Best options: when to come to court

Updated: 20 hours ago

Law firm discussion

Potential clients and clients often ask me, "do I have to go to that?" The safe answer is: yes to ALL court appearances. If you go and it wasn't required, there isn't a warrant. If you are absent and attendance was required, you risk a warrant. You must be personally present at all ordered court dates and times unless your attorney notifies you otherwise in writing. And think about it; it's smart to require your attorney to give you a piece of paper that says a court date has been delayed (in lawyer speak a delay is called a 'continuance') or outright cancelled. If you assume, well, you know.

The first court scheduled appearance is called a 'preliminary hearing,' a misunderstood creature of the law that is often waived by defense counsel or mooted by the filing of an indictment. Does that mean you don't have to go? Not unless someone notifies you in writing you are free to skip it. Remember, it's better to attend every court appearance ordered by a judge than to risk a warrant.

The Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure require the judge or magistrate at initial appearance to schedule a preliminary hearing.

The rule reads, in part, that "[t]he magistrate shall inform the defendant of the right to a preliminary hearing unless the defendant is indicted by a grand jury or a trial information is filed against the defendant or unless preliminary hearing is waived in writing or on the record. If the defendant waives preliminary hearing, the magistrate shall order the defendant held to answer in further proceedings. If the defendant does not waive the preliminary hearing, the magistrate shall schedule a preliminary hearing and inform the defendant of the date of the preliminary hearing. Such hearing shall be held within a reasonable time but in any event not later than 10 days following the initial appearance if the defendant is in custody and no later than 20 days if the defendant is not in custody."

If Defendant demands a preliminary hearing, it's virtually guaranteed the State will have a trial information filed before the hearing to moot and therefore cancel the preliminary hearing. Typically defense counsel will waive it. It is an antiquated feature of the law in all but the most serious cases. Even then, it's likely only to speed the filing of the indictment.

The next court date the Defendant should concern himself or herself is the arraignment. The arraignment typically will be set when the State files a trial information along with predicted testimony of the witnesses, called the minutes of testimony. The arraignment is Defendant's "answer" to the criminal lawsuit. The answer, signed by Defendant, typically can be submitted in writing by defense counsel, thus cancelling the arraignment. Again, defendants should assume they must appear unless an attorney notifies them otherwise in writing.

The judge will enter an order accepting the not-guilty plea and set what is now called a case management conference (formerly a pretrial conference) and a tentative jury trial date. Discovery depositions and pretrial motions designed to exclude evidence can create additional appointments and court dates.

Barring depositions or motion hearings, the next court date following the case management conference will be the jury trial, if a defendant chooses to vindicate his or her constitutional rights to their logical conclusion. Trials don't happen in every case but they can if the defendant wishes to pursue their rights fully-- and barring an acceptable plea agreement.

Regardless, if you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI (DUI) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Linn, Johnson, Blackhawk, or other Iowa communities or counties, contact us.

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