Instant Access to State, County and Municipal Public Records
Are Iowa Court Records Public?
The Iowa Open Record Law governs public access to public records in the State of Iowa. Enacted in 1967, the law guarantees that public records from government agencies may be accessed by the general public as provided by the law. The State of Iowa considers court records as part of public records. Hence, it is the right of the general public to examine and obtain copies of court records or the information contained therein.
However, as stipulated by the Access to Court Records and Information guide, certain records are treated as confidential and, as such, are not accessible by the general public. These records include:
- Juvenile Delinquency cases sealed by court order
- Cases involving termination of parental rights and child in need of assistance
- Reports of a pre-sentence investigation
- Yet-to-be-executed search and arrests warrants
- Cases of civil commitment to mental illness or abuse of substance
- Records of civil domestic abuse sealed by court order
- Dockets of deferred judgment
- Dissolution record information sealed by court order.
How Do I Find Court Records in Iowa?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in the State of Iowa is to find out the agencies that issue the records. The Iowa Judicial Branch provides the public with access to information on court cases, operations, and administration. To find court records, requests for records must be directed to the legal custodian of the records. Requests may be submitted verbally or in writing during the Judicial Branch working hours, usually from 9 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 4 pm, Monday through Friday.
The Iowa Judicial Branch responds to requests for records based on the type of information sought and the form of requests made. In Iowa, requestors may request records via the media or in-person. All requests for records made via the media must be sent to the Judicial Branch Communication Director. Requestors may send a mail to Steve.Davies@iowacourts.gov for more information about available records.
For in-person requests, requestors must identify the court where the case was tried. Court Clerks are usually responsible for court records in Iowa, and the custodian of court records is different for each court. Requests must be made to the Court Clerk in the district where the case was tried. Individuals may check the Iowa District Court directory for information about County Courts.
To request records, requestor's may visit the office of the Supreme Court Clerk at:
Iowa Judicial Branch Building
1111 East Court Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50319
Alternatively, call (515) 348-4700.
Requestors may also request administrative court records, and to do this, interested persons must submit a formal request to the State Court Administrator. The Court Administrator will then inform the individual whether the information in demand is available or not. Also, the Administrator tells the requestor about the requirements for obtaining the information that was sought.
If the record sought is about court proceedings, the requestor may be directed to use the State's Court Records self-service tools like Iowa Court Online Search or the Iowa Court e-file System. These tools can be used remotely or at the court where the case was filed. Most courts in Iowa have public terminals where records can be sought.
Custodians of court records usually require payment to process court records in Iowa for both media and in-person requests. For records on papers, requestors are generally charged based on the number of pages required. The requestor may also have to pay the mailing cost for mailed records. The State of Iowa Judicial Branch charges fees based on the amount of staff time used to respond to a request. Staff time includes:
- Retrieving responsive records
- Programming involved in handling requests for electronic data
- Supervision of requestors examination and duplication of records
- Reviewing documents before sending them out
Since May 2020, Iowa has witnessed more requests for records via the media. Due to Covid-19, the State has encouraged the public to reduce in-person requests as much as possible. Under Iowa Code section 29C.6 and Code section 135.144, the Governor of the State has temporarily suspended the provisions of the State's Code 22.4. This is to ensure that the custodian of records does not receive many in-person requests at the moment. The suspension is expected to last until January 2021.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How Do Iowa Courts Work?
Iowa Courts are charged with the responsibility of resolving disputes and interpreting questions of Federal, State, and County Laws. Iowa Courts ensure that individuals' rights are respected, and justice is served where it is needed. The Iowa court structure comprises of two levels, which are:
- The Trial Courts (District Court)
- Appellate Court (Supreme Court and Court of Appeal)
In Iowa, all cases begin in the District Court. The District Court is where most civil, criminal, and juvenile cases are heard or tried. District Courts in Iowa also hear cases of misdemeanor and small claims. Iowa District Courts have different court procedures for civil, criminal, and juvenile cases brought before it. In Iowa, there are three types of civil procedures, which include family law, tort law, and contract law. Typically, the procedures for civil cases are identical except for family law and matters that involve small claims. In Iowa, a civil procedure begins when one party files a petition in the District Court Clerk's office. The petition contains information about the parties involved, the legal claims, and the remedy sought by the petitioner.
Iowa laws specify that a copy of the petition is sent to the other party. The petitioned is allowed to respond to the petition in some cases, especially in most domestic relations cases. After the initial petition, the parties may file pre-trial motions or proceed straight to trial. If the former is chosen, the parties may ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit on mutual agreement, but if the latter is preferred, a party may submit questions they want the other party to answer before trial. If the party does not reach any agreement during pre-trial, the court organizes a pre-trial conference where the topics involved in the case are outlined, and the trial date is set.
Except for family law and probate cases, civil trials may be held in front of a jury or a judge. The court process involves the assertion of claims and the presentation of evidence to support or refute the claims. Parties to a case present evidence by calling witnesses and asking questions. After the court hears the matter, the judge or jury makes a judgment based on the available evidence. Criminal cases are very different from civil cases. In a criminal case, the state government usually files a suit alleging that a person has violated the criminal law. In Iowa, criminal cases are divided into misdemeanors and felonies. For criminal cases, the person alleged to have broken the law must appear in front of a judge within 24 hours of arrest.
The judge informs the person of the gravity of their offense and whether bail or release is an option. After that, a preliminary hearing is scheduled to determine whether there is enough evidence to continue the case. However, the defendant may decide to decline the preliminary hearing. When this happens, the prosecutor will file trial information containing the charges against the defendant. Upon reading the trial information, the State Attorney selects seven judges to review the case. The Judges determine whether the case has enough merits to continue or not. If yes, the defendant is brought before the court, and the charges are explained.
The defendant may plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, the court fixes a trial within 90 days from the information filing day. The individual may bargain with the State to avoid trials. If this works, the trial is likely to be canceled. During the trial, the trial information and the defendant's plea are read before the jury. After that, the parties may question a witness and present evidence. Each party must abide by the Iowa Rules of Evidence in the court. Once the parties are done with their presentation, the court allows them to give closing remarks. This is optional, and a party may choose to waive the privilege.
Unlike civil cases, the jury must make a unanimous verdict. The defendant is either guilty or not guilty. In Iowa, the jury is not involved in determining the defendant's punishment. A Judge is given the report and information to make the sentence. Juvenile cases involve a series of court hearings that vary based on the type of case. For instance, in delinquency proceedings, the complaint is screened by a juvenile court officer and the child's parents. Depending on the outcome, the case may proceed to informal adjustment or a formal delinquency petition.
Iowa District Courts are made of several judicial officials like judicial magistrates, associate juvenile judges, associate probate judges, district associate judges, and district court judges. Each of these court officials hears specific kinds of cases. A party that is not satisfied with a District Court's judgment can appeal the judgment in a higher court. Iowa Appellate Courts review a District Court record to determine whether the court made a judicial mistake. The court may uphold, reverse, or remand the appeal brought before it. An Appellate Court judgment is called an opinion.
The Iowa Supreme Court has seven justices, while the Iowa Court of Appeals has nine Judges. The Supreme Court Justices serve eight-year terms each, and the Iowa Court of Appeal Judges serve six-year terms each. The State government appoints all Appellate Court Judges from a list of candidates nominated by the Judicial Commission.
What are Civil Court and Small Claims in Iowa?
Civil cases typically fall into family law cases, tort law cases, and contract law cases. Family law cases include cases involving divorce, child support, and custody. Tort law cases involve personal injury, property damage, and product liability. Contract law cases involve written and oral agreements. All civil case court hearings involve the assertion of claims and the presentation of evidence to support the claims by parties in the dispute.
Iowa Small Claims are civil claims for damages less than $6,500. Generally, Iowa small claims courts are subdivisions of District Courts. There is a possibility for small claims to be brought before an Appellate Court through appeal. Small claims account for more than nine percent in the State, and they are tried before a judge, not a jury. Generally, a litigant is not required for small claims, but the individual may decide to have one. To start a small claim, the individual must file an original notice form electronically. This usually attracts a filing fee of $95.00.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in Iowa?
A party that is not satisfied with a Trial Court decision may appeal the decision in a higher appellate court. An appeal is a formal request to a higher court to review the decision of a lower court. This request may be granted or denied based on the merit of the appeal. Iowa Appellate Courts are divided into Supreme Courts and Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court looks at all appeals before transferring some to the Court of Appeals. Appellate Courts do not conduct trials or hear new evidence.
In Iowa, any party in a dispute can appeal the decision of the trial court by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days that a judgment was made in the District Court. Failure to do so makes an appeal impossible, except when a notice for late submission of the appeal is presented. An appeal is also discredited when the appellant fails to provide the transcript of the lower court proceedings or any other vital information the court requested. The Appellate Court may ask the appellant to file an additional appeal where necessary.
The appeal is submitted to the Court Clerk of the District Court, where the judgment was made. The Clerk informs the parties about the steps required for submitting their arguments to the court, which includes:
- Request for a transcript from the lower court proceedings
- Filing of briefs
- Filing of appendix
Generally, cases that involve the existing application of legal principles are heard by the Court of Appeals. Appeals may involve oral arguments depending on the decision of the court. The Judges or juries of the court review the trial information and arguments brought before them. After that, a decision known as opinion is made.
What Are Iowa Judgment Records?
Iowa judgment records are documents describing the outcome of a case decided in a court of competent jurisdiction in Iowa. A judgment is an order or court-issued declaration of legal rights based on state laws. Issuing this judgment typically closes a criminal or civil suit unless a party appeals the decision in a higher court.
The clerk of courts is the designated record custodian for judgment records, which are public records per the Iowa Open Records Law.
To obtain this record, visit the clerk’s office in person during regular business hours and submit a formal request. The court administrative staff will need the case identifying details, such as case number and litigants’ names, to process the request. Furthermore, the requester must pay the applicable processing fees.
The information contained in these documents varies with case type. Still, persons who obtain judgment records in Iowa can expect to see the litigants’ names, the judge’s name, and judgment date. The document will also contain a case description and the court’s decision, i.e., the issued judgment.
What are Iowa Bankruptcy Records?
Iowa Bankruptcy Records provide financial information about people, businesses, and corporations who have filed for bankruptcy due to their inability to pay their debts. These records are considered public. Filing for bankruptcy in Iowa can be a fairly complex process. However, the Bankruptcy Court of Iowa sets clear guidelines for communication with the Court to ensure that it meets its legal obligations equitably. To be fair to all parties, the judges and individuals employed by the court are advised to avoid providing legal advice. Inquiries on how to proceed or what to do are considered legal advice requests. Those who want a better grasp of their legal rights may speak with a bankruptcy attorney.
Bankruptcy records and associated documents such as Iowa liens, writs, motions, and judgments are deemed public information per Iowa state law. Interested persons may query the record custodian to view or copy these records.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Iowa?
Every case is given a case number for easy documentation of records. A case number is a unique reference number used to identify where and when a case was filed and to whom the case was assigned. To find a case number, requestors may visit the Court Clerk of the County Court where the case was filed or heard. The Clerk will explain the steps involved in retrieving the case number. Requestors may also submit their request to the Judicial Branch Communication Director.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Iowa?
Yes, residents of Iowa may search and view court cases in-person or remotely. For in-person requests, individuals may visit the Supreme Court Clerk’s office for cases filed in the Appellate Court and the District Court Clerk’s office for cases filled in the State's District Courts. The Court Clerk makes the court record available in hard copies or electronic form. Each Court in Iowa has a terminal that allows individuals to search court records on their own using the Online Search Tool. Requestors may also demand to see records that are yet to be uploaded in the State database.
Residents may employ the Iowa web-based electronic Public Access application for remote search from their comfort zone. The online search tool allows residents to search for Appellate Court cases and Trial Court Cases. It performs a statewide search on a limited number of fields. The search results usually include cases entered on the database at the end of the last business day.
Once the individual selects a case, the case displays case data from when the case was filled to the last minute as entered by the Court Clerk. This service is available to all users. Residents may be required to register on the database to conduct a scheduled search, which usually involves cases from particular courts in a specific county.
Does Iowa Hold Remote Trials?
Yes, Due to Covid-19, the State has delayed trials until February 2021. However, a new order proceeding provides that Judges, Lawyers, and Litigants may accept or agree to have testimonies by videoconferencing and phone calls. This rule does not apply to jury criminal trial cases.
What Is the Iowa Supreme Court?
The Iowa Supreme Court is the highest Appellate and the court of last resort in the State. The Supreme Court’s decision is final, but when the case involves interpretation of federal law, the individual may appeal to the US Supreme Court. The Iowa Supreme Court receives at least 2,000 appeals every year. Most of these appeals are criminal appeals.
Every appeal made in Iowa is first submitted to the Supreme Court. The court decides the merit of the appeal and whether to directly handle the appeal or transfer it to the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court usually handles cases that involve the interpretation of State Statutes or cases that may affect public funding. Iowa Supreme Court hearings are conducted in front of seven Justices. The justices review appeals and hear oral arguments, where necessary to reach a decision.
As the constitutional head of the court system’s constitutional head, the Supreme Court is responsible for disciplining attorneys and issuing licenses to legal practitioners in the State. The court also promulgates court rules and procedures to be used in the State.
Iowa Court of Appeals
Iowa Court of Appeal is the second Appellate Court in the State. The Court of Appeal reviews cases in which the legal principles are well-settled. These cases must have been transferred to the Court of Appeal by the Supreme Court. The decision of the Iowa Court Appeal is final except when there is an intervention from the Supreme Court. The Iowa Court of Appeal does not preside over trials, and proceedings do not involve witnesses, court reporters, new evidence, or juries. The court usually decides by reviewing the written record of the trial court.
Iowa District Courts
The Iowa District Court has original jurisdiction over all civil, criminal, and juvenile trials. The court hears over one million cases every year, with simple misdemeanors and small claims as the two most common cases brought before it. Iowa District Court hears civil cases involving children and families. It also hears general civil litigations, including contract disputes, tort claims, and foreclosures. The District Court hears probate cases, which accounts for two percent of all the cases in the State. The Iowa District Court is divided into eight districts for effective and smooth administration. Some districts that are considered to be too large are divided into subdistricts.
Iowa Juvenile Courts
The Iowa Juvenile Court has special jurisdiction over certain court cases that involve children in the State of Iowa. The Court hears and decides cases pertaining to neglect, abandon or abuse of children. These types of cases are classified as Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) cases. CINA cases may sometimes result in parental rights termination. The Iowa Juvenile Court also has jurisdiction over delinquency cases.