Coronavirus and COVID-19: What Iowa Defendants Need to Know

On March 17, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued a State of Public Health Disaster Emergency in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus. The Iowa Supreme Court has entered several orders suspending some -- but not all -- court proceedings and changing the procedure for many others. Here's what you need to know about proceeding with Iowa criminal defense lawyers in Des Moines right now.

(The information on this page is subject to change. The information on this page may or may not still be current at the time you are viewing it.)

What Criminal Defendants Need to Know About the Novel Coronavirus/Covid-19 Spreading Through Iowa

Clark and Sears Law is remaining open during the COVID-19 outbreak.  I've graduated from working from home 90% of the time to working from home 100% of the time.

We will continue to provide remote consultations.  We accept payment online.  In most situations, we can handle your entire case (other than trial, if your case goes to trial) without ever meeting in person. 

What to Know

As concisely as possible:

  • Trials have all been "continued," which means "moved until later."  
    • Non-jury criminal trials are delayed until June 1, 2020 or later.
    • Non-jury civil trials are delayed until June 15, 2020 or later.
    • Jury criminal trials are delayed until July 13, 2020 or later.
    • Jury civil trials are delayed until August 3, 2020 or later.
  • Mediations set at courthouses before June 1, 2020, will be continued or will be conducted by telephone.
  • Grand jury proceedings are delayed until July 13, 2020 or later.
  • Traffic proceedings are delayed until June 1, 2020 or later.
  • Until August 3, judges may accept written guilty pleas in felony matters.
  • Courts may allow any party to appear at sentencing by videoconference or telephone with that party's consent.  (A defendant who wants to appear by videoconference or telephone should execute a written waiver or make a waiver on the record.  Ask your lawyer to provide you with a waiver to sign.)
  • "Speedy trial" won't be as speedy as it usually is.
  • Judges are encouraged to consider pretrial release options.
  • Emergency and essential business is still being carried on in person.
  • Do not show up in person to court if you believe that you may have an elevated risk of transmitting illness.
  • Tell your lawyer if you believe that you, a witness, or anyone else involved in a proceeding might be sick.
  • Many court proceedings can be handled remotely -- in many cases, either your lawyer can appear on your behalf or you can appear by videoconference or by telephone.
  • Stay home.
  • No, seriously.  If you don't have to leave for work, for an emergency, or for essential grocery shopping, stay home.  Thanks!

How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus in Iowa

Social Distancing

Health experts and government officials are recommending social distancing to reduce the impact of the epidemic. Social distancing interrupts transmission chains, reduces spreading the virus, reduces how bad the epidemic will get, and slows the increase in cases.

Social distancing measures include:

  • Isolating infected people
  • Isolating people who are suspected to be infected
  • Isolating people who have symptoms
  • Suspending mass gatherings, like concerts and church congregations
  • Closing non-essential businesses
  • Teleworking, or working from home
  • Suspending in-person meetings
  • Cancelling non-essential domestic and international travel
  • Closing schools, including universities
  • Closing daycares
  • Preventing people from entering or leaving residential areas with high levels of infection
  • Requiring people to stand at least 6' apart

Who is Most at Risk?

80% of novel coronavirus cases are considered "mild," but "mild" isn't necessarily what you think it is. A case of COVID-19 is considered "mild" up to and until the patient requires oxygen supplementation. 20% of The risk of severe disease is considered "high" for the at-risk groups, including the elderly and people with chronic underlying conditions. While 80% of cases cause "milder respiratory infections and pneumonia," severe illness occurs in 20% of patients.

Iowa Courts Impacted by Coronavirus

Iowa is no stranger to uncomfortable seasonal circumstances like flooding, drought, tornadoes, and hailstorms. The Governor's Office and the Iowa Department of Public Health are encouraging Iowans to prepare for the spread of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 "in the same way they prepare for severe weather or other events that could disrupt their normal routine."

Iowa Supreme Court Orders

The Iowa Supreme Court has entered orders to help guide Iowa defendants and their lawyers on what to expect. Some changes include:

Notify Opposing Counsel of Elevated Risk

If anyone reasonably expects that someone in a court proceeding may have an elevated risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, they have to notify opposing counsel and the local Clerk of Court's office.

The court order isn't clear about who is considered to have an "elevated risk" of transmitting the virus, but does direct Iowans toward the CDC (Center for Disease Control) website, IowaCourts.gov, and the Iowa Department of Public Health pages concerning the virus.

Who is at Elevated Risk of Transmitting the Virus?

It was initially thought that the novel coronavirus was spread entirely or almost entirely by people who were already exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Therefore, a lot of the early advice centered on

There is increasing evidence that people with very mild, cold-like symptoms, or even no symptoms at all, are perpetuating the spread of the virus. On a cruise ship where people were tested whether or not they had symptoms, 51% of those who tested positive did not have symptoms of the coronavirus at the time that they tested positive. It's estimated that between 48-62% of cases are acquired from someone who hasn't started showing symptoms yet.

It is currently believed that people are at their most contagious when they start showing mild symptoms.  Is this correct?  Who knows!  

You should consider yourself at elevated risk of transmitting the virus if you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, if you've been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, if you've been in contact with someone who has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or if you've not been socially isolating.

Inquire into Transmission Risk

Your Iowa criminal defense firm is responsible for asking you and any witnesses whether you have an elevated risk of transmitting the virus.

Do Not Come to Court if You Are Sick

Per the Iowa Supreme Court's order dated April 2, 2020, you may not attend court proceedings without prior authorization from the court.  Do not jeopardize others' health and wellbeing and do not behave in ways that could spread the virus and prolong the virus-related shutdowns.

Des Moines Criminal Defense Lawyer During Coronavirus

Stay safe!

Give us a call if you need help.

polk county iowa criminal defense lawyers katie sears and john sears defense attorneys

Sources for Information on the Novel Coronavirus impacting Iowa:

Rapid Risk Update: Novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic: increased transmission in the EU/EEA and the UK – sixth update (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) (2020), https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/RRA-sixth-update-Outbreak-of-novel-coronavirus-disease-2019-COVID-19.pdf (last visited Mar 20, 2020).
Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal - CDC https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/
In the Matter of Preparation for Coronavirus/COVID-19 Impact on Court Services. (Iowa Supreme Court Order dated March 12, 2020), https://www.iowacourts.gov/collections/464/files/1043/embedDocument/ .
St. Cavish, Christopher. “Commentary: No, China’s Fresh Food Markets Did Not Cause Coronavirus.” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2020-03-11/coronavirus-china-wet-markets.

things Iowa criminal defendants need to know about coronavirus changes to court proceedings
Photo by Fusion Medical Animation

This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Consult with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  Reading this site doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship.  If you want to talk to us about your arson accusation in Iowa, please contact us at (515) 491 6128 and we’ll set up a time to talk.

What will happen if I’m charged?

When someone alleges that you have committed an Iowa offense, law enforcement will start an investigation.  Depending on whether they believe there is probable cause to charge you withan Iowa crime, you could be taken to jail or given documents that say when your court date is.  After your arrest, you will be read your rights and given an opportunity to call a lawyer or a law firm.

You will be taken in front of the judge for an initial appearance.  The judge will schedule a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, you or your lawyer will have the opportunity to ask a witness questions to establish whether probable cause exists to charge you with the offense.  At this hearing, the witness will be under oath. There are reasons that your attorney might suggest waiving the preliminary hearing. You should consult with them before making a decision.

Your attorney will let you know when you will next have to appear in front of the court.  This may be for an arraignment or you may be able to submit a written arraignment.

The county attorney’s office will review the information provided to them by the police.  They will determine what offenses to charge you with. You could be charged with a misdemeanor with a felony

Your attorney will let you know what the government is claiming you did, what your rights are, what the worst case scenario sentence could be, and how this could affect your criminal record. Your criminal lawyer will tell you more about the fines, terms of incarceration, and collateral consequences that might apply.  Your law firm will give you legal advice on the pros and cons of taking your case to trial.  The decision of whether or not to go to trial is ultimately yours.

Finally, if you’re convicted, you might have reason and opportunity to appeal your conviction or sentence to the court of appeals or even to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Supreme Court might even say that there was a constitutional problem with the statute you were charged under.  Ask your criminal defense attorney for more information.

These proceedings might be different during the Iowa coronavirus emergency.

What should I know about lawyers generally?

Attorneys are people who completed their bachelor’s or 4-year degrees and then went on to attend a law school, such as Drake University Law School in Des Moines.  After completing law school, Iowa lawyers take the bar exam and are evaluated for character and fitness. Iowa lawyers are admitted to the Iowa state bar. The bar association regulates the legal profession.

Some lawyers and law firms do general practice, which means they accept all kind of representation.  Some lawyers specialize in particular areas of law. A lawyer might do only civil practice or only criminal defense.  Some lawyers get even more particular than that, practicing only (or primarily) in a narrow area, such as domestic violence, sex crime, sexual abuseoperating while intoxicated, child endangerment, child abuse, indecent exposure, theft, family law, child custody, possession of controlled substances, sex crimes, marijuanaDUI defense, arson, criminal mischief, vehicular homicide, drug offenses, traffic violationsviolent crime or drunk driving. 

Many Iowa lawyers practice only in Iowa courts. All Iowa crimes are defined in the Iowa Code.  The Iowa rules of criminal procedure control what happens in Iowa criminal justice cases.

Federal court is different. If you are facing federal charges for a federal criminal offense, make sure to let your Iowa lawyer know that so that they can give you referrals to other attorneys, if necessary. Federal courts in Iowa are not the same things as state law courts in Iowa. Federal prosecutors and federal judges use different procedural rules. Federal crimes are subject to federal sentencing.

What offenses exist in Iowa criminal law?

Criminal law offenses are divided into misdemeanors and felonies. Class A felonies exist, but most people facing felony charges are facing a class B felony, a class C felony, or a class D felony. If you have questions about Iowa arson laws, you should talk to a lawyer.

What can an Iowa crimes lawyer do for me?

If you’ve been accused of something illegal, you need to be in contact with an attorney or law firm that works with Iowa criminal law.

If there’s a warrant out for your arrest, your Iowa criminal defense attorney can help coordinate with law enforcement to coordinate a self-surrender that doesn’t result in potential embarrassment at work or while you’re home with your family.

Your attorney with the county attorney’s office and let the prosecutor know whether you choose to exercise or waive your right to speedy trial.  Further, counsel can provide some guidance on whether it’s advisable in your position to consider a plea agreement or to go to trial. They will talk to you about whether a judge or jury is likely to find a particular witness credible.

Your criminal lawyer will let you know what sort of jail time you might be facing if convicted, how this will impact your criminal history, and how likely it is that you could get your charges dismissed.

Victim Resources

 Finally, there is a Victim Services Support Program available through the Iowa attorney general’s office.

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