Most people in Iowa are at least generally familiar with what goes on at criminal trials, even if only from TV crime dramas. But, a lot of important decisions affecting a criminal case are made at pretrial court appearances and hearings.
The defendant is generally required to make an initial appearance before a judge within 24 hours of being arrested. At the initial appearance, the judge will decide whether the arrest was justified by the evidence. The judge will also decide whether to allow the defendant to be released on bail and set the amount of the bail. Finally, the judge will decide whether the defendant qualifies to be represented by a public defender.
In some cases, the court will grant the defendant a preliminary hearing. The defendant must request the preliminary hearing and is not entitled to one in every case. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence to continue holding the defendant. Both the state and the defendant have the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
The third major pretrial appearance is the arraignment. This is the hearing where the court formally states what criminal charges are being brought. The defendant must plead either guilty or not guilty to those charges.
Finally, before trial the defendant has the chance to bring pretrial motions before the court. These motions can include motions to suppress evidence or motions putting the state on notice of a particular defense.
The pretrial process can be complex and intimidating, especially for one who has never been charged with a crime. A person facing criminal charges in Iowa should understand the nature of these pretrial proceedings to protect their rights.
Source: Findlaw.com, "Your Des Moines Criminal Case: The Basics," accessed on Feb. 14, 2016