Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Iowa 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 Ann. § 13B.4(1)(b). 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 Ann. § 13B.4(2). Local public defenders must represent indigent youth in delinquency cases, including appeals. Iowa Code Ann. § 13B.9(1)(b). Nonprofit children’s law centers may also be appointed to represent youth. Iowa Code Ann. § 815.10(1)(a). 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 Ann. § 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 Ann. § 13B.6. The Indigent Defense Advisory Commission provides recommendations for the hourly rates and fee limitations for court-appointed counsel. Iowa Code Ann. § 13B.2A(2). The state public defender establishes fee limitations for certain types of cases and reviews any claims for payment of indigent defense costs. Iowa Code Ann. § 13B.4(4).

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); Iowa R. Juv. P., r. 8.36(1). To qualify, training must relate to “legal, ethical, medical, psychological, or social issues arising in juvenile court proceedings.” Iowa R. Juv. P., r. 8.36(2).

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 youth 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 Ann. § 232.11(1). However, this only applies to youth alleged to have committed a serious or aggravated misdemeanor or felony. Iowa Code Ann. § 232.11(1)(a). For simple misdemeanors, youth may still retain counsel. Iowa Code Ann. § 232.11(6).

The court must appoint counsel for the youth if it finds that the parent or guardian has retained a lawyer, but that a conflict of interest between the parent and the youth renders the lawyer previously retained unable to represent the youth properly. Iowa Code Ann. § 232.11(4). The parent or guardian must pay for the new appointed counsel, if financially able. Iowa Code Ann. § 232.11(4)-(5).

Determination of Indigence

Iowa has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. The court generally must make a finding of the youth’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 Ann. § 232.11(3). Youth or parents who are unable to pay are supported under Iowa’s indigent defense fund. Iowa Code Ann. § 815.11.

After the opportunity to be heard, if the court finds the parent or guardian can pay for counsel, the court has two options:

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

In Iowa, persons must submit a “financial affidavit and application for appointment of counsel for child” to determine indigency. Iowa’s indigence standards are based on federal poverty levels, as follows:

  1. A person earning up to 125% of the federal poverty level is entitled to an attorney at public expense unless the court finds that he can afford a lawyer;
  2. A person earning between 125%-200% of the federal poverty level is presumptively not entitled to public defense, but the court may appoint an attorney upon a written finding that legal expenses would cause the person substantial hardship;
  3. A person earning over 200% of the federal poverty level is presumptively not entitled to public defense, but the court may appoint an attorney if the person is charged with a felony AND upon a written finding that legal expenses would cause the person substantial hardship. Iowa Code Ann. § 815.9(1).

Waiver of Counsel

A youth cannot waive the right to counsel under most circumstances. A youth of any age cannot waive the right to counsel for the following hearings:

The only point at which a youth may waive the right to counsel is from the time the youth is taken into custody through questioning. Iowa Code Ann. § 232.11(1)(a), (2). At this point, a youth over the age of sixteen has a right to waive counsel after a good faith effort is made to notify the youth’s parent, guardian, or custodian of the circumstances surrounding the custody. Iowa Code Ann. § 232.11(2). A youth less than sixteen years old may only waive counsel if they have written consent by his or her parent, guardian, or custodian.  Iowa Code Ann. § 232.11(2).

Detention Provisions

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

Provisions for the detention of youth are found in the Iowa Code Ann. §§ 232.11, 232.19 to 232.23, 232.28, and 232.44, and in Iowa R. Juv. P., r. 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 youth 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 Ann. § 232.11(1)(f). Youth also have a right to counsel in a hearing on a confidentiality order or public record order. Iowa Code Ann. § 232.11(1)(g). Additionally, for purposes of appeal, the trial attorney must continue to represent the youth without an additional court order, unless the court grants them permission to withdraw. Iowa Code Ann. § 814.11(3; Iowa R. Juv. P., r. 8.24.

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

Ages of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

The age of a youth 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 youth 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 July 2018.