Presentence Investigation -- Iowa Criminal Sentencing

Criminal Law >> Iowa Criminal Sentencing >> Presentence Investigation

Iowa criminal sentencing is governed by Iowa Code Chapter 901.  Presentence investigations are the first step in many criminal sentencings.

If you've been charged with a crime in Polk County, Iowa, you may be wondering what will happen to you.  Here's a quick overview of what to expect.

After you plead guilty, accept a plea bargain, or are found guilty by the judge or jury, your case moves to sentencing.

Presentence Investigation (Iowa Code 901.2)

The first thing that happens in sentencing is figuring out whether your conviction will involve a presentence investigation. 

Presentence investigation is when the court collects information that it considers relevant to sentencing.  The court will get information from you and your attorney, from the state, and from other sources that it thinks are relevant.

If you consent, the court may start your presentence investigation before you're even found guilty.

Some types of charges, such as class "A" felonies (like murder) don't get presentence investigations. If you've been convicted of a class A felony, the board of parole will consider the Iowa medical and classification center report.  If the parole board thinks that report is inadequate, they can ask for extra information from the district department of correctional services.

Conspiracy to manufacture for delivery or delivery or intent or conspiracy to delivery amphetamine or methamphetamine to a minor is a class "A" felony that does get a presentence investigation.

Class B, class C, and class D felonies all get presentence investigations.

The court decides whether to order presentence investigations for aggravated misdemeanors.

If you're charged with a serious misdemeanor, the court can only order a presentence investigation if they find "exceptional circumstances" warranting investigation.  Serious misdemeanors presentence investigations include only your personal and social history, your criminal record, and the harm your crime caused to the victim, the victim's family, and the community.  Serious misdemeanor presentence investigations may consider victim impact statements.

What's in a Presentence Report (Iowa Code 901.3)

If the court orders a presentence investigation on a charge other than a serious misdemeanor, an investigator will consider these things:

  1. Your characteristics, family and financial circumstances, your needs, and your potential to be rehabilitated and do good things in life.
  2. Your criminal record and social history
  3. The circumstances of the offense
  4. How long you've been detained
  5. How you've harmed the victim, the victim's family, and the community.  The investigator will give a victim impact statement form to each victim.  After the victims complete these forms, the victim impact statements will be filed along with the investigator's report.
  6. Whether you're a candidate for the community service sentence program.
  7. Whether there were any "mitigating circumstances" relating to the offense. "Mitigating circumstances" are things that mean that, even though you did the crime, the court doesn't find you as blameworthy as other people who did the crime might be.  This might be something like your age, your history, any mental illnesses you have, your inexperience, whether you feel bad about you did, and whether you really meant to cause harm or were just being kinda dumb.
  8. Whether you're a candidate for deferred judgment, deferred sentencing, suspended sentence, or probation.  (Sidenote: I was under the impression that mitigating circumstances and candidacy for deferred judgement, etc. were considered for a number of offenses, but the code specifically lists only "assisting suicide," so I'm not sure what to make of that.  I'll follow up.)
  9. Whether you have substance abuse or mental health problems.  If you do have trouble with substance abuse or with your mental health, the investigator will ask you and the "correctional system" what treatment options are available to you.

State and local mental health institutions and correctional facilities will give your investigator whatever relevant information they have about you.

Who can see your presentence investigation?

Histories, treatment, and use of medication won't be disclosed to your investigator without your authorization.  If you won't authorize the disclosure, the investigator can make a note of that.

The court can approve an order to have a physical or psych exam done on you.  The court can order you to an inpatient or outpatient psychiatric facility to have your personality and personality evaluated.  If you are examined or evaluated like this, the results of your examination or evaluation will be given to your investigator.

Your presentence report is confidential.  The report is part of your record but it will be sealed.  The sealed report will be opened only on court order and when permitted by statute.  There aren't many times when your report will be seen without a court order.

Your attorney and the state's attorney will get at least three days before sentencing when they can access your presentence report.  This time is to allow your attorney and the state's attorney time to prepare for sentencing arguments.

If you appeal your case, your appellate attorney and the state's appellate attorney will be able to request to see your presentence report.  If they make these requests, they will get to see the report without a court order.

Substance abuse services and mental health services providers may be able to access your presentence investigation report when they're referring you for services.

The Department of Corrections can release your report to another jurisdiction for probation and parole services and evaluations.

Do I get to know who contributed to my presentence investigation?

The court can conceal the identity of someone who provides confidential information for your presentence investigation report.

What if the Presentence Investigation is Wrong?

If something in your presentence investigation report is wrong, you or your criminal defense attorney can file "a denial or refutation of the allegations contained in the report."  This means that you can say something like "that isn't true."  Your denial or refutation will be included as part of the report, so when the judge reviews your report, he or she will know that you don't agree that it's all true.

Presentence Investigation Substance Abuse Evaluation

If the court thinks you regularly abuse alcohol or other substances, they can order you to complete a substance abuse evaluation.  This evaluation will let the court know whether a professional thinks you need treatment for alcoholism or other substance abuse issues.

presentence investigation criminal attorney Iowa lawyer Johnathan John Sears and Katherine Katie Sears Clark

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 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 abuseoperating while intoxicated, child endangerment, child abuse, indecent exposure, theft, family law, child custody, personal injurypossession 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 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.

Victim Resources

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

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