Most people accused of a criminal offense are having their first experience with the Iowa Criminal Court process. It is understandable and normal for you to be scared of what the future may hold, as well as intimidated by the system.
The criminal justice process is large and confusing. Our attorneys know how the system works and it the job of a good defense lawyer to guide clients through the process in search of the most positive possible outcome.
If you are facing criminal charges one of the best things you can do is get informed. By learning about the process, you can empower yourself. Here are some of the basics of the criminal justice process but be certain to call our Iowa criminal attorneys for a specific consultation on your case.
Most, people enter the system with an arrest. Whether your arrest was the result of a traffic stop or a warrant some of the same procedures should have been followed.
This is because there are laws protecting your rights and procedural rules put in place to ensure those laws are guarded. For this reason, every step the police take during your arrest should be considered when looking at your case.
Some of your basic rights in the system were likely read to you at some point during your arrest. These rights, called “Miranda rights” inform you of some of the protections you have under the law.
One of those rights is the right to an attorney.
You may have also been searched at the time of arrest. Depending on the circumstances, a warrant is not needed for a search when you are being arrested. This is called a “search incident to arrest.”
However, if you are searched for no reason and then arrested for what was found, the police may have violated your rights. I can help you determine this.
Depending on the charges against you, you may be booked into the jail following your arrest. At your first appearance in front of the judge, dependant on the charges, you may have the opportunity to be released on bail.
A judge will determine to set bail depending on the circumstances of your case and the likelihood that you will return to court for future court dates.
If it is decided that you can be released pending upcoming dates, the judge can elect to set bail or release you on your own recognizance. Bail is an amount of money that guarantees you will return to court. If you are released on your own recognizance it means you have simply given the court your word that you will return.
In some cases a preliminary hearing is held. The purpose of this early hearing is to determine if the prosecution has probable cause to believe that you committed the crime in question. “Probable cause” is a very low burden of proof to meet and simply requires that the judge believe there is enough evidence to believe that it is possible that you committed the offense.
In certain situations a preliminary hearing can be waived. We will discuss this at your consultation.
The indictment is the document that spells out the charges against you. The indictment is also referred to as the trial information. These formal charges must be filed by the State’s attorney within 45 days of your arrest. If they fail to do this the charges must be dropped.
The arraignment is where you, the defendant, are formally charged with your offense. You are indicted in the court and have your first opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty before the judge.
Entering a plea in your case is crucial. Do not go forward with this stage of your case with abandon. What you say at your arraignment can forever change your case.
Contact me to discuss what would be the best way to handle the charges against you at the arraignment stage.
Before trial, there can be a lot going on with your case. As the prosecution readies their case against you, I will be working to ensure we are ready to defend their accusations. There are several motions that may be put forth during this time.
Pre-trial motions can include:
Motions to Suppress Evidence: This may be filed if I believe that some of the evidence against you shouldn’t be allowed at trial. We will ask that the judge suppress this evidence.
Discovery: Discovery is when I ask the judge to allow me to see what the prosecution is working on against you. This means I may get access to the prosecution’s evidence and witnesses they have planned to use.
Severance: Used when there are multiple defendants, I may request that the court allow your case to be heard separately from your co-defendant’s case.
Nearly all criminal cases in the state of Iowa end with a plea bargain. Very few cases make it to trial and even fewer last to the end of a trial.
A plea agreement or bargain is simply an agreement made between the two parties in a case (defense and prosecution).
In most cases the plea agreement will ask you, the defendant, to plead guilty to all or part of the charges against you in exchange for a reduced sentence, reduced charges, or the promise of probation in lieu of jail time.
Plea bargains can be very useful tools in a criminal case but are not appropriate everytime. Discussing the potential for a plea agreement with your attorney is crucial.
If your case makes it to trial it will follow a basic format. While no two trials are the same, they do share many of the same characteristics and follow the same outline.
- Opening Statements
- Presentation of Evidence
- Closing Statements
Throughout the trial process, the prosecution and the defense take turns. Whenever the prosecution introduces evidence or questions a witness, we (the defense) will have an opportunity to discuss the same evidence and cross examine the witness.
Following closing statements, the judge, or the jury will determine the verdict. If you have a jury trial, they will have to come to a unanimous decision on your guilt or innocence.
If you are found guilty you will not likely be sentenced immediately. Instead, a date will be set in the future for you to return to court for sentencing.
(See my criminal offenses & criminal sentencing page for more details on the sentencing process.)
Ref: IA. St. §801-813