FRequently Asked Questions
What will an Iowa criminal lawyer in Polk County do for me?
After your arrest, a criminal defense law firm can evaluate the facts of your case, help you negotiate a plea deal, and prepare your case for trial. Your Des Moines, IA, criminal lawyer will offer you legal advice.
Your Iowa criminal defense attorney will counsel you on your chances at trial and help you navigate the plea bargaining process. Ultimately, your defense attorney is responsible for providing you with a clear, honest look at your options so that you can make an informed decision about whether to proceed at trial. If you proceed to trial, your Iowa lawyer will decide the best trial strategy options for you.
Most people charged with crimes in Iowa choose to take plea options rather than proceeding to trial.
This is often too bad, because in many cases, plea options involve sentencing options that aren’t necessarily any better than what a judge would be likely to sentence you to after conviction at trial. For some people, accepting a plea bargain represents giving up an opportunity for acquittal. Defendants who are acquitted may face lower court costs, jail costs, etc. than defendants who are convicted or who plead guilty in exchange for a plea bargain.
Your Iowa criminal lawyer will discuss your options with you so that you understand the costs and benefits of going to trial or of giving up your right to trial. Accepting a plea deal can prevent you from appealing your case. Your lawyer will talk to you about this.
If you hope to have your misdemeanor charges dismissed, an Iowa criminal defense lawyer can investigate the evidence and research possible defenses that might convince the State to drop the charges.
If dismissal isn’t an option, your Iowa criminal law firm will prepare for trial. Getting ready for effective trial advocacy is time-consuming. It would take even longer for someone who isn’t familiar with Iowa criminal defense and rules of criminal procedure.
How do I choose a lawyer?
For your best chances of avoiding a criminal conviction in Iowa, you need the best Iowa criminal defense lawyer that’s available to you. The best criminal defense attorney in Des Moines, Iowa for you will depend on a lot of factors.
You need to find someone you can form a trusting attorney-client relationship with. If you aren’t comfortable talking to someone or if you and your lawyer feel like you’re constantly frustrated with each other, you might not have the right fit.
Next, you need to look for someone who is either familiar with your charges or who is prepared to become familiar with your charges.
Rules are an important part of law – after all, being accused of a crime is being accused of breaking the rules of law. When you’re looking for the best criminal defense lawyer in Iowa for you, evaluate whether the criminal attorneys you’re talking to are familiar with the Iowa criminal rules and the Iowa sentencing rules for the misdemeanor or felony criminal offense charged in your case.
What role do officers and prosecutors play?The police and prosecuting attorneys are public servants, but that doesn’t mean that they’re there to protect your interests. The police will prepare reports. The prosecuting attorney will evaluate the police reports and determine what sort of criminal offense they want to accuse you of.
Who else can help me with my case?
Depending on the facts of your case, your Iowa criminal defense lawyer or defense law firm might have a team to help you that includes private investigators and expert witnesses.
Expert witnesses are people who can testify at your case. Unlike regular witnesses (“lay witnesses,”) experts can offer opinion testimony.
What is criminal defense trial narrative?
Jurors are people. People understand narrative. “Narrative” is “story.”
Criminal defense at trial is competitive story-telling. The facts of a case are static. (That means that they don’t change.) The jury will decide what the facts mean.
The prosecutor will tell the jurors a story. In the prosecutor's story, you are the bad guy. You did a crime, the State will say, because you felt something or because you wanted something. In their story, the government is the good guy. The jury gets to punish the bad guy and right a wrong.
Your criminal defense team can respond one of two ways. Either we can tell the jury a different story, or we can show the jury what is wrong with the prosecution’s story.
The best defense we can offer involves telling the jury a different story. We will use the same facts that the State uses, but we will put them differently.
Consider, for instance, an imaginary case involving the robbery of the Monopoly Money Bank and the horse-homicide of famed racehorse Khartoum. The prosecutor could call show a video of you sitting in a car near the bank near the time of the incident. They could show crime scene photos of your car filled with board game cash and a painted horse head. They could call police officers who would testify. The police could claim that they read you your rights. You knowingly and voluntarily confessed to stealing the money and decapitating the horse. The prosecution might even offer evidence of your motive -- your ex could show up to testify about your insatiable love for brightly-colored board game money. They could show that you’d posted on Facebook about how you thought Khartoum was the dumbest horse and should be recycled into Elmer's school glue.
The prosecution’s story would be that you, a man with a desperate need for board game cash and with an unusual loathing for particular ponies, had robbed a board game bank and decapitated that horse from the Godfather to achieve financial solvency. How can the jury be sure of your guilt? You had the evidence with you, and you confessed! Game over!
To answer the allegations, you would need your own story. Your story would need to explain the facts. Why were you sitting in your car near the bank if you didn't do it? Why did you have all that evidence? Most importantly, why did you confess?
Jurors might initially resist the idea of false confessions until you make them understand why someone might confess to a crime that they didn’t do. You can’t lie to a jury or the court (and neither can I.) What we can do is create a framework for understanding. When we present a story that jurors can understand, we (hopefully) give jurors a way to reasonable doubt so that they can return the "Not Guilty" verdict that sends you home to your family.
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In its simplest form, a story goes like this: you were living your life. You were doing the things you usually do. Then, something happened.
This “inciting incident” could be anything. Maybe a bearded stranger showed up at midnight in a trenchcoat, pounding on your front door until you chose to answer the call. “Drive that car downtown,” this creepy nighttime stranger might have told you, “and wait there. If you leave, if you call anyone, if you do anything other than what I tell you, I will push this button on my phone, and an anvil will be launched off of a skyscraper and onto your beloved family member.”
Determined to protect your family from skyscraper anvil launches, you grabbed your keys and got behind the wheel. You drove downtown. You waited, your breath fogging the windows, your mind racing – until you heard someone pop the trunk of your car. You saw someone in the rearview window but were afraid to turn around. You didn’t want to know. You just wanted to go home.
The back door opened, and someone got in – three someones, you think. They told you to drive, so you drove. They told you to stop, so you stopped. Suddenly, red and blue lights whoop-whooped you into a near heart attack. Your passengers ditched – you are responsible for this, the fleeing felons told you, and you better not say anything else.
So the police found a trunk full of monopoly money and the head of Khartoum. You confessed. Your confession was a lie. You confessed not because you were guilty but because you were afraid that if you did not confess, a scary stranger would push a button on his phone to send an anvil hurtling off a tall building onto your beloved family member.
How can the jurors know that your story is true? Maybe we have evidence like a trenchcoat covered in cartoonish beard hairs found in a ditch three blocks down from where the police picked you up. Or maybe three raccoons in a trenchcoat were caught pulling the same shenanigans with someone else a week later. Maybe we hired an investigator who found an anvil on a phone-app-activated springboard on the top of a tall building.
Now, finally, this story has almost ended. Now, it's the jury's job to see that justice is done.
Every narrative involves characters who have wants, needs, and goals. If we can explain your story so that the jury understands why a witness might lie about you, why a witness might misremember what happened, or why you gave a false confession, the jury might find reasonable doubt and let you go home.
Suppose there isn't enough evidence to support a competing story. In that case, you might focus instead on micro-narratives – we can point out holes in the State’s evidence and suggest possible alternative ways to interpret individual pieces of evidence.
In summary, your Iowa criminal defense attorney will help you try to build your own story to counter the government's story. If that can't happen, your lawyer will help point out flaws in the government’s story.
What happens before trial?
Preparing for trial can be complicated. Depending on the type of offense you’re charged with, it can take a lot of time. Many sections of the Iowa Code may be implicated, and some sections interact in ways that could invite or negate sentencing enhancements or charging enhancements.
Preparing for trial alone isn’t an option for most people.
Before your criminal trial, your Iowa criminal lawyer will review your case. She or he will figure out what evidence exists. Your Iowa criminal defense attorney will make determinations about what evidence supports the government’s story and what evidence supports your story.
What will happen at trial?
The burden is on the State to prove you guilty of every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. You have a constitutional right to be presumed innocent. The presumption of innocence remains with you throughout the trial unless and until the government convinces the fact finder (the judge or jury) of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The first step in a jury trial is voir dire. Voir dire is jury selection. During voir dire, we question potential jurors. After questioning, the prosecution and defense will strike jurors until there are only 12 left (plus any alternates).
For a simple misdemeanor, you have to request a jury trial within ten days of entering a guilty plea. If you don’t make that request in time, you will have a bench trial. A bench trial is a criminal defense trial in front of a judge instead of a jury. If you don’t make that jury request in time, you will have a bench trial. A jury trial for a simple misdemeanor will have only six jurors instead of twelve.
After jury selection, opening statements start. The prosecuting attorney will make an opening statement. After that, your Iowa criminal attorney will make your opening statement.
After opening statements, the prosecutor will call and question witnesses. This is called direct examination.
After the prosecutor has finished questioning a witness, your Polk County, Iowa defense lawyer may question the witness. This is called cross-examination.
Next, your criminal defense attorney in Iowa may call defense witnesses. Sometimes, the defense will call the State's witnesses again. During cross-examination, your defense attorney Des Moines Iowa was limited in what they could ask the witness. They weren’t allowed to ask questions on cross-examination that were “beyond the scope” of the State's direct examination questions.
As a criminal defendant, you have a right to testify on your behalf. You also have the right not to testify. Your right not to testify is your right against self-incrimination. Your criminal lawyer will offer you legal counsel or legal advice on whether you should choose to testify or not. You must choose whether or not to accept counsel's advice.
Both the prosecution and your Iowa criminal lawyer may introduce exhibits. Either side may object to evidence. When someone objects, the Court will either sustain or overrule the objection.
After the prosecution and defense question all witnesses and offer all exhibits, closing arguments start. As with the rest of the trial, the State will argue first. Next, the defense argues. The State may get a moment for rebuttal.
After closing arguments, the judge will read the jury instructions to the jurors.
The jury will consider the evidence and the judge's instructions. A jury might make its decision in a few minutes. Alternatively, jurors could spend hours or days deliberating. Eventually, the jury will return a verdict.
If the jury finds you Not Guilty, it’s all over. Congratulations, you’re done!
If the jury instead finds you Guilty, the next step is sentencing. Sometimes, defendants seek immediate sentencing after conviction. Other times, the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing on a different date.
Before sentencing, the judge might order a presentencing investigation. If so, a PSI report will be filed with the court before sentencing. You will have the opportunity to review this document with your criminal defense lawyer.
At sentencing, the government lawyer will argue for the sentence they think is appropriate. Your defense lawyer will argue for the sentence you want. The judge will decide what sentence to impose.
Do you handle federal criminal defense?
No, we do not represent defendants charged with federal defenses right now. Federal prosecutors and federal sentencing are different from Iowa prosecutors and Iowa sentencing.
If you’re seeking criminal defense legal counsel for federal crimes, I can offer you a referral to other attorneys who practice federal criminal law.
What about the death penalty?We don’t take murder cases, and even if we did, the death penalty doesn’t exist in Iowa. There’s no reason to ask about the death penalty.