Prior to 2015, indigent defendants were not entitled to court-appointed counsel for simple misdemeanors unless the government was seeking actual imprisonment. A defendant did not qualify for court-appointed counsel even if the possible sanction included jail time unless and until the government stated it was seeking jail time in the case. This was the actual imprisonment rule.
In 2015, the Iowa Supreme Court reviewed a defendant's right-to-counsel on a simple misdemeanor charge. The Court interpreted article I, section 10 of the Iowa Constitution, stating: "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, and in cases involving the life, or liberty of an individual, the accused shall have a right ... to have the assistance of counsel". The Court rejected the actual imprisonment rule and overruled the prior case law of McNabb v. Osmundson and State v. Allen. The Court held, "[u]nder the Iowa Constitution, we conclude that a poor person has a right to appointed counsel when a statute authorizes imprisonment unless the defendant validly waives that right."
Since 2015, defendants have been entitled to court-appointed counsel in city simple misdemeanors if jail time was authorized for the offense. Under Iowa Code Section 815.11, these fees were paid from the state indigent defense fund through the state public defender’s office.
Beginning January 1, 2018, cities will be responsible for reimbursing the state public defender’s office for court-appointed counsel in city cases. Senate File 374, new section 815.15. Instead of defendants reimbursing the state public defender’s office, the city will be entitled to reimbursement from the defendant.
Cities should be aware whether violations of their code authorize jail time on offenses. If jail time is a potential sanction on an offense, defendants may be eligible for court-appointed counsel.
If you have questions regarding court-appointed counsel, please contact Cassandra C. Wolfgram at Lynch Dallas, P.C. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-365-9101.