Iowa Criminal Defense Process

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Facing criminal charges, especially if it is the first time, can be a stressful experience. Not knowing what is going to happen or what to expect in the future can be debilitating. Trying to understand the Iowa criminal defense process on top of the already mounting stress can be difficult, to say the least.

Iowa Criminal Defense Process

Talking to an experienced Mason City criminal defense attorney can help ease fears and anxieties by informing a defendant of what they can expect and explaining to them how they can be prepared. One of those ways is to build a seamless criminal defense strategy to bolster the case. A basic rundown of the Iowa criminal defense process is outlined below.


When someone is arrested in Iowa, they are taken into custody and to the police station. Here, they are booked, which includes collecting fingerprints, taking a mugshot, and registering information. It is a good idea to exercise the right to remain silent throughout the booking process.


The arraignment is when a defendant is formally made aware of their charges. They may plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest, as advised by their attorney. The judge either sets bail, denies bail, or releases the defendant on their own recognizance.

Pretrial Motions

At the pretrial stage, the defendant’s attorney gets to discover any evidence against the client. This will have a tremendous impact on the criminal defense approach the attorney will build upon for the case. The attorney may file pretrial motions such as a Motion to Suppress Evidence, a Motion to Change the Location (of the trial), or a Motion to Dismiss Charges.

Plea Bargains

The defendant may have the opportunity to plead guilty for reduced charges as well as a shortened sentence. If the defendant does not enter into a plea deal, the case moves to trial.


At the trial, both the defense and the prosecution present their cases to the jury and/or the judge, calling witnesses and submitting evidence to support their side of the story. If an experienced criminal defense attorney can build a strong enough defense for their client, one of three outcomes may result:

  • The defendant can potentially be found not guilty
  • The charges will be dropped
  • The case will be dismissed

If the defense is not strong enough to convince the court, the least favorable verdict for the defense is a guilty verdict.


If a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, the judge will discern the severity of the sentence based on the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and other circumstances. The defense attorney can try to negotiate a lighter or alternative sentence, such as probation or rehab, in certain cases.

Appeal and Post-Conviction Motions

If appropriate, the defendant and their attorney may choose to appeal the verdict or file a motion for a new trial if the case meets certain criteria.

How a Good Attorney Can Make a Difference

Having a well-versed criminal defense attorney to represent the defendant can alleviate many of the unknowns throughout the case because the attorney will be familiar with the Iowa criminal defense process. Additionally, they can provide a strong criminal defense strategy and better the chances of a successful outcome.

A vetted lawyer will also have a better rapport with the prosecutor and the judge, which helps when bargaining for plea deals and requesting alleviated sentencing. Having someone who knows how to navigate the legal system and apply the laws to the benefit of the defense is effective for reducing anxiety and misunderstandings along the way and provides peace of mind and confidence to the defendant, which helps when presenting oneself to the court.


Q: What Are the 7 Basic Steps in a Criminal Case?

A: In an Iowa criminal case, there are many phases of the legal process, from arrest to sentencing, and not every case involves each one. The basic steps in a criminal case that the majority of defendants must go through following arrest include charging, arraignment, pretrial, trial, and then sentencing if, of course, the trial results in a guilty verdict. Appeal is the seventh step, though the majority of cases will not go that far.

Q: What Three Conditions Must Be Present Before a Prosecutor Charges a Criminal Case?

A: In order for a prosecutor to press charges against an alleged defendant, they must meet three prerequisites, including verifying a crime has been committed, identifying a perpetrator, and providing sufficient evidence to support a potential guilty verdict. In other words, they cannot just charge someone with a crime with no grounds to do so.

Q: What Are the Stages of the Criminal Justice Process?

A: Iowa’s criminal justice process begins with an arrest or citation to appear in court. An initial appearance in court follows, and then an investigation ensues. The county attorney’s office then evaluates the evidence to determine if charges are going to be filed. If so, the next step is a trial, which has its own set of stages, including pretrial, trial, post-trial, and conviction. Sentencing is the final stage unless there is an appeal.

Q: What Are the Three Basic Tactics Employed by a Defendant to Win a Criminal Trial?

A: There are countless strategies criminal defense attorneys often employ to win their client’s criminal trials. Each case presents unique circumstances that heavily dictate which strategy is the ideal option, providing the most potential for the most favorable outcome. There are three basic tactics used for criminal defense, including motions to dismiss, exclusion of evidence, and effective arguments.

If you or someone you care about needs a criminal defense attorney with proven success with cases similar to yours, the competent legal team at O’Mara Law Office can walk you through the Iowa criminal defense process until the case is finalized, explaining the parameters of Iowa criminal law along the way. We can compassionately and effectively advocate for you in your unique situation. Contact O’Mara Law Office, PLLC, to learn more about our legal services.

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