Thompson Law Office

Iowa City OWI Defense Blog

The First Court Date in Iowa Criminal Procedure

There are two ways to begin your contact with the court for an Iowa criminal charge, and both are called the Initial Appearance. (Note, do not confuse this with the Preliminary Hearing, or even the Pretrial Conference, all are very different).

The first way to have your Initial Appearance is by being summoned at a later date. This is most often the case with scheduled violations, such as Speeding or Possession of Alcohol Under Legal Age.

For these “tickets” the peace officer will usually write an Initial Appearance date down on the bottom of the ticket, he will ask you to sign it to acknowledge that you understand you have to appear, and then he will let you go. This date will usually be a few weeks in the future.

Sometimes, a peace officer will release a defendant for a later Initial Appearance date even when the charge is not a scheduled misdemeanor. This can happen regarding a Possession of Controlled Substance charge, but usually, only the Iowa State Patrol will do this. Local police and deputies will usually bring that person into the jail. My guess is since the Troopers cover such a large area on their patrols, they feel their time is better spent on the road than processing someone at the jail. And perhaps it is.

The other way an Initial Appearance can occur is when the defendant is brought before the judge while still being held in jail. This is common for all non-scheduled misdemeanors.

Either way, at the Initial Appearance the judge has the obligation to tell the defendant what they have been charged with, what the maximum and mandatory minimum penalties are, and then to set their bond (if any).

For scheduled violations, the question of the penalty rarely comes up because it is written on the ticket. Also, it would be exceedingly rare for bond to be discussed. The main issue is whether the defendant wishes to plead guilty, or request a trial.

For crimes greater than simple misdemeanors, guilty pleas cannot be accepted. The case must be halted until the state’s lawyer files a Trial Information (it’s like an indictment).

If you are questioning what plea to enter for a simple misdemeanor, you should plead not guilty. There will be time afterward to weigh the situation and discuss your case with a lawyer. Not guilty pleas can always be changed to guilty, but changing a guilty plea to not guilty is very difficult, and usually impossible.

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