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Criminal Arrest

Arrest: Starts the process. Arrest is defined as “the taking of a person into custody when and in the manner authorized by law, including restraint of the person or the person’s submission to custody.” Iowa Code section 804.5.

Initial Appearances & Hearings

Initial Appearance: The arrested individual must enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The magistrate or judge then informs the individual of his/her rights and counsel may be appointed if the proper conditions are met. The Initial Appearance must occur without “unnecessary delay” after arrest. “Unnecessary delay” means less than 24 hours.

Preliminary Hearing: Must be held within 10 days of arrest if the individual is still in custody or 20 days after arrest if not in custody. Magistrate or judge determines if there is sufficient probable cause to hold the individual to answer in further proceedings. The question is whether or not there is probable cause to believe the individual arrested committed the offense. Very low burden for State to meet. The Preliminary Hearing may be avoided by the prosecutor if the Trial Information or Indictment is filed prior to the hearing date. Even if the defendant prevails at this hearing, the State may still file a Trial Information or Indictment supported by probable cause. For this reason, unless the defendant is in custody, the Preliminary Hearing is ordinarily waived.

Indictment - Formal Charges

Indictment/Trial Information: The formal charges must be filed by way of a Trial Information or Indictment within 45 days of the defendant’s arrest or the charges must be dismissed. Court determines if the evidence contained in the information and attached minutes of testimony, if unexplained, would warrant a conviction by a jury. If the Indictment of Trial Information is filed after the 45 days without a good explanation by the County Attorney, the charge is dismissed with prejudice which means it cannot be filed again.

Arraignment: Court date where the defendant is presented with a copy of the Trial Information and is required to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges. Defendant also has the right to have the charges read in open court for all to hear. This may and often times is waived. The arraignment may be conducted in writing if the proper procedures are followed.

Defense Motions

Bill of Particulars: Must be filed within 10 days of the arraignment unless good cause is established by the defendant. A request for Bill of Particulars is a request by the Defendant for the State to specify with more particularity the factual basis supporting the charge.

Notice of Deposition: Must be filed within 30 days of the arraignment unless good cause is established by the defendant. Depositions are when the defendant through his/her attorney is permitted to bring the State’s witnesses in and ask them questions about what happened. The witnesses answers are recorded by a court reporter and the witness is placed under oath prior to answering questions.

Waiver of Jury Trial: Must be filed within 30 days of the arraignment unless good cause is established by the defendant or at any time with prosecutors consent

Pre-Trial Motions: The following pretrial motions must be filed within 40 days of the Arraignment or they are waived unless good cause is established by the defendant:

  • Objections based on defects in the institution of the prosecution
  • Defenses and objections based on defects in the indictment or information.
  • Motion to Suppress – motion claiming that evidence was illegally obtained and requesting that the evidence be declared in admissible at trial.
  • Requests for discovery
  • Requests for severance – motion requesting that defendant’s trial be held separate from co-defendant’s trial.
  • Motion for change of venue or change of judge
  • Motion in Limine – Motion requesting that the State be precluded from presenting certain evidence or arguments. Must be filed no later than 9 days prior to trial.

Notice of Defenses: Alibi, Self Defense, Insanity, Diminished Responsibility, Intoxication, Entrapment.

Hearings on these motions are held at a time scheduled by the court prior to trial. Defendant’s presence is required.

Trial Procedures

Pretrial Conference: The pretrial conference is ordinarily held within about a month after the arraignment date. It is a time for defense counsel and the county attorney to resolve the case by way of plea bargaining prior to jury trial. The defendant’s presence is required at this hearing.

Trial: When the State is held to its burden of proving the charge(s) beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant must be brought to trial within 90 days from the date of arraignment unless he/she waives that right. Speedy trial is often waived if the defendant is not in custody. Speedy trial may be continued for good cause shown but in any event the defendant must be brought to trial within 1 year from the date of initial arraignment.

Jury Selection: The trial starts with jury selection from a pool of randomly selected individuals from the community. Defense counsel and the prosecutor are each given a turn to question the potential jurors regarding their life experiences, prejudices and biases. Both the defendant and the prosecution may request that a specified juror be struck for cause if the proper legal requirements are met. In any event, each side is provided a specified number of strikes and is required to use each and every one of the strikes until the proper number of jurors are remaining (12 in most cases; 6 in simple misdemeanors).

Opening Statement: The prosecutor goes first followed by defense counsel. This is the time where the parties explain to the jurors what they expect the evidence to be presented at trial will be.

States Case in Chief: State has its witnesses testify regarding their knowledge of events and they are then cross-examined by defense counsel. State is required to present evidence establishing each and every essential element of the offense.

Motion for Judgment of Acquittal: Motion made by defense counsel requesting that the charge(s) be dismissed following the State’s case in chief. Defendant must specify each and every specific ground upon which this motion is based. Judge may either grant, overrule or reserve ruling until the close of evidence.

Defendant’s Case in Chief: If the defendant elects to put on evidence, he/she is presented the opportunity to do so and defense witnesses are also cross examined by the prosecutor. The defendant is not required to put on any evidence.

Renewal of Motion for Judgment of Acquittal: Defendant renews his/her motion based upon the newly presented evidence. Judge may either grant, overrule or reserve ruling until the close of evidence.

State’s Rebuttal: If the defendant put on evidence, the State has an opportunity to present evidence that rebuts the defendant’s contentions. If no evidence is offered by the defendant than no rebuttal is available. State is not required to notify the defendant of any potential rebuttal witnesses or evidence.

Renewal of Motion for Judgment of Acquittal: Defendant renews his/her motion at the close of all evidence. Judge may either grant, overrule or reserve ruling until after the jury returns its verdict.

Closing Argument: Defense counsel and prosecutor are provided an opportunity to summarize the evidence and argue the facts and the law to the jury in an effort to convince them to side with them. The prosecutor goes first followed by defense counsel. The prosecutor is then given another opportunity and has the last word.

Verdict: The jury then retires for deliberation and must reach a unanimous decision of either guilty or not guilty. If they are unable to reach a unanimous decision then a mistrial is declared and the case is rescheduled for a retrial with a new jury.


Prior to sentencing > Motion in Arrest of Judgment/New Trial: Must be made within 45 days after plea or verdict but in any event no later than 5 days before sentencing.

Sentencing Hearing > Pronouncement of Judgment/Sentencing: The Judge hears and considers evidence and the recommendations of the prosecutor, defense counsel, and the department of corrections by way of a Pre-sentence Investigation Report and provides the defendant and the victim with an opportunity to be heard prior to imposing the sentence the court determines to be appropriate. Sentence may range anywhere from a fine, probation or prison or depending on the offense and circumstances.

Criminal appeals

Preliminary to appeal > Notice of Appeal: If the defendant wishes to appeal an adverse ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court, notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days from the date of the imposition of sentence. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office must also be served with a copy of the Notice of Appeal.

Appeal Sentence > Reconsideration of Sentence: A defendant may file a motion for reconsideration of sentence requesting that he court reconsider the previously imposed sentence. This motion must be filed within 30 days from the date of sentencing in a misdemeanor of 1 year from the date of sentencing for a felony. Whether or not a sentence is reconsidered is solely within the discretion of the sentencing judge.

Bond Schedule

Iowa’s Uniform Bond Schedule has changed effective July 1, 2017. Certain offenses require appearance before a Judicial Officer prior to Bond being set. Those offenses are set out here.

With the exception of offenses requiring appearance before a Judicial Officer, the current Iowa Uniform Bond Schedule is as follows:

Class “B” Felony $25,000
Class “C” Felony $10,000
Class “D” Felony $5,000
Aggravated Misdemeanor $2,000
Serious Misdemeanor $1,000
Simple Misdemeanor $300

Statute of Limitations

“How much time do they have to charge me?”  This is a question that is often asked by individuals being investigated for a crime and is a good question because the law limits the time in which the State has to file criminal charges depending on the nature of the crime.  If the State fails to file charges within the time periods set by law, then those charges will be barred.  Below is a listing of the limitation periods for criminal offenses in Iowa.  It is important to remember that these periods only reflect situations where the person has not yet been arrested for the offense.  If the person was arrested then the forty-five days speedy indictment rule would apply.

Simple Misdemeanors–  within one year of commission of the offense.

Felonies and aggravated or serious misdemeanors– within three years after commission of the offense or within three years after DNA evidence is available.

Sexual Abuse in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree where the victim is under the age of 18 – within ten years after the victim turns 18 or within three years after DNA evidence is available which identifies the accused.

Any other sexual abuse in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree– within ten years after commission or within three years after DNA evidence is available which identifies the accused.

Incest with a person under age 18– within ten years after the victim turn 18 and all other incest is within ten years after commission of the offense.

Sexual Exploitation by a counselor therapist, or school employee– where the victim is under 18 it is ten years from when the victim turns 18 and all others is within ten years after the victim was last treated or enrolled in school.

Murder– no statute of limitations.
These periods of time may be tolled is the person leaves the state or when the person is not publicly a resident within the State.  These limitations may also be tolled if the accused is a public officer or employee if the offense relates to duties and trust of their office or employment.  Therefore, it is important to contact qualified counsel if you or someone you know may have a statute of limitations argument relating to a criminal charge.

Preparing for Court


Individuals appearing for court should dress in professional business attire. Dress for success. Avoid blue jeans, t-shirts and recreational clothing. NEVER wear clothing that could be considered inappropriate or offensive.

Court Appearance

When you are scheduled to appear in court, you will be required to go through security, so leave any non-essential items in your car or at home. Wait just outside of the courtroom or at another predetermined meetings spot for your attorney. BE EARLY! NEVER show up late. If for some unforeseen act of God, you are running behind schedule make sure to contact your attorney’s office well ahead of time.


Bring your paperwork with you to court. This should include all of the papers that you have received from the attorneys, the police or from the mail.


If you are a witness that has been requested or subpoenaed to appear at court make sure to contact the attorney or other individual requesting or subpoenaing your presence as soon as possible to let them know you have received the subpoena. This will allow the attorneys to schedule accordingly and may very well avoid you sitting in the hallway for hours prior to testifying. If you have been subpoenaed, present your subpoena to the court attendant at courtroom listed on the subpoena and you will be directed where to go from there.

Failure to Appear in Court

You must always appear in court when instructed unless the Judge has previously excused your appearance and you have been notified you that your personal appearance is not necessary. If you fail to appear, the Judge may issue a warrant for your arrest or may hold you in contempt for violation of the court’s order to appear.

Future Court Date

If the court assigns a future court date that is difficult for you to attend, please tell the court and/or your attorney immediately, while in front of the judge, or prior to leaving the courthouse, so they can attempt to change the court date.

Iowa Courts Online

Up-to-date court records can be found here.