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Criminal Process

Felony Crimes

Felony offenses are the most serious crimes established in the Iowa Code. 

Conviction of a felony can result in: 

  • a prison term served in a State penal institution.
  • loss of the right to vote, hold office, or to possess firearms.
  • bonding or insurance coverage being required before beginning employment. Some insurance companies refuse to bond convicted felons making it difficult to become employed in certain positions.

Indictable Misdemeanors

Indictable misdemeanors are referred to as serious or aggravated misdemeanors.

Conviction of a serious or aggravated misdemeanor can result in:

  •  a term of up to one year in the county jail or a term not to exceed two years in prison.   
  • enhanced sentencing for a repeat offender convicted of multiple OWI's, Possession of a Controlled Substances, or Domestic Abuse Assaults which can increase the penalties to the felony level.

Simple Misdemeanors

Simple misdemeanors are the least serious offenses in the Iowa Code and can include traffic offenses. 

Conviction of a simple misdemeanor offense can result in:

  • a fine ranging between $65.00 to $855.00
  • imprisonment not to exceed 30 days in addition to a fine.  
  • a scheduled fine for most traffic offenses and the law requires the Clerk to asses a 15% surcharge on the fine as well as $60.00 in court costs.

The Criminal Process

After a Crime is Reported

  • an investigation is started, which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few years, by the agency that has jurisdiction over the location where the crime occurred; however, any peace officer in the State of Iowa can be involved in an investigation anywhere in the State.
  • Officers may work together to solve a crime, or may call upon the Division of Criminal Investigation to assist. 
  •  a lack of evidence and/or witnesses, may cause a case to never reach the point where an investigation can be successfully concluded.

Charges are Filed

  • if the officer has collected enough evidence to believe that a particular person committed a crime:
  • after the officer makes a decision as to what crime should be charged. This is sometimes done after consultation with other officers, their supervisor and/or the county attorney.
  • by filing a Complaint with the Clerk of Court. 

Charges are not Filed:

  • if there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution.
  • if the specific elements (or facts) to support the case can't be proven. In an OWI case for instance, there may be ample evidence that the suspect was intoxicated, but nothing to support the idea that the suspect was operating a motor vehicle. Without evidence to support all of the elements, a charge cannot be filed.
  • when a witness is unwilling to cooperate, or when a victim is unable to participate because of fear of retaliation or the psychological damage already inflicted by the offender.
  • if the situation did not involve the commission of a crime, but rather is a civil matter between the parties.

An Arrest is Made

  • if an officer is able to complete a sufficient portion of his investigation at the scene.

A Summons is Issued

  • in less serious cases ordering the suspect to appear in Magistrate Court.
  • if additional investigation is needed to determine if a charge is appropriate.  The Magistrate will then make a decision about whether a summons or arrest warrant should be issued.

An Initial Appearance

  • is set shortly after a defendant is arrested.
  • is when the defendant is advised by the Magistrate of the charge(s) that have been made and the possible legal consequences if convicted.
  • is when the defendant can apply for court-appointed counsel.
  • is when a No Contact Order can be issued in sexual or domestic abuse cases.
  • is when a preliminary hearing date is set along with bail conditions.

Bail Conditions can Require

  • that the defendant post money to get out of jail.
  • that the defendant be released on pre-trial supervision to a person or agency.
  • that the defendant obtain evaluations.

A Preliminary Hearing

  • is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the charges against the defendant.
  • is where the State presents evidence showing the defendant probably committed the crime.
  • is rarely held because the same purpose is fulfilled by the State filing a Trial Information.

A Trial Information

  • is a charging document containing the indictment against the defendant. 
  • is filed along with the Minutes of Testimony, which contains a list of the State’s witnesses and a summary of the evidence.
  • is reviewed by a District Judge to determine if there is enough evidence to support the charges, and if so, the Judge signs an Order allowing it to be filed and sets a date for Arraignment.

An Arraignment

  • is the formal accusation of the defendant.
  • requires the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty after which a trial date will be set.
  • may be in the form of a written arraignment that addresses all of the issues that would have occurred at the hearing. 

A Pre-trial Conference

  • occurs If the defendant pleads not guilty.

Pretrial Motions can include

  • a request for discovery of the State's evidence in the case.
  • a request for depositions which would involve issuing subpoenas to Victims/witnesses to give testimony prior to trial.
  • a request to suppress evidence.

Plea Negotiations Involve

  • having the defendant plead to a different charge than what was originally filed to decrease the range of penalties.
  • pleading to the original charge with an agreement for a sentencing recommendation.

A Trial

  • can be either a jury trial or a bench trial (Judge only).
  • usually involves the reading of the charge by the county attorney.
  • begins with opening statements by the attorneys, followed by the presentation of the State’s case, Defendant’s case and then any rebuttal and closing arguments.
  • goes to the jury after the Judge reads the jury instructions.
  • ends after the jury has reached a unanimous decision and the verdict is returned. If the defendant is found guilty, a sentencing hearing is set. If found not guilty, the defendant faces no further consequences as a result of the charge.

The Sentencing

  • takes many factors into account, primarily, what the defendant did, whether there is a victim, whether there was personal injury or property damage, and the defendant’s criminal history, history of services, attitude, and level of cooperation.
  • is when Victim restitution will be ordered if applicable.
  • is when Victims have the right to address the Court to describe how the defendant’s actions impacted their lives. This can have a significant impact on the Court’s sentence.


  • are set by the legislature, usually by the classification of the offense, such as serious misdemeanor or class D felony.
  • are specific to violating a particular law. For instance, a particular sex offense may be a D felony, but there are additional requirements for electronic monitoring, registration and employment and residency restrictions.
  • may be enhanced and will lengthen a sentence or impose additional requirements for that offender. For instance, a second sex offense carries a longer term of incarceration.
  • can be suspended, which means they don’t have to be served as long as the defendant completes probation.
  • can include a deferred judgment, which puts a person on probation for a period of time, and if the defendant completes that, then a conviction will not be entered for the offense.

The Appeal Process

  • is allowed for any sentence imposed by the Court (except a deferred judgment).
  • begins at the Supreme Court, with most directed for decision to the Court of Appeals, and if further hearing is granted, back to the Supreme Court.
  • focuses on errors made at the trial or sentencing, and sometimes on pre-trial errors.
  • finds no reversible error, the conviction and sentence will stand.
  • finds a reversible error, the sentence or the conviction will be set aside and the case returned to the District Court level for a correction of the sentence or a new trial.

Post-Conviction Relief

  • appeal process is final, the defendant may pursue post-conviction relief (PCR) proceedings.
  • PCRs are civil suits and are a challenge to issues not raised on appeal – generally ineffective assistance of trial counsel, or other errors of the Court or the prosecutor.
  • decisions can also be appealed.

A Court Ordered County Jail Sentence

  • if imposed, the defendant may not have go to jail immediately. An accommodation may be granted to permit the defendant to resolve work or personal issues.
  • may include work release privileges which allows the defendant to go to work during his normal work hours and then return to the jail to continue serving the imposed sentence.

A Court Ordered Prison Sentence

  • if imposed, means the defendant will be taken into custody immediately and transferred by the Sheriff to the prison system.
  • can include credit for good time and most offenders are eligible for parole immediately. Those parole standards are not applicable to offenders sentenced to life without parole or convicted of an offense that requires service of a minimum portion of the sentence before being eligible for parole (usually 1/3 to 70% of the sentence).

Once in Prison

  • the Board of Parole is exclusively responsible for determining a release date for the offender.
  • the sentencing Court may bring an offender back for reconsideration of the sentence, and the governor may issue pardons, clemency or commute a life sentence to a term of years.


  • for an offender can suspend the jail and/or prison sentence.
  • can impose many conditions on an offender as part of probation.
  • if successfully completed, means the offender will never have to serve the suspended portion of the sentence.
  • if violated, can result in a revocation of probation.

Probation Revocation

  • can result in the defendant serving the suspended portion of the sentence.
  • can result in the imposition of a different sentence.
  • can result in a finding of contempt punishable by jail time and/or additional fines.

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