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The Legal Process for Domestic Abuse from Arrest to Sentencing
Stage Description
Arrest   Upon investigation of a complaint, if a police officer has probable cause to believe that a domestic abuse assault has been committed with bodily injury resulting, the officer shall arrest the primary aggressor.  A warrant is not required, nor is the consent of the victim.  The  arrested individual is then taken to the local law enforcement agency for booking and an initial appearance before a magistrate.

Though criminal statute mandates the arrest of domestic abusers, given probable cause, the county attorney "sets the tone" for assertive police handling of domestic abuse cases by insisting that all officers follow the law by investigating reports of domestic abuse, and arresting the primary physical aggressor.

Initial Appearance

 (following arrest)

  During the initial appearance, a preliminary complaint is filed by the county attorney, bond is set, a no-contact order should be issued, a court-ordered attorney may be arranged, and an arraignment date is set if the charge is an indictable misdemeanor or felony.

 (within 45 days)

  During the arraignment, the defendant and defendant's attorney receive trail information assembled by the prosecutor, which includes the final charge.  The defendant must enter a plea at this time, though it can be changed later.  Most defendants enter a plea of not guilty.
Pre-Trial Conference & Plea Negotiation

 (within 30 days)

  During the pre-trial conference, the prosecution and defense attorneys discuss the plan for the trial-identifying depositions to be obtained and motions to be filed.  This information, along with the dates for hearings on motions and for the trial, are inserted in a pre-trial conference. The defense also may change the plea.  This often occurs during the plea negotiation session.
Hearing/Trial   Most criminal domestic abuse cases do not go to trial.  Cases where plea negotiation has resulted in a guilty plea on a reduced charge go to a hearing where the county attorney presents the agreement between the prosecution and the defense and the judge makes the final sentencing decision.  The judge usually accepts the agreement, which lead directly to court hearings, guilty pleas may be entered at the start of a trial.  This often occurs when it becomes clear that the victim intends to testify, which occurs about 60-70% of the time.  Cases that go to trial are heard by a judge and (if requested by the defendant's attorney) a jury.  Most trials last one to two days.  Victim testimony is a key element in the evidence presented by the prosecution, along with the testimony from the arresting officer and (when applicable) medical staff who treated the victim's injuries.  Children of the victim are rarely called upon to testify.
Sentencing   Sentence is pronounced following a guilty plea or conviction.  Core sentencing options correspond to charging guidelines laid out in Section 708.2A and 708.2B of the Iowa Code.  Typical charging (and sentencing) scenarios are described below.

The majority of domestic abuse cases are charged as simple, serious, or aggravated misdemeanors.  A typical simple misdemeanor charge would involve a first-time offense with minor injuries sustained (e.g. slapping and shoving) and could result in 30 days in jail or a $100 fine.  The most common sentencing outcome for such cases is two days in jail, one year of informal or "bench" probation along with mandatory participation in the BEP.

A serious misdemeanor typically involves a repeat domestic abuse offense which resulted in no injuries or an offense causing injury (e.g. cuts, scratches, bruising).  This level of charge could result in a sentence of one year in jail and/or $5,000 fine.  In the absence of an extensive criminal history, the most common sentencing outcome is two days in jail, one to two years of formal probations along with mandatory participation in the BEP.

An aggravated misdemeanor typically involves a repeat domestic abuse offense, intent to inflict serious injury (e.g. chocking), or use of a dangerous weapon.  This level of charge could result in a sentencing which the outcome is two years of formal probation along with mandatory participation in the BEP.

Offenders who are convicted of a serious or aggravated domestic abuse misdemeanor and who require more intensive containment than probation, may be sentenced to a residential facility.  Such offenders participate in the BEP during their confinement and are assigned to probation upon discharge from the facility.

A third or subsequent domestic abuse offense, especially one involving injury, can result in a charge as a Class D felony, which can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison and/or $7,500 fine.  Such cases do not receive probation and require the serving of a minimum of one year prior to release.

Probation Revocation Hearing   Probation may be revoked if offenders violate one or more conditions of their probation or commit a new domestic abuse or other kind of criminal offense.  Revocation for domestic abuse offenders most commonly results from repeated failure to attend mandated BEP classes.  The next most common reason for revocation is a new domestic abuse or other criminal charge.

Revocation is determined at a hearing presided over by a judge.  As in a criminal trial evidence is presented by the prosecution and the defense, but unlike a trial the prosecution's case only needs to meet a "preponderance of the evidence" standard for the revocation to be granted.  The rules of evidence generally do not apply.

Upon determining that the conditions of probation were violated by an offender, the judge may decide to impose "contempt of court" penalties in place of revocation.  Such penalties typically include jail time followed by re-enrollment in BEP and the continuation of probation.