Attorney Eric D. Puryear

The Preliminary Hearing in an Iowa Criminal Case

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Iowa Criminal Law » The Preliminary Hearing in an Iowa Criminal Case

Under Iowa law, a person accused of a crime more serious than a Simple Misdemeanor (which would be a Serious Misdemeanor, Aggravated Misdemeanor, or a Felony), is entitled to a Preliminary Hearing under some circumstances.

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At the Preliminary Hearing, the burden is on the prosecution to show that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed by the Defendant.  That is a much lower standard than the standard for a conviction at trial, which is the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.  As such, the prosecution needs less evidence to be able to keep the case pending through a Preliminary Hearing than would be needed to get a conviction at trial.  As such, the fact that a case was not thrown out by the court at Preliminary Hearing should not be seen as meaning the Defendant is guilty or has a bad case – so many people are found Not Guilty at trial despite there being probable cause found at the Preliminary Hearing in Iowa.

However, preliminary hearings are somewhat rare in Iowa as there are ways that the prosecution can avoid the preliminary hearing:

The first way the prosecution can avoid having a Preliminary Hearing is to have a Grand Jury issue an indictment of the Defendant.  That process is where a Grand Jury, which is comprised of people from the community, are shown evidence by the prosecutor and then vote as to whether or not to have charges brought against a person.  If the Grand Jury decides to indict, then there is no right to a Preliminary Hearing.

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The second way the prosecution can avoid having a Preliminary Hearing is to file Trial Information, which are a written version of charges that includes more detail as to the accusation against the Defendant.  The court then reviews the Trial Information and determines if there is probable cause based upon the allegations in the Trial Information, and if the court does believe there is probable cause then the case proceeds to arraignment.  The filing of Trial Information is the most common approach used by Iowa prosecutors, and is why Preliminary Hearings are somewhat rare in Iowa.

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