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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Cmelik Law PLC

Iowa DUI lawyer explains criminal cases

Criminal defense attorneys represent defendants charged with a simple misdemeanor, indictable misdemeanor, or felony in the State of Iowa. Such prosecutions are criminal lawsuits charged exclusively by appointed and elected county attorneys in all 99 Iowa counties or a grand jury sitting therein.

Criminal cases are governed by the Iowa criminal code, the Iowa rules of criminal procedure, and the Iowa rules of evidence. Lawsuits brought by civil attorneys or self represented plaintiffs for money damages or specific performance relief are NOT criminal cases. Lawyers specializing in the criminal law do not handle civil cases—and they also do not prosecute crimes or defend crime victims, which is a common misperception. Crime victims may seek justice by calling the police, communicating with local prosecutors and victim witness coordinators, or seeking a civil remedy from a personal injury or attorney who otherwise represents plaintiffs.

That’s another important distinction: in a criminal case, a criminal lawyer will always represent the defendant, or, party defending the criminal lawsuit, or, prosecution. Anyone who wants to sue someone else is not a defendant. They are a potential plaintiff. If you are seeking money damages or another specific remedy and have not been arrested or cited, chances are likely that you are not a criminal defendant.

Only prosecutors bring criminal lawsuits and criminal defense lawyers defend those charged with such offenses. Someone who is charged with a criminal offense may be jailed, imprisoned, fined, or all three, depending on the accusation and the applicable criminal Iowa statute.

We’ve all heard of civil suits but it’s odd to think of criminal prosecutions as criminal lawsuits—but that is what they are exactly. Everything in the courthouse is a lawsuit like everything on your smart phone is an app.

Handcuffs or a police citation or summons to appear before the criminal judge are a good sign that you are a criminal defendant. When an officer places a suspect in handcuffs and tells him or her that the suspect is under arrest, it doesn’t end there. Since 2017 and the Williams decision, the arrest is not fully completed until and unless the officer places the suspect before the judge or magistrate within 24 hours to justify their previous action.

From there, a prosecutor typically has a month and a half—forty five days—to file that criminal lawsuit in order to comply with Iowa’s speedy indictment rules following a completed arrest.

When someone is indicted for a criminal offense in Iowa, the prosecution triggers all the protections the United States and Iowa Constitutions have to offer within the judiciary. Defendants are presumed innocent, need not testify against themselves, may force the government to meet its burden beyond a reasonable doubt, and are entitled to confront their accusers and demand a unanimous jury verdict. These are rights are sacrosanct in the American criminal justice system and have been popularized in books, television, and movies.

Some quasi-criminal civil actions like contempt appear to be criminal in nature but are not really criminal prosecutions. Violations of no-contact and support orders may be prosecuted by civil litigants or raised by the judge without involving a county attorney. Some criminal law protections apply here—for example, in a contempt action, a civil litigant must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the other party willfully violated a court order while the civil case was in progress or after it was completed. A judge can jail a contemnor for such violations.

However, there are other things that people generally think are not criminal when they are in fact. For example, drunk driving prosecutions in Iowa, sometimes called DUI in other states, and called Operating While Intoxicated, or, OWI, here, are criminal in nature. DUI is not simply a traffic citation in Iowa. It is an indictable serious misdemeanor criminal offense.

Some traffic violations are considered “non-scheduled” simple misdemeanors like driving while suspended. Driving while revoked and driving while barred are indictable serious and aggravated misdemeanors, respectively. Driving while sanctioned by the Iowa DOT is thus a criminal offense and not a mere traffic citation.

The criminal law is a many splendored thing. We here have been practicing it for over 20 years with over 5,000 cases completed ranging from simple misdemeanor assault to double homicide. And if you have been charged in Iowa with drunk driving, also a criminal prosecution, we got you covered on that criminal defense, too.

We know that 'best' means different things to different people. We want to be on your list of qualified Iowa criminal defense lawyers. Contact us today for your criminal law and DUI defense needs.


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