Initial Appearance

This is your first appearance in front of a judge. The judge will tell you what you are accused of and advise you of your rights. The judge will then set a preliminary hearing. The judge will determine if you should be held for bond or released.

Preliminary Hearing

This is a hearing in which the State of Iowa must present evidence to the court to establish that there is probable cause to believe that you committed the offense charged. Whether this hearing takes place or not varies widely across jurisdictions in Iowa. Even if you have one scheduled, they usually do not happen because before the hearing is held, the State will file a trial information charging you. This then circumvents the need to have such a hearing. You may waive this hearing but you should not do so if you are in jail. You should consult with your attorney. He/She will know best what you should do.

A Preliminary Hearing must be set within 10 days of this first appearance, called the “initial appearance,” if the defendant is being held in jail for bail, or 20 days if the defendant will be ordered released from jail. If you are released from jail, your attorney may “waive” this preliminary hearing.

Will you be required to appear? If the court orders you to appear at any hearing, you must always appear. It is best to speak with your attorney for advice on this as often lawyers may appear on your behalf.

Will this hearing be held? Very rare. Depends on what Iowa County you are in. They are not held because the prosecutor State will file the “trial information” which accuses you of the crime. Once this document is filed, the preliminary hearing is canceled. You will then be required to appear for “arraignment.”

If the preliminary hearing is held, and if the evidence presented by the State of Iowa shows there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant committed it, the judge will order the defendant to attend further proceedings. The State is allowed to present any evidence it has at this hearing to show probably cause, including hearsay evidence. Defendants are allowed to ask witnesses questions and present their own witnesses.

I have not attended a preliminary hearing in 20 plus years as the State always files the Trial Information. What is a “trial information”? See my Definitions link.


This is the court proceeding where you appear in court to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge(s) filed in the trial information. In most Iowa courts, this can be done by paper. Your attorney will have the documents needed to handle this for you.

At the conclusion of your arraignment, the court will typically schedule a “pre-trial conference.” This is prior to your trial date. It is fixed to give you and your attorney time to investigate the charges through discovery.