Criminal Law >> Iowa Criminal Process
If you’ve been charged with a crime in Iowa and are considering criminal defense options, here’s a step by step guide to what’s gonna happen. Whether or not you retain a defense lawyer, you need to know what will happen next.
Detection of Crime
In order to stop you, police need “reasonable suspicion.” In order to arrest you, police need “probable cause.”
Know your rights!
You have a right to remain silent.
You have the right to an attorney. Your right to an attorney actually has two parts. You have a fifth amendment right to counsel and a sixth amendment right to counsel. This guarantees you that you have the right to counsel both during police interrogations and during critical stages of the criminal process.
You have a right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Complaints and citations
When you’re arrested, the police prepare and file an initial complaint. If you’re charged with a traffic offense, the police will write a citation instead. This initial complaint or citation often forms the basis for your charges.
Warrant and summons to appear
Once a judge reads that officer’s sworn complaint or citation, a warrant may be issued for your arrest or the court may just have you served with a summons to appear.
Once you’re arrested or served with a summons to appear, your first court appearance is usually the initial appearance. Your initial appearance will happen within 24 hours of arrest if you’re in custody. At your initial appearance, the judge will tell you what you’re being charged with, what the possible consequences are, and how much you’ll have to pay to bond out of custody.
If what you’re being charged with could result in possible jail time, your initial appearance is when the judge will tell you that you have a right to an attorney. The judge will ask you some questions about your income or you’ll be given a form to fill out. This form will help determine your ability to pay for court-appointed counsel. You’ll have the opportunity at the initial appearance to tell the court if you want the court to appoint counsel for you, if you want to hire your own attorney, or if you want to represent yourself.
It’s important to know that in most cases, you’ll still be expected to pay the state back if you get court-appointed counsel. I know this may seem unfair. I agree.
If you want to hire your own attorney, you’ll let the court know this.
If you choose to represent yourself, you’re what’s called a “pro se” defendant. Pro se defendants are just defendants who represent themselves. Appearing pro se is generally inadvisable, but it’s my opinion that if you’re willing to put time into researching court procedures and into what you’ve been charged with, pro se representation doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
The formal document that charges you in Iowa is an “indictment” if you’re charged by a grand jury. More commonly, you’ll be charged with in a document called a “trial information.”
If you’ve been charged with an “indictable offense,” the judge will tell you when your next court appearance, the preliminary hearing, is.
Attorney Options — Iowa Criminal Defense Lawyers
Court Appointed Counsel
If you make little enough — usually under about $10k/year in Iowa — the court will offer to appoint counsel for you. Usually, this is through the State Public Defender’s office. If the state public defender’s office has a “conflict” on your case or otherwise can’t represent you, the judge’s clerk will pick and assign you private appointed counsel. Appointed counsel can choose to accept or decline your case.
Whether your appointed counsel is the SPD’s office or private appointed counsel, you’ll be responsible for paying the state back for your representation if you’re “reasonably able to do so.”
In Iowa, the order to pay attorneys’ fees usually happens before the close of the case, which means you’ll still have a right to counsel at that point. If you can’t afford to pay, tell your attorney. The court is required to exercise discretion in determining whether or not you’re required to pay the state back for your representation.
If you’ve been charged with prostitution in Polk County, Iowa, please check in with me.
Hiring an Attorney
You can hire an attorney at any point in the criminal process. You can hire an attorney before you’re even charged with a crime if you have reason to think you’re under investigation or might be investigated. You can hire an attorney while you’re still in custody. You can hire an attorney right before trial if you’re so-inclined, although doing something like this is inadvisable; many attorneys won’t take on representation right before a trial because they won’t have adequate time to prepare and because they’ll already have missed out on valuable opportunities to try to negotiate with the district attorneys.
If you think you might like to hire a criminal lawyer, it benefits you to do so as early in the process as you reasonably can.
Some criminal defense lawyers charge hourly for their help. In Iowa, a criminal attorney’s hourly rate could be as low as $150 or it could be $500 or more. An attorney’s hourly rate may be different for trial work or appellate work.
Some attorneys may offer you a flat fee for representation. This flat fee will include certain things but may not include others. Flat fees usually don’t include representation at trial or representation on appeal.
Whether your attorney offers an hourly rate or a flat fee for their services, make sure you understand what you’ll be billed for and what additional expenses you may incur. For example, fees may be different if your case goes to trial or if you need an appeal. Extra expenses, such as costs for depositions, court reporters, and private investigators may be billed separately from (although possibly on the same invoice as) your lawyer’s billable hours.
Pro Se Representation
If you choose not to hire an attorney or to have the court appoint one for you, you’re now a pro se defendant. Welcome to Iowa Criminal Defense 🙂
The preliminary hearing, not to put too fine a point on things, is a garbage hearing. If you have an attorney, your attorney will probably waive this hearing. Some attorneys don’t seem to bother mentioning that you even have the right to a preliminary hearing. If you have an attorney, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t have a preliminary hearing at all. Don’t worry; you’re not missing anything of consequence if you waive your initial appearance.
If you’re in custody, your preliminary hearing will happen within 10 days. If you’re out of custody, your preliminary hearing will happen within 20 days.
Indictment or Trial Information
Indictments and trial informations are the formal documents used to charge defendants in Iowa. If you have a defense lawyer, they’ll go over your charging document with you.
Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure require speedy indictment. You have to be formally charged within 45 days after arrest. If you aren’t charged by then, your attorney may request that charges against you are dismissed. If charges against you are dismissed for this reason, they’ll probably get dismissed “without prejudice,” which means the state will have the option to charge you again.
The TI should be filed before your arraignment date.
“Arraignment” is a big word that doesn’t mean much. At an arraignment, the court wants to make sure your name is spelled correctly and that you understand the charges against you and what your charging options are.
At arraignment, you enter a plea of not guilty, waive the formal reading of the charges, and ask that the court set the matter for pretrial and trial.
If you have an attorney, they may have you do a written arraignment. A written arraignment pretty much involves your attorney writing down that your name is spelled correctly, that you’re able to understand what you’re charged with, and that you want to plead not guilty. You’ll sign a written arraignment in front of a notary public. Your attorney will file your arraignment. If the court accepts your written arraignment, you won’t have the in-person arraignment.
There are some times when the court won’t accept a written arraignment, particularly if you don’t have much formal education, don’t speak English well, or have some types of mental illness. It’s important for the court to make sure you understand what’s happening.
At your arraignment or in your written arraignment, you’ll tell the court whether you demand your right to a speedy trial or whether you waive your right to a speedy trial.
If you demand your right to a speedy trial, trial has to happen within 90 days of the arraignment being filed and within a year of your initial arraignment.
Invoking your right to a speedy trial means you can get things done and out of the way. It also means the state won’t have as much time to prepare for your trial.
Discuss with your defense lawyer whether you should waive your right to speedy trial or not.
Waiving your right to speedy trial will allow for more time negotiating possible plea deals with the county attorneys. It will also give your attorney more time to prepare for a possible trial. The state may resist your motions to continue out any court dates if you haven’t waived your right to speedy trial.
The Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure specify a time for filing pretrial motions. If you want to claim that you have an alibi or that you were insane at the time the alleged offense was committed, your attorney will need to notify the court about these claims during the time permitted for pretrial motions.
You can file for “discovery” in your case. If you file for discovery in a criminal case, you open the door for “reciprocal discovery,” in which the state has the right to collect certain information from you.
Discovery happens between arraignment and trial.
Most criminal cases in Iowa end with a “plea bargain” or a “plea agreement,” not with an actual trial. During discovery, your lawyer and the state’s prosecutors will talk about plea bargaining options.
If you file for discovery, you and your lawyer will get certain information from the state, such as police reports and the names of witnesses they intend to introduce if the case goes to trial.
Depositions may happen during discovery. Depositions are done under oath. During depositions, your defense lawyer and/or the state’s attorneys may ask witnesses questions. A court reporter comes in and makes an official transcript of these questions and answers. Deposition transcripts may be used as evidence at trial.
Non-Trial Ways to End a Case
Most cases end with plea bargains. In a plea bargain, the state will ask that you plead to one or more charges. Sometimes, the charges are the ones you’re initially charged with. They may be lighter charges instead — for instance, a prosecutor might offer to let you plead to a theft fourth if you’ve been charged with a theft third.
This benefits the state because they don’t have to put in the time and work to bring something to trial but they still get the conviction and to sentence you to something. This may benefit you if you don’t want to spend the time and money to defend yourself at trial or if you don’t want to risk going to trial and getting convicted.
A guilty plea has to be “knowing and voluntary” and there has to be a “factual basis” for it.
Knowing and Voluntary
There has to be a factual basis for a guilty plea. In most cases, if you’re pleading guilty to an offense, you will have to tell
Sometimes, the state dismisses the charges, either on your attorney’s motion or on its own volition, if certain things happen or if they come into possession of information that makes going to trial unappealing for them.
If you’re looking to represent yourself at trial, here’s a page on that. Else, hang tight for a more detailed page on what happens during a criminal trial.
Sentencing in Iowa depends on what you’ve been charged with. Sentencing is different for felonies than for misdemeanors. For felonies and certain misdemeanors, presentence investigation will be the first stage in determining what the punishment for conviction will be.