Criminal Law Processing in Iowa

Although the criminal process has similar features among the states, certain procedures are different in each state. This article provides a brief introduction to the Iowa criminal process.

Arrest Procedures

You can be arrested if:

  • A police officer has probable cause that you committed a crime
  • An officer observed you committing a criminal offense
  • An arrest warrant has been issued.

When arrested, you are advised that you have the right to remain silent and that what you say can be used against you. This is known as being "Mirandized." Your Miranda rights also include the right to have an attorney represent you and to be present during questioning. If you are indigent, you may have an attorney appointed to represent you.

When you are booked into the detention facility or jail, your personal effects will be taken from you and you will be photographed, fingerprinted, and asked for identification before being placed in a cell or holding area.

Bail Considerations

After your arrest, you may have to wait until an arraignment is held to get bail. In Iowa, your first appearance must take place within 24 hours unless you were arrested on a weekend.

The court considers the severity of the charge, your criminal and employment history, and whether you pose any danger to the community. You can post cash bail with the court or obtain a surety bond from a licensed bail agent. You may also be released on your own recognizance ("OR").

The Arraignment Process and Plea

At your arraignment or first court appearance, a judge will read the charges against you or you can waive them and enter a plea if you have an attorney with you. If you are indigent, an attorney may be appointed for you if the offense could involve jail time. If it is a serious charge, a Trial Information may be presented or a preliminary hearing set before a plea is entered.

If the case is a misdemeanor, you can plead guilty, which is admitting to the charges and the factual basis of the crime. A plea of nolo contendere means you are not contesting the charges and it cannot be used as evidence against you in a civil action. A plea of not guilty will result in the scheduling of a pre-trial conference.

The Plea Bargaining Process

Sometimes at the arraignment, or while awaiting trial, a plea bargain can be negotiated. Over 95 percent of criminal cases are disposed of in this manner. The defendant negotiates a plea to a lesser charge or a reduced sentence to avoid trial and a much harsher penalty if found guilty.

The Preliminary Hearing and Grand Jury Process

For felonies, a preliminary hearing is held within 10 days of arrest if the defendant is still in jail or within 20 days if not in custody. A preliminary hearing is avoided if the prosecutor files before the hearing date a Trial Information, or Indictment, which is supported by probable cause. Otherwise, the Trial Information must be filed within 45 days of the defendant’s arrest.

Grand jury indictments are rarely sought or used in Iowa. Because these hearings only use the low standard of establishing mere probable cause that the defendant committed the crime, many defendants waive the hearing.

Going to Trial and Imposition of Sentence

The Trial Process

The prosecution has the burden of proving a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before 12 jurors in a felony case or six jurors in a misdemeanor trial. A defendant can only be found guilty by an unanimous verdict. At the trial's conclusion, the judge instructs the jury on the law and its obligations.

Imposing Sentence

Sentencing is imposed by the trial judge. In many cases, pre-sentencing investigation is undertaken by substance abuse counselors in drug cases or anger management counselors. In felony matters, a probation officer drafts a report based on your criminal history, social and personal history, victim impact statements and other factors.

Get Help from an Iowa Criminal Attorney

As criminal justice processes and procedures vary from state to state, you should hire a criminal defense attorney if you are charged with a crime.

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