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Juveniles in Adult Court

Under Iowa law, some young people under 18 years of age can be tried as adults. Iowa law provides for two ways of moving a child to adult court. First, if the juvenile is over 14 years of age, and there are no reasonable prospects to rehabilitate the child in juvenile court, then the juvenile judge can “waive” a child from juvenile court to adult court.

Second, if the child is sixteen or over and commits a “forcible felony”, then the child is automatically waived to adult court. After the child is waived into adult court, the child is no longer under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The child is then subjected to the same criminal procedures and penalties as adults.

A ‘forcible felony ’ includes any felony charge of child endangerment, assault, murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, robbery, arson in the first degree, or burglary in the first degree.

Attorneys for Juvenile Defense in Serious Cases

In the most serious cases, the prosecutor will consider prosecuting the case in adult court instead of juvenile court. That filing decision is often made in the first 21 days after the arrest. In these cases, it is important to have a criminal defense attorney representing the child.

Call the attorneys at McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. by calling (515) 279-9700 to discuss the case. Let us put our experience to work for you for any serious felony case involving a juvenile who was under the age of 18 years old when the crime allegedly occurred.


Discretionary Waiver of a Juvenile to Adult Court in Iowa

The juvenile court has the discretion to hold a waiver hearing, in certain types of cases, to transfer a juvenile to adult court upon motion of prosecution or child. Iowa Code § 232.45.

If the child is at least 14 years old and accused of a public offense, either the child or the county attorney can file a motion for discretionary waiver. In those cases, the juvenile court must hold a hearing to determine whether to waive jurisdiction.

Before the hearing, the juvenile probation officer or another designated person will file an investigative report on the child that is submitted to the court.

The statute specifies serious factors that must be considered by the court in making a determination about whether the waiver is appropriate.

After the discretionary waiver hearing, the court can only waive jurisdiction if:

  • the court finds probable cause to believe the child committed a public offense (or if it has already found probable cause at a previous detention hearing); and
  • that the State has established that there are no reasonable prospects for rehabilitation within the juvenile court system; and
  • that waiver would be in the best interests of the child and the community.

Statutory Exclusion under Iowa Code Sec. 232.8

Iowa Code Section 232.8 designates certain offenses committed by a child who is 16 years old or older as being excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction. The offenses automatically prosecuted in adult court include:

  • Forcible felonies.
  • Drug Manufacturing, delivering, or possessing controlled substances with intent to deliver, while in the immediate possession or control of a firearm or offensive weapon.
  • Weapon Felony-grade weapons violations, or any weapons violation committed by a criminal street gang member for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang.

Reverse Waiver under Iowa Code Sec. 232.8

A child accused of an offense excluded from juvenile jurisdiction may nevertheless be transferred to juvenile court “upon motion and for good cause.”


Once in Adult Court – Always in Adult Court

Under Iowa Code Sec. 232.45A, once a child 16 or older has been waived to and convicted of a felony or aggravated misdemeanor in district court, provided the child was prosecuted and convicted as an adult (and not as a youthful offender), proceedings against the child for any subsequent felonies or aggravated misdemeanors must be commenced in district court. If such a case is mistakenly begun in juvenile court, it must be immediately transferred to district court.

This rule in Iowa is often called the “once an adult – always an adult” rule.


Additional Resources

Trying Juveniles as an Adult in Iowa – Visit the website of the OJJDP to learn more about the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act. The Act established the OJJDP to support local and state efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency and improve the juvenile justice system, policies, and practices. As a component of the Office of Justice Programs and the U.S. Department of Justice, the OJJDP sponsors research, training initiatives; develops priorities, and sets policies to guide federal juvenile justice issues. The website also provides information about how juveniles are tried as adults in every state including Iowa.