Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System

IAIowa provides counsel to indigent youth through a statewide Office of the State Public Defender that administers the delivery of and payment for indigent defense services. The state defender is tasked with coordinating the provision of legal representation for indigent individuals in criminal and post-conviction proceedings. Iowa Code § 13B.4. Specifically, the state defender may appoint local public defender offices, designate licensed attorneys in the state or nonprofit organizations to be appointed by the court as a designee of the state public defender, or secure contract attorneys to represent indigent persons. Iowa Code § 13B.4. Local public defenders must represent indigent children in delinquency cases, including appeals. Iowa Code § 13B.9(1)(b). Nonprofit children’s law centers may also be appointed to represent children. Iowa Code § 815.10. Where the public defender has a conflict of interest or is temporarily overloaded with cases, it must return the case to the state court to be reassigned. Iowa Code § 13B.9(4)(a).

Indigent defense in Iowa is almost entirely funded by the state; however, the state public defender has the authority to bill county offices for any service rendered to that county. Iowa Code § 13B.6. The Indigent Defense Advisory Commission provides recommendations for the hourly rates and fee limitations for court-appointed counsel. Iowa Code § 13B.2A.

Iowa has no statutorily required or recommended training requirements or standards for attorneys in state or local public defender offices representing youth in delinquency proceedings. However, contract attorneys seeking to represent indigent persons in juvenile cases must first complete a minimum of three hours of juvenile-court related training, after which the attorney must participate in three hours of such training annually. 493 Iowa Admin. Code § 11.3(1).

Court Rules

In addition to statutes and case law, juvenile court proceedings are governed by court rules. These are often promulgated at the state level, but may also be passed at the local court level instead of or in addition to statewide rules. Iowa’s juvenile court rules are called the Rules of Juvenile Procedure.

Right to Counsel

Beyond the right to counsel in juvenile court guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution and In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), states often have state constitution or statutory provisions further expanding upon on or delineating that right.

In Iowa, youth in juvenile court have the right to be represented by counsel from the moment the child is taken into custody and during any questioning, a detention or shelter care hearing, a waiver hearing, an adjudicatory hearing, a dispositional hearing, and hearings to review or modify a dispositional order. Iowa Code § 232.11(1)(a)-(f).

The court must appoint counsel for the child if it finds that the parent or guardian has retained a lawyer, but that a conflict of interest between the parent and the child renders the lawyer unable to represent the child properly. The parent or guardian must pay for the new appointed counsel, if financially able. Iowa Code § 232.11(4).

Determination of Indigence

Iowa has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. The court generally must make a finding of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian’s ability to pay before appointing a public defender to represent a youth, but can “reserve the determination of payment until the parent, guardian or custodian has an opportunity to be heard.” Iowa Code § 232.11(3)(c). Juveniles or parents who are unable to pay are supported under Iowa’s indigent defense fund. Iowa Code § 815.11.

The statutes indicate that the parent or guardian’s income is considered in a determination of whether a youth qualifies for appointed counsel and that counsel will be appointed even if a parent refuses to hire an attorney because Iowa Code § 232.11(3)(a) says:

“If the court determines, after giving the child’s parent, guardian or custodian an opportunity to be heard, that such person has the ability in whole or in part to pay for the employment of counsel, it shall either order that person to retain an attorney to represent the child or shall appoint counsel for the child and order the parent, guardian or custodian to pay for that counsel.”

If a court determines that the parent or guardian of a child accused of delinquency cannot pay for an attorney, the court will appoint counsel for the youth. Iowa Code § 232.11(3)(b).

Iowa’s indigence standards are based on federal poverty levels, as follows:

Waiver of Counsel

A child over the age of sixteen has a right to waive counsel after a good faith effort is made to notify the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian. Iowa Code § 232.11(2). A child less than sixteen years old may only waive counsel if he/she has written consent by his or her parent, guardian, or custodian.  Iowa Code § 232.11(2).

However, a child of any age cannot waive the right to counsel for the following hearings:

Detention Provisions

When and how the court may decide to detain a child or otherwise place restrictions on the child’s freedom is defined by statute and court rules. In Iowa, a detention hearing must be held within 24 hours of the child being detained, excluding weekends and holidays. Iowa Code § 232.44(1)(a).

Provisions for the detention of juveniles are found in the Iowa Code §§ 232.11, 232.19 to 232.23, 232.28, and 232.44, and in the Iowa Rules of Juvenile Procedure, Rule 8.16.

The U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court case law are also sources of due process rights beyond local and state statutes and provisions. NJDC’s Detention Page provides more information about detaining youth.

Post-Disposition Advocacy

The legal needs of children in the delinquency system rarely end at disposition, and states vary in the way they provide a right to representation on these post-disposition issues.

In Iowa, youth have a right to counsel in a hearing to review and modify a dispositional order. Iowa Code § 232.11. Additionally, for purposes of appeal, the attorney may continue to represent the child without an additional court order. Iowa Code § 814.11(3).

NJDC’s Post-Disposition Page has more information on this topic from a national perspective.

Ages of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

The age of a child who comes within the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts is defined by state law. In Iowa:

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Iowa has two ways that juveniles can be prosecuted as adults:


NJDC conducts statewide assessments of access to counsel and the quality of juvenile defense representation in delinquency proceedings around the country. These assessments provide a state with baseline information about the nature and efficacy of its juvenile indigent defense structures, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the indigent juvenile defense system, and provide tailored recommendations that address each state’s distinctive characteristics to help decision-makers focus on key trouble spots and highlight best practices. The NJDC State Assessment Page provides more information about state assessments.

NJDC has not yet conducted an assessment of the juvenile indigent defense system in Iowa. If you would like to collaborate with NJDC to fundraise for, plan, or engage in an assessment in this state, please contact us.

Current through June 2016.