The Criminal Process in Domestic Abuse Cases and Related Crimes


April 2003

Any victim of a crime can file criminal charges against her assailant by contacting the police and making a report. A victim of domestic abuse has that same right. If the crime is domestic abuse assault, the Domestic Abuse Act requires certain things to happen in a criminal proceeding. This section of the booklet describes what happens when an abuser is charged with domestic abuse assault.

In a domestic abuse situation, there are two ways a criminal action may be started against the abuser. If law enforcement officers were called and arrested the abuser, the officer files a report which starts the criminal proceeding. A victim of domestic abuse can also go to her local law enforcement agency and file a report. The law enforcement agency will investigate the complaint and refer it to the County Attorney for possible prosecution.

When an abuser has been arrested for domestic abuse, he will not be released from jail until he has appeared before a judge. The Judge decides whether the Defendant should be released from jail, and imposes conditions of release, such as whether the defendant must pay bail. The Judge must issue an order called a "no-contact order" which prohibits the Defendant from having any contact with the victim. This initial no-contact order remains in effect until the criminal proceeding against the Defendant is completed. If the defendant pleads guilty or is convicted of domestic abuse, the no-contact order is extended for one year.

A no-contact order can be extended for additional one-year periods if the defendant continues to be a threat to the safety of the victim or her immediate family. To get an extension, the county attorney makes application to the court. A victim who needs her no-contact order extended should talk to her county attorney about this.

The County Attorney's office is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases. The County Attorney is required to make a number of decisions, such as what crime the Defendant should be charged with, whether to enter into a plea agreement with the Defendant, and what evidence to present at trial. Many times the victim will be the County Attorney's main witness. It is important for the victim to have contact with the County Attorney, and to discuss with the County Attorney any concerns or questions she may have.

An abuser convicted of domestic abuse assault must serve at least 2 days in jail. This time must be served in one 48 hour period. The court cannot give the abuser a fine instead of the 2-day minimum sentence. However, the court can give the abuser both a fine and the 2-day minimum jail sentence. The penalties for domestic abuse assault are more severe if the abuser was convicted or got a deferred judgment for domestic abuse before in the past 6 years. Convictions or deferred judgments for similar offenses in other states are counted. Offenses committed upon other victims also count in determining if it is a subsequent offense. The court must also order a convicted abuser to take part in a batterers' treatment program. Even if the abuser gets a deferred judgment, the abuser must take part in such a program. The court must also make the no-contact order a year-long order.
An abuser in an "intimate relationship" who is convicted of assault, can be ordered to attend the batterer's training program, although it is not mandatory. Similarly, the mandatory 2-day jail sentence does not apply. Also, a magistrate is not required to issue a no-contact order against the abuser, although many magistrates may still do so. In a case involving an intimate relationship, the assault victim may need to file a civil action to get a protection order if she does not get the protection she needs in the criminal proceeding.

Sometimes, the actions of an abuser may be charged as a different crime than domestic abuse assault. These are some related crimes.

Stalking -
To meet the definition of stalking, a victim must show three things:

  1. The stalker has watched, followed for no reason, or threatened the victim two or more times;
  2. The stalker's actions would put a reasonable person in fear of death or bodily injury to oneself or a family member; AND
  3. The stalker knows the actions would cause such fear.

There is no relationship test in the stalking law.

The penalties for stalking are more severe in certain cases. They are more severe if the stalker committed this offense before in the past six years. Penalties are more severe if the offense is a violation of a court order. In some cases, the stalker may not be eligible for bail. A no-contact order can be issued against the defendant charged with stalking if necessary to protect the victim.

Harassment -
A number of actions can be harassment when the intent is to intimidate, annoy, or alarm another person. These actions include:

  • Making phone calls;
  • Sending letters;
  • Making false reports about the victim to police when the person knows they are not true;
  • Making false child abuse reports to the Department of Human Services when the person knows the reports are not true;
  • Putting things like fake bombs or firecrackers in places occupied by the victim; AND
  • Ordering goods or services in the victim's name without the victim's knowledge or consent.

Harassment is a simple misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for harassment is thirty (30) days in jail or a $100 fine, or both. A no-contact order can be issued against a defendant charged with harassment if necessary to protect the victim.

Simple Misdemeanor Assault -
Generally, any assault which does not fall under one of the other categories described here is a simple misdemeanor assault.

The maximum penalty for a simple misdemeanor assault is thirty (30) days in jail or a fine of $100.

Serious Misdemeanor Assault -
A person who commits an assault causing bodily injury or mental illness is guilty of a serious misdemeanor assault.

The maximum penalty for a serious misdemeanor assault is one (1) year in jail or a fine of $1,000, or both.

Aggravated Misdemeanor Assault -
A person who commits an assault with the intent to inflict or cause a serious injury upon another is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor.

The maximum penalty for an aggravated assault is two (2) years in jail or a fine not to exceed $5,000, or both.

Sexual Abuse in the Third Degree -
A person who performs a sex act by force or against the will of the other participant commits sexual abuse in the third degree. This applies whether or not the other person is the person's spouse or is cohabiting with the person.
Sexual abuse in the third decree is a class "C" felony. The maximum penalty is ten (10) years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Going Armed With Intent -
A person who goes armed with any dangerous weapon with the intent to use the weapon without any good reason against the victim commits going armed with intent. Going armed with intent is a class "D" felony.

This is not a complete list of crimes that can be charged. For more information about crimes that can be charged under Iowa law, look at Iowa Code Chapters 702 through 723.

Last Review and Update: Apr 23, 2003

Contacting the LiveHelp service...