Postconviction Relief Proceedings in Iowa

Postconviction relief proceedings in Iowa are governed by Iowa Code Chapter 822. Postconviction relief proceedings are civil actions attacking a criminal conviction and/or sentencing. These proceedings are subject to the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure. The criminal defendant is the plaintiff or applicant, and the State of Iowa is the defendant or respondent. Typically, postconviction relief actions are initiated after the criminal defendant’s direct appeals have been exhausted.
The basis for an action for postconviction relief includes the following: (1) The conviction or sentence violates the U.S. Constitution or the Iowa Constitution or laws; (2) the court had no jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceed the maximum allowed by law; (4) material facts exist, not previously presented and heard, that require vacation of the conviction or sentence in the interests of justice; (5) the applicant’s sentence has expired, probation or parole has been unlawfully revoked, or the person is otherwise unlawfully held in custody; (6) the applicant’s reduction in sentence has been unlawfully forfeited and the appeal procedure has been exhausted; and (7) the conviction or sentence is subject to collateral attack upon any ground of error formerly available under common law or statute.
A majority of postconviction relief actions allege that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel. The applicant must prove both of the following by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) Counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) there is a reasonable probability that but for the counsel’s unprofessional errors the result of the proceeding would have been different. Postconviction relief proceedings are hard to prevail on because (1) there is a strong presumption that counsel’s performance was within the range of reasonable professional assistance and (2) the applicant must overcome the prejudice hurdle. If the evidence against the applicant at trial was overwhelming, then prejudice cannot be shown.
A proceeding is commenced by filing a verified application in the court in which the sentence or conviction took place. If the applicant seeks relief under (6), then the application is filed in the county in which the applicant is confined within ninety (90) days of the final disciplinary decision. All other postconviction actions must be filed within three (3) years from the date the conviction is final, and in the cases of appeals, when procedendo issued. This limitation does not apply to a ground of fact or law that could not have been raised within this time frame. If the applicant is unable to pay the filing fees and transcript fees, the applicant may move to waive the fees. If indigent, the applicant is also entitled to court-appointed counsel.
Within thirty (30) days after the clerk dockets the application, the State files an answer to the application. Typically, the parties typically engage in discovery, and depositions are taken of the witnesses, including the trial attorney. The State can move that the application be dismissed and/or move for summary disposition before trial. If the case proceeds to trial, the trial is in front of a judge; there is no jury. Each party may call witnesses and present evidence at trial. The court typically requests the parties to submit briefs. Finally, the court issues its ruling, either dismissing the application or granting it and making other appropriate orders.

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