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General Trial Bureau / Major Offense Bureau

Homicide

“Homicide” is the death of a person caused by another.  Under Iowa law, “Murder” is the killing of a person with malice aforethought. There are two degrees of Murder in Iowa: First Degree Murder and Second Degree Murder.  First Degree Murder is a Class A Felony which – except for juvenile defendants – carries a term of life in prison.  Murder in the First Degree can be committed in various ways which include premeditated murder, felony murder, murder that occurs during an escape attempt, and the murder of a police officer, correctional officer, public employee or hostage.  There are also special types of First Degree Murder that apply to the death of a child or to acts of terrorism.

Felony murder can also be committed in different ways. Although there are technical exceptions, felony murder generally occurs when an individual kills another person while participating in a forcible felony. Forcible felonies are defined under Iowa law and include felonious child endangerment, felonious assault, sexual abuse, kidnapping and certain types of arson and burglary.

Generally, Second Degree Murder is similar to First Degree Murder but without a specific intent or premeditation component.  Except for juvenile defendants, Murder in the Second Degree carries a term of imprisonment of 50 years although the defendant is eligible for parole before serving the full sentence.

Murder cases are prosecuted by the Polk County Attorney and senior members of his staff.  These attorneys are notified immediately when police learn of a suspicious death. The Polk County Attorney and one or more of his staff go to the scene of the death to help police.  Police officers and crime scene technicians spend long hours and significant resources investigating these cases. The attorneys involved in these type of cases offer legal advice throughout the course of the investigation, assist in the preparation of search warrants, help in obtaining investigative subpoenas and meet with victim’s families.

Vehicular Homicide

Homicide or Serious Injury by Vehicle charges are filed by the Polk County Attorney’s Office when someone unintentionally causes the death of another person by operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, by operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner or while drag racing. A person is criminally liable for the death of another despite the fact that the death was unintentional. These charges differ from murder charges. In murder cases, the defendant not only intended to do the act that resulted in the death, but intended for the death to occur.

The three types of homicide or serious injury by vehicle carry different penalties. A person commits a 25 year felony when he or she unintentionally causes the death of another by operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. A person commits a 10 year felony when he or she unintentionally causes the death of another by operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner. A person commits a five year felony when he or she unintentionally causes the death of another by operating a motor vehicle while drag racing.

A person commits a five year felony when he or she operates a motor vehicle while intoxicated, or in a reckless manner, and unintentionally causes serious injury to another person.

The charges and penalties are the same whether or not the victim was riding in the car with the defendant (such as a passenger riding with a drunk driver survives) or was the driver or occupant of another vehicle or a bicyclist or a pedestrian or other such person.

There are no mandatory minimum sentences for these crimes unless the defendant leaves the scene of the accident and fails to give aid or information at the scene. In that instance, the defendant would be required to serve 70% of his sentence before he or she would be eligible for parole. The purpose of that law is to encourage people to remain at the scene of the accident so that a determination can be made whether or not they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and/or were driving recklessly.

These cases are difficult to prosecute because many times there are no witnesses to the accident which must then be reconstructed from circumstantial evidence. On many occasions, these cases involve intoxicated drivers which mean that the highly technical requirements of the operating while intoxicated laws come into play which can make proof of the crime more difficult. In those instances, prosecutors from the OWI docket are consulted to assist in the response to OWI defenses.

Every motor vehicle accident that results in a death does not mean that a criminal charge should be filed. In all motor vehicle accidents, any death that results there from is unintentional. What makes it a crime is not whether a driver acted negligently, as in a civil case, but criminally which means recklessly and/or under the influence of alcohol or drugs which makes it a crime. At any given time, the Polk County Attorney’s Office has several homicides by vehicle cases pending.

Sexual Abuse Crimes

Attorneys at the Polk County Attorney’s Office evaluate and determine whether or not sexual assault charges are warranted. Iowa Code Chapter 709 controls most of the charging decisions. The County Attorney’s Office works closely on sexual abuse investigations with specially trained Detectives from all local law enforcement agencies, Polk County Crisis and Advocacy Services and the Iowa State Division of Criminal Investigations Crime Laboratory.

In general, a sexual abuse occurs whenever a sex act is done by force or against the will of another. When consent or acquiescence is gained by threats of violence, or while the victim is under the influence of a drug inducing sleep, unconscious or suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent, the sex act is against their will and could be a criminal offense. Any a sex act with a child is a sexual abuse. 

For more information call:

Polk County Crisis and Advocacy Services

  • (515) 286-3660

Iowa Sex Offender Registry

  • (515) 725-6050

Polk County Sex Offender Registry

  • (515) 286-3813

Polk County Attorney's Office

  • (515) 286-3737

Crimes Against Children

The Iowa Code specifically provides that any sex act with a child under the age of 12 is a forcible felony. Upon conviction, the perpetrator is sent to prison for up to 25 years.

A sexual abuse perpetrated upon a child who is 12 or 13 years of age, will also, upon conviction, send an offender to prison for up to 10 years.

Iowa law provides that when a victim is 14 or 15 years of age and consents or engages in a sex act with a person who is four or more years older, it is in fact, a sexual abuse. Offenders, upon conviction of a sexual abuse with a child 14 or 15 years of age, could face up to 10 years in prison or the possibility of probation.

Several laws under the Iowa Code specifically address Lascivious Acts or Indecent Contact with a Child. These crimes include fondling or touching the pubes or genitals of a child or soliciting a child to do so with an adult. This conduct is criminal and could be punishable, in some circumstances, up to five years in prison.

In the last decade, the Iowa Legislature has provided for some protection of children as they proceed as victim- witnesses through adult criminal court. Upon application by the County Attorney to the Court that further harm would result to the child and that the child would be unable to testify, a child’s statement regarding the criminal assault, could be given outside the presence of a defendant and ultimately, a jury. This is accomplished by video taped or closed-circuit television testimony. This procedure, however, requires careful Court scrutiny in order to protect the rights of the accused as well as to protect the health of the child. The Court regularly engages in a balancing test in order to determine whether or not this procedure is necessary. Juvenile Court has different rules pertaining to the testimony of child victims.

Contrary to popular belief, the lack of knowledge of a victim’s age is no defense to a sexual abuse charge.

Persons who are aware of sexual abuse of children and/or who allow any continual abuse against children, may be subjected to Child Endangerment charges. Child Endangerment occurs whenever a person who has care, custody and control of a child acts or fails to act in a manner that would create a substantial risk to that child or minor’s physical, mental and/or emotional health or safety.

Sex Offender Registry

Iowa Code Chapter 692A provides for the registration of persons convicted of sex offenses in the State of Iowa. In some instances the offender may be required to register for up to ten years. In other circumstances, an offender may have to register for life.

The Sex Offender Registry provides specific details on how a person must comply with the registration requirements. Interested persons should consult the Registry website at www.iowasexoffenders.com. Generally, a person must register with the local Sheriff’s Office within five days of moving to a county and give notice to said Sheriff’s Office upon leaving the county. The law also provides that persons required to register must comply with an annual verification process. Failure to comply with the sex offender registry is a punishable offense subjecting a person to new charges.

Robbery

Robbery charges are filed by the Polk County Attorney’s Office when someone assaults another person while having the intent to commit a theft or while trying to escape from the scene of a theft. A person does not have to be successful in completing the theft in order to be guilty of robbery.

The most common form of robbery is a strong arm robbery wherein the defendant would use threats of assault or actually physically assaulting someone to take their money. Many robberies in convenience stores are this type of robbery.

A “shoplifting robbery” occurs when an individual tries to steal something from a store or other business and is confronted by employees of the store when they try to get away. If they assault someone in the process of trying to get away, such as by pushing them out of the way, the theft becomes a robbery.

Robbery in the First Degree is a robbery that includes use of a dangerous weapon such as a knife or gun. Robbery in the First Degree is a 25 year felony. Robberies in the Second Degree are all other robberies. Robbery in the Second Degree is ten year felony.

A person convicted of robbery is not eligible for parole and will have to serve 70% of his sentence before being released.

Arson

Arson and arson related offenses are set forth in Chapter 712 of the Iowa Code. The number of arson and arson related prosecutions in the Polk County Attorney’s Office has steadily increased over the last 20 years causing several changes in the way these cases are investigated and prosecuted. The Des Moines Police Department and the Des Moines Fire Department, recognizing their dependence on one another in investigating these crimes, have created joint teams of investigators who each bring a different perspective and specialty to the investigation of these crimes. Experienced Des Moines Police Detectives and Des Moines Fire Investigators are paired with one another to investigate suspicious fires. Generally, firefighters are trained to suppress fires and then to make an effort to determine what caused the fire and where it started. This is referred to as cause and origin. Police officers on the other hand, are trained to detect and investigate crimes which include specialized training in the interview of witnesses and suspects. As a team, both the police officer and the fire department investigator, go through extensive specialized training. One of these teams is on call 24 hours a day. When firefighters respond to a fire, they are trained to look for certain things as the fire suppression effort proceeds. All fires leave behind clues that most of us are not trained to look for. Detecting the smell of gasoline or some other accelerant is one of the obvious clues that firefighters will be on the look out for during fire suppression efforts. If anything appears to them to be suspicious, the on call arson investigation team is called and they arrive at the scene immediately to begin their specialized investigation. They in turn will contact one of the specially trained attorneys in the office of the Polk County Attorney to discuss their findings, request a warrant or to further develop the investigation.

All of the municipalities in Polk County assist one another in these investigations when necessary. Cooperation among these police and fire departments is critically important. Additionally, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has served as a lightening rod in forging a spirit of cooperation throughout the State of Iowa among arson investigators in all jurisdictions. They assist local authorities with arson investigations when asked. Further, they provide state of the art training to both investigators and prosecutions.

Chapter 712 of the Iowa Code outlines Arson and Arson related offenses that range in seriousness from Reckless Use of Fire which is punishable by up to one year in jail or prison to Arson in the First Degree, which is a Class B Felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. If someone dies as a result of arson, it becomes a Class A Felony punishable by life in prison.

Weapons

The prosecution of weapons offenses is coordinated with a number of law enforcement agencies including the Des Moines Police Department, U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Under Project Safe Neighborhoods, a nationwide commitment to reduce gun crime in America by networking existing local, state and federal programs. The Polk County Attorney supplies an attorney who is designated as a Special Assistant United States Attorney. This attorney prosecutes felons in both state and federal court.

Financial Crimes

There are several specific crimes that fall under the category of Financial or Economic crimes. These crimes almost always involve persons committing illegal acts for the purpose of a personal financial gain. These include Forgery, Identity Theft, Unauthorized Use of Credit Cards, Theft from an employer by an employee, Theft by use of a financial instrument, and Lottery Fraud.

Forgery

Forgery charges are filed by the Polk County Attorney’s Office when someone intentionally defrauds or attempts to defraud someone by use of a “writing”. A “writing” can include any method of recording information and often evidences an obligation of the person who has supposedly executed or transferred the writing; but can include instruments purportedly issued by the government, such as money or documents. This class of forgery is a Class “D” Felony. A person convicted of a D felony is subject to imprisonment for up to five (5) years.

There is a lesser class of Forgery which is an Aggravated Misdemeanor. A person convicted of an Aggravated Misdemeanor is subject to imprisonment for up to two (2) years. This lesser class of Forgery is charged when someone intentionally defrauds or attempts to defraud someone by using “writings” which purport to be documents evidencing, creating, transferring, altering, terminating or otherwise affecting legal relations; such as a contract, will or deed.

Identify Theft

Identity Theft charges are filed by the Polk County Attorney’s Office when someone fraudulently uses or attempts to fraudulently use the identification information of another person, with the intent to obtain credit, property, services, or other benefit. “Identification Information” can mean, among others, the use of someone else’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, driver’s license number, social security number, bank account or credit card numbers, etc.

If the value of credit, property or services, etc. obtained or attempted to be obtained exceeds one thousand dollars ($1,000) then a person commits a Class “D” felony. If it does not exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) then a person commits an Aggravated Misdemeanor.

Tips on preventing identity theft

Unauthorized Use of a Credit Card

Unauthorized Use of a Credit Card charges are filed by the Polk County Attorney’s Office when someone uses a credit card for the purpose of obtaining property or services with the knowledge that the credit card is stolen, the credit card has been revoked or canceled, or for any other reason the use of the credit card is unauthorized.

If the value or the property or services secured or sought to be secured is greater than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) then a person commits a Class “C” Felony. A person convicted of a class C felony is subject to imprisonment for up to ten (10) years. If the value or the property or services is greater than one thousand dollars ($1,000) but less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) then a person commits a Class D felony. If the values of property or services is less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) then a person commits an Aggravated Misdemeanor.

Theft (by Financial Instrument)

Theft (by financial instrument) charges are filed by the Polk County Attorney’s Office when someone presents a check, draft, etc. and obtains property or services in exchange for such instrument with the knowledge that the instrument would not be paid when presented. Such as when someone cashes a check on their own account knowing they have insufficient funds in their account to cover the check.

If the theft exceeds ten thousand dollars ($10,000) this is a Class C Felony. If the theft exceeds one thousand dollars ($1,000) but is less than ten thousand ($10,000) this is a Class D Felony. If the theft exceeds five hundred dollars ($500) but is less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) this is an Aggravated Misdemeanor.

Theft (by an Employee)

Theft (by an employee) charges are filed by the Polk County Attorney’s Office when someone takes property (usually money) from their employer. This is commonly referred to as embezzlement; however the Iowa Code does not use that term and simply refers to this type of crime as theft.

If the theft exceeds ten thousand dollars ($10,000) this is a Class C Felony. If the theft exceeds one thousand dollars ($1,000) but is less than ten thousand ($10,000) this is a Class D Felony. If the theft exceeds five hundred dollars ($500) but is less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) this is an Aggravated Misdemeanor.

Lottery Fraud

Lottery Fraud charges are filed when someone falsely makes, alters, forges, utters, passes, redeems or counterfeits a lottery ticket or attempts to do so, or commits or attempts a theft of lottery tickets with the intent to defraud. Charges may also be filed if someone influences or attempts to influence the winning of a prize through the use of coercion, fraud, deception, or tampering with lottery equipment or materials.

Lottery Fraud is a Class D Felony.

Department Adult and Elder Abuse Unit

In 2002, the Polk County Attorney’s Office became the first in Iowa to create a specialized Dependent Adult and Elder Abuse Unit. 

We prosecute crimes where adults have been abused and financially exploited, as well as assist the Department of Human Services in obtaining protective orders on behalf of abused adults.  These orders can include ordering perpetrators out of a victim’s home, freeze bank accounts so thieves can no longer have access, and order much needed medical services.

You can also file your own petition for relief against elder abuse.  Contact your attorney or the Polk County Clerk of Court in Courtroom 115 or (515) 286-3772 for more information.

Warning signs of dependent adult and elder abuse and neglect:

  • Injuries that cannot be logically explained
  • Not taking medications or there are missing medications
  • Weight loss
  • Being overly passive and/or depressed
  • Being left alone all the time or never being allowed to be alone with anyone except the caretaker
  • Not being allowed to leave the house
  • Never have money but should
  • Their caretaker is acting like a bully

If you suspect abuse, report it!

CALL your local law enforcement and DHS toll free (800) 362-2178 (answered 24/7)

More Information:

"Power of Attorney" Exploitation Prevention

Senior Financial Exploitation Prevention

Elder Abuse Prevention

 

TRIAD First established in 1988 in Louisiana with chiefs of polices, sheriffs, and AARP leaders, TRIAD is a national, not-for-profit, volunteer organization whose goal is to work together to educate, and thereby reduce crime against, older adults. TRIAD empowers older adults to be more active in community programs, educational seminars, and stresses the importance of health and safety.  The Polk County Attorney supports our local TRIAD.   Educational meetings are held at the North Senior Center at Park Fair Mall the third Tuesday of every month at 12:30 p.m.  For information about the TRIAD organization, please click here.