Attorney’s Office

Frequently Asked Questions (Criminal Justice Process)

  • When does the Polk County Attorney's office charge a defendant with a crime?

    When the police have conducted an investigation and feel that enough evidence exists to show a crime has occurred, that a particular defendant committed the crime, and that there is a reasonable probability of a conviction.

  • Why are some defendants not in jail after they have been arrested and charged?

    They have posted bond or have been released on some type of pre-trial release program.

  • How can I find out when a particular court date is?

    Call the Clerk of Court’s office at (515) 286-3765.

  • What is an initial appearance?

    After an arrest, a person charged with a crime must be brought before a judge within 24 hours for an initial appearance. At the initial appearance, the defendant is informed of the right to counsel, and counsel is appointed if the defendant cannot afford counsel and if the charge is serious enough. The judge makes a determination if there is probable cause for the charge. Bond is then set, usually based on a preset bond schedule prepared by the Iowa Supreme Court. The defendant may qualify for a release program that does not require a bond, and the judge may authorize the release at that time. The defendant is then informed of the right to a preliminary hearing.

  • What is a preliminary hearing?

    At a preliminary hearing, the State must show that the charges are based on probable cause (a reasonable person would believe a crime was committed, and that the defendant committed the crime). The Court must find substantial evidence to support probable cause. Generally, there is just one witness and it is a police officer who testifies to the entire investigation.

    A preliminary hearing can be waived, which is when a defendant can give up his or her right to the hearing. It is generally waived at the initial appearance.

    If the judge decides probable cause has been established, the case proceeds.

    If the judge decides probable cause has not been established, the Court dismisses the case without prejudice. This means the defendant is released and any paid bond is returned. This may occur if a witness fails to appear to testify. The prosecuting attorney may still re-file the case and continue to prosecute.

  • How much time is there between the arrest and the initial appearance?

    The initial appearance must be within 24 hours of the arrest.

  • What is probation?

    The defendant is released into the community under the supervision of a Probation Officer for a specific period of time, with many rules to follow, instead of going to prison.

  • Can probation be denied?

    Yes. The judge makes the final decision on whether a defendant will get probation. The judge will look at the defendant’s previous criminal history, the Pre-Sentence Investigation report, the seriousness of the crime, and the recommendations by the County Attorney and the defense attorney.

  • How can I get information on a case?

    If you are the victim of a crime, contact our office with questions about the case. Otherwise, a great tool to use is the Iowa Courts Online website. You can search for a case by name or case number, see the filings on a case, as well as disposition information. For more information, you can contact the clerk of court at (515) 286-3765.

Contact Us

Polk County Attorney's Office
Polk County Justice Center
222 Fifth Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50309

Phone: (515) 286-3737
Fax: (515) 286-3428