The Criminal ProcessThe criminal process can be complex and confusing. It is important to understand your legal rights. The best way to be informed is to contact an experienced Iowa criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney will understand the law as it relates to the crime you have been charged with, and will be able to help you in making informed decisions as your case moves through the process.
StopYou may be stopped for questioning by the police. A stop is not the same as an arrest. During a stop the police officer may ask you questions, but you have the right to refuse to answer.
Search Warrants. A search warrant authorizes police to conduct a search of a specific place, such as your residence. In order for a warrant to be issued by a judge, "probable cause" is necessary. Probable cause to search means that:
It is more likely than not that the specific items to be searched for are connected with criminal activities.
Those items will be found in the place to be searched.
Warrantless Search. The general rule is that warrants are required for searches. However, search warrants are not required for the following:
Search Incident to Arrest. Police officers are permitted to search your body and/or clothing for weapons or other contraband when making a valid arrest.
Automobile Searches. If you are arrested in a vehicle, the police may search the inside of the vehicle. To perform a complete search of the vehicle (such as in locked glove compartments, for example), probable cause is necessary.
Exigent Circumstances. Searches may be conducted if there are "exigent circumstances" which demand immediate action, such as to avoid the destruction of evidence.
Plain view: Police do not need a search warrant when they see an object that is in plain view of an officer who has the right to be in the position to have that view.
Consent: If you consent to a search of your body, your vehicle, or your home, police are not required to have a warrant. You are not required to consent to any police searches.
Arrest In order to be arrested, there must be "probable cause." This means that there must be a reasonable belief that a crime was committed and you committed the crime. An arrest warrant is not necessary. After you are placed under arrest, you are protected by constitutional rights. You have the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney. After your arrest, you are not required to say anything else to police or investigators, until you have an attorney present. You must be given the opportunity to contact an attorney.
The Miranda Rule
Under the Miranda Rule, if you are in police custody you must be informed of specific constitutional rights before interrogation begins. Those rights are as follows:
The right to remain silent
The right to have an attorney present during questioning
The right to have an attorney appointed if you are unable to afford one
It is important to note that Miranda rights do not have to be read until you are taken into custody. That means that you can be questioned by the police before being taken into custody and anything you say at that point can be used against you later in court. Miranda warnings are administered before a suspect is interrogated to preserve the admissibility of statements for use in later criminal proceedings.
Booking After you are arrested, the police will bring you to the police station for the booking process. You will be fingerprinted and asked a series of questions, such as your name and date of birth. You will also be searched and photographed. Your personal property, such as jewelry, will be catalogued and stored.
"Bail" is money or property collected as security to ensure that you will show up for further criminal proceedings. Bail can be posted in the following manner:
A pledge of property (if permitted by the court)
A bail bond
A professional bail bondsman is an individual who pledges his or her own property or security to guarantee the bail bond to the court.
After criminal charges are filed, you will make a court appearance that is known as an "arraignment." During your arraignment, you will be asked to enter a "plea" to the crime you have been charged with. Possible pleas are:
Guilty plea: If you plead "guilty," you are admitting to the facts of the crime and the fact that you were the one who committed that crime.
Not guilty plea: A "not guilty" plea asserts that you did not commit the crime with which you were accused. After your plea, a pre-trial or trial date will be set.
If you plead "guilty" or "no contest," there will not be a trial. You will then be sentenced.
You have a right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which requires that trials be held within a certain time frame after a person has been charged with a crime. This right can be waived by asking for additional time for the preparation of your defense.
If you are arrested for the commission of a public offense and an indictment or trial information is not filed against you within 45 days, the court must order the prosecution to be dismissed, unless good cause to the contrary is shown or you waive your right to a speedy trial. If you are indicted for a public offense and you have not waived your right to a speedy trial, you must be brought to trial within 90 days after an indictment or the court must order the indictment to be dismissed unless good cause to the contrary is shown. All criminal cases must be brought to trial within one year after your initial arraignment unless an extension is granted by the court, upon a showing of good cause.
Trial Many prosecutors will consider "plea agreements," although they are not legally required. If you do not reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor, your proceedings will move toward the trial stage. Usually, if you are charged with a crime punishable by six or more months of imprisonment, you have the right to a jury trial. This right may be waived by pleading guilty, or choosing a bench trial (a trial in front of a judge only). If you request a bench trial, the judge will perform the fact-finding function that is usually performed by the jury.
Appeals If you are found guilty after a trial, you are entitled to an appeals process. This process varies depending on the crime, but there are always time deadlines by which you must file an appeal. There are numerous reasons for an appeal from a guilty verdict in a criminal case, including what is called "legal error." Legal error may include allowing inadmissible evidence during the criminal process, including evidence that was obtained in violation of your constitutional rights, lack of sufficient evidence to support a verdict of guilty and mistakes in the judge's instructions to the jury regarding your case. You may also appeal due to juror misconduct or if there is newly discovered evidence to exonerate you.
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