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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Cmelik Law PLC

Do I need a lawyer for an Iowa OWI?

You either need a lawyer or a lawyer’s knowledge in an Iowa OWI. The judge will treat you as if you are a licensed Iowa lawyer and know both the criminal law and court rules. Not just that you have to stand up in court when the judge comes in and call them ‘Your Honor.” There’s more to it than that. You will not get special treatment for being self-represented. You will be required to know and understand the flow of an indictable criminal prosecution—because an Iowa OWI, Operating While Intoxicated, called DUI in other States—is not just a traffic violation. It’s a criminal case under the Iowa criminal code. You will also be required to know the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Iowa Rules of Evidence. You’ll need to know what the pleadings, or, documents filed in your prosecution, mean, and you’ll need to know how to respond to them in writing and in person. If you do not know the law, the procedure, and the rules, you will spend more time in court house hallways away from your job and possibly even overlook defects in the investigation and prosecution that could net advantages you will never realize as a self-represented criminal defendant.


Prosecutors will be required to deal with you if you represent yourself—barely— but they don’t have to deal with you as much or in the same way they deal with a dispassionate, detached attorney on your behalf. Most prosecutors are very careful dealing with self-represented, or, Pro Se, litigants because self-represented defendants are emotionally invested in their prosecution. Because prosecutors are, in effect, law enforcement, and they are also lawyers required to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, they could choose to limit speaking to self-represented parties. They are allowed to limit engagement to open court where others, including the judge, can verify they are not somehow exploiting an unrepresented party nor interrogating you outside the presence of an attorney. This could make discovery and plea negotiations difficult if not impossible.


Lawyers can file forms that might otherwise cancel, or, substitute for your personal presence, preliminary hearings and arraignments. If you’re self-represented, you’ll have to appear for those court dates unless you know how to avoid them.


Last but certainly not least, a self-represented, untrained Iowa OWI criminal defendant will not know to look for in recorded media, like dash cams, body cams, and OWI processing, or, booking, videos to determine whether there are any nuggets that could result in dismissal or a diminution of the charge. They might not even know how to go about obtaining it.


While a bit on the nose, there's a reason the old cliche about "a client who represents themselves will have a fool for a client" has staying power. Because it is sometimes true. There’s another cliché you might adapt for this reason: non-buyer beware.




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