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 will happen.
Stages of Iowa Criminal Defense
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.
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.
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, 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 assign you private appointed counsel.
Whether your 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.
Hiring an Attorney
You can hire an attorney at nearly 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’s a good idea to do that early on so your lawyer as as much time as possible to review options in your case.
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 🙂
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 (…which appears to mean within 45 days of your initial appearance.) 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 may be dismissed “without prejudice,” which means the state will have the option to charge you again.
The TI should be filed before your arraignment date.
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, we often 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 understand English very well, or have some types of mental illness that affect your ability to understand the proceedings. 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.
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 — but nor will your lawyer.
Discuss with your defense lawyer whether you want to 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 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.
If you file for discovery, you and your lawyer will get certain information from the State.
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 different charges instead.
A guilty plea to any charge 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 the Court that you did something that is a crime.
Sometimes, the state dismisses the charges if certain things happen or if they come into possession of information that makes going to trial unappealing for them.
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. After a plea or a conviction, the court will set a sentencing hearing. This hearing might be contemporaneous with your plea or finding of guilt. It might also be set for a different day instead.
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 early in your case to discuss potential defenses before Iowa criminal sentencing becomes an issue. If you’re not convicted or sentenced, presentence investigation won’t be something you have to worry about.
Criminal defense lawyers in Des Moines IA and surrounding areas.
We can help you figure out what to do about your criminal charges in Des Moines, Polk County, Ankeny, Ames, Johnston, West Des Moines, Waukee, Saylorville, Bondurant, Altoona, Clive, Grimes, Pleasant Hill, Story County, Boone County, Marshall County, Dallas County, Jasper County, Madison County, Warren County, Marion County, Wapello County, Davis County, Ottumwa, Bloomfield, Iowa City, Council Bluffs, and the rest of Iowa.
What will happen if I’m charged?
When someone alleges that you have committed a crime, law enforcement will start an investigation.
The county sheriff’s department will take you into custody if they are aware that you have active warrants. The sheriff’s department does not have the latitude to decide whether or not to release you. Arrest records are available online in most Iowa jurisdictions, which will help your friends and family find out where you are if you are suddenly arrested.
Depending on whether they believe there is probable cause to charge you with Iowa crimes, 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.
You may be confined in a correctional facility before trial if you are unable to make bail or if the court doesn’t set bail. There are various factors the court may consider when deciding whether to set bail, such as the nature of your offense and any public safety concerns.
Depending on the nature of the allegations, there may be a protective order in place. If someone has a protective order against you and tries to contact you, you should contact the sheriff’s office right away. A law enforcement officer will take a police report. Police officers can’t provide legal advice, but they can take you – or the protected party, if they persist in violating a no contact order – to the county jail.
Your defense 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 or 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.
If you choose to go to trial, your case will be tried in district court. The officer or officers who arrested you and investigated your case will be likely State witnesses.
If you are convicted or enter a guilty plea, you will be sentenced. After conviction, you could be directed to pay a fine, complete probation, or to detention in jail or prison.
If you are fined, the clerk’s office may be able to help you set up a payment plan.
After conviction, 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.
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 abuse, operating while intoxicated, child endangerment, child abuse, indecent exposure, theft, family law, child custody, personal injury, possession of controlled substances, sex crimes, marijuana, DUI defense, arson, criminal mischief, vehicular homicide, drug offenses, traffic violations, violent 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 lawyer do for me?
If you’ve been accused of a crime, you need to be in contact with an Iowa lawyer or a 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 Iowa attorney will stay in touch 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.
Finally, there is a Victim Services Support Program available through the Iowa attorney general’s office.