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Know Your Rights

If you are detained or searched:

When you are stopped or searched by the police, it is important for you to understand your legal rights. The best way to do so is to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney understands how to handle your situation and help you make an informed decision.

The police can stop you for questioning at any time. However, this is not the same as an arrest. An officer may detain you, but under those circumstances you are not moved to a different location, fingerprinted, or read your Miranda rights. You should always remember that you can refuse to answer any questions, even if you are not arrested.

Searches without a warrant

A police officer, under certain circumstances, does not need a warrant allowing them to search you and your property. Iowa does not require warrants in the following situations:

  • After an arrest-When the police arrest you, the law permits them to search your body and clothing for weapons and contraband.
  • Consent-If you consent, an officer can search your property or person- however, you can withhold your consent if you choose.
  • Exigent circumstances-The police do not need a warrant if clear circumstances require immediate action, such as preventing the destruction of evidence.
  • In an automobile-Under certain circumstances requiring probable cause that there is something illegal in the car.
  • Plain view-If an illegal object or substance is in plain view of an officer, he or she can collect it as evidence.

If you are arrested:

Many people do not know what to do when they have been arrested. The first thing officers want to do is get a statement, and they may use deceptive tactics to get the information they want. To protect your rights, you need to be prepared for the situation before it happens.

The law allows the police to make certain promises- even if they have no intention of following through on them. You should not take an officer seriously if they promise leniency in exchange for information. Often, police officers do not have the power to reduce charges or penalties- that job is left to the prosecuting attorney. When you are the subject of an investigation, you should remain quiet until you understand the charges against you and until you have retained an attorney.

Booking after an arrest

If the police arrest you, you are usually booked and processed in your local jail. The following happens to you during your booking:

  • Fingerprinting
  • Photographing

At this point, your attorney can request bail. Some cases are too serious to warrant bail. It is rare that your offense is minor enough to request release on a personal recognizance bond. A bail bondsperson normally charges a fixed percentage of the bail amount as a fee for posting the money to bond you out of jail. See our blog post on the bail and bond process for more information.


At your arraignment, a judge will ask you to enter your plea. You have the option to plead guilty and accept your punishment or plead not guilty and proceed with plea negotiations and trial. If you cannot afford the services of a private attorney, the court will appoint a public defender to your case.

While public defenders are tireless advocates, their services may lack some of the personal attention a private criminal defense attorney can provide. Public defenders often take on many clients who need their help and this is a great strain on their resources. You also will not have a choice in the attorney you are appointed. It's always a good idea to have some money set aside for issues such as these that may arise. Make sure you get representation from an attorney who is right for you.

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