offenses nor are test refusal cases or those where a test result is .15 or above. The margin of error in a Datamaster DMT test plays no role in reducing the statutory deferred judgment ineligibility.

The question is whether it is a “best option” in an OWI prosecution for first offense when there are other options available to the defendant. First, the defendant can always go to jury trial if he or she wants to double down and invest the time, commitment, emotional energy, and financial resources. Barring a jury trial, however, there are typically three options for first offense OWI defendants who test and test below .15 BAC/BrAC.

First, they may seek a plea agreement for the minimum jail sentence and fine. This is not always an offer by the State but when it is, the judge may consider the fact that the agreement calls for a minimum penalties—itself a lenient option—and sentencing the defendant to 48 hours in jail with a $1,250 fine, costs, and applicable surcharges. In this type of plea agreement, the joint recommendation would not include any suspended jail time nor probation, unsupervised or supervised.

Second, they may seek a plea agreement for the minimum jail sentence and fine—with no resistance to, or joint recommendation for, the privilege of enrolling in and completing a community college accredited 48 hour weekend program at a local hotel. Locally, this is done at Kirkwood Community College and the Coralville Heartland Inn. Again, the State is not required to extend to the Defendant this option and the facts of each case will dictate whether the parties believe this is an agreeable option. The judge is the final arbiter on whether he or she will follow the terms of the plea agreement.

The third option is a deferred judgment. In a deferred judgment, typically a defendant will submit a guilty plea and apologize to the court for his or her actions. Deferred judgments are not the end of a case—the case remains pending completion of Defendant’s substantive and financial obligations and open unless and until the Court expunges the record of the prosecution and seals the public court file. Conditions of probation typically include no further law violations, completion of any recommended treatment of a previously required substance abuse evaluation, payment of all financial obligations, a probation fee if applicable, and possibly community service.

Deferred judgments aren’t for everyone. For those who will never find themselves in need of a Cedar Rapids criminal lawyer again, the deferred judgment option may be a good one. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “you’ll never see me in here again—I want the deferred judgment,” I’d be moderately financially secure. Instead, frequently the opposite is true. Probation is a hassle for some that sometimes results in additional arrest warrants and an inevitable conviction for drunk driving that could have been completed on the front end with less cost and fewer headaches.

There are few upsides to a deferred judgment for an OWI. First, it’s not a completely sealed record. The police blotter in Cedar Rapids and other Iowa communities has already published a record of the OWI arrest which surely has been picked up by background check companies in their sweep of the Internet.

Second, law enforcement will always have access to a deferred judgment record as will the courts. A deferred judgment counts as a first offense OWI for purposes of classifying future Iowa OWI offenses within the next 12 years, so there’s no benefit there.

Third, it’s not a completely sealed record within Iowa. Certain employers in sensitive fields can request a copy of your deferred judgment record from authorities in Des Moines or simply ask defendant to sign a waiver to obtain it.  It isn’t sealed by the court until the probation is over so there will likely be six months to a year that it remains on a public courts database for all to see even after a deferred judgment is granted.

For those who do not want to suffer the hassle for a relatively minimized court record that comes with a deferred judgment, the weekend program and a permanent conviction might be a better option. Still, some wish to tamp down the effects of the prosecution to the best of their ability even if the deferred judgment for OWI in Iowa isn’t a completely sealed record.

Also keep in mind that these options are not available in every county. Prosecutors and judges follow local practices where drunk driving deferred judgments may be disfavored—it is up to the prosecutor to either agree or disagree to such a recommendation. And it is up to the judge to grant or deny the request for a deferred judgment or weekend program. There are costs and benefits to all of these objectives and options, if they are placed before the defendant, and an attorney licensed in Iowa and limited exclusively to criminal law can help discuss those options with someone in an OWI situation.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for operating while intoxicated (OWI), or, as it is called in other States, DUI, contact DAC-LAW PLC for an initial consultation today. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship. 

If you or a loved one has been arrested for an Iowa OWI (DUI), contact DAC-LAW PLC at 319-389-4276 or


for an initial consultation today. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship. 

Justice Deferred: A deferred judgment in Iowa is a strange creature of the law. A first time drunk driving defendant, with a test result less than .15 g ETOH/210 L breath, 100 mL Blood, or 67 mL urine, may request a deferred judgment. This in effect means submitting a guilty plea and being on probation but not found guilty or convicted unless and until a prescribed period of probation and all substantive and financial obligations are completed. The case remains publicly available on court databases until that time. If successfully discharged, the record of the prosecution is expunged and the public court file is sealed. But is that the end of it? ​If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, contact DAC-LAW PLC at 319-389-4276 today.