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What happens before a criminal trial?

An arrest is traumatic for most people. You may wonder what will happen next. After police take you into custody, you will face a series of steps before your case goes to trial in Iowa. You may find some comfort in knowing what those steps are. 

  • Initial appearance. After the police take you into custody for booking, they must bring you before a judge within 24 hours for your initial appearance. The judge does several things at this appearance, including:
    • Informing you of your right to counsel, and possibly appointing counsel for you if you qualify
    • Determining if there was probable cause for your charge
    • Setting your bond
    • Authorizing your release, if you can pay your bond or you are eligible for release without bond
    • Informing you of your preliminary hearing, which you can waive if you choose
  • Preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing must be held within 10 days of your arrest if you are still in custody, or within 20 days if you are not in custody. At the preliminary hearing, the state must show substantial evidence of probable cause for your charge. Probable cause means that a reasonable person would think a crime had been committed and that you are the person who committed the crime. Often a police officer will testify regarding the investigation. If the judge does not find probable cause, he or she will dismiss your case without prejudice. That means you will be free to go, but the prosecutors can bring the charges again if they find more evidence to support probable cause.
  • Indictment. The prosecutor must file formal charges through an indictment, or trial information, within 45 days of your arrest or initial appearance, or the court must dismiss the charges.
  • Arraignment. At your arraignment, the judge presents you with the trial information and a plea of not guilty is entered.
  • Pre-trial motions. Your defense attorney will file a number of documents, including pre-trial motions and notices, including potentially notices of depositions or motions to suppress evidence at trial. Your attorney will request information from the prosecutor to investigate your case and notify the court of any specific intended defenses.
  • Pre-trial conference. Shortly after your arraignment, your attorney will meet with the prosecutor to see if they can work out a plea agreement. If you do not enter into a plea agreement, your case will proceed to trial.

No one wants to face criminal charges, but knowing what to expect can help you prepare for each step of the process.

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