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HOW DO I SEARCH FOR IOWA COURT RECORDS?

The Iowa Open Records Law empowers judicial branches of the Iowa Court system to make court records available to the public. The Act mandates that all records considered public records be made publicly available without requiring a statement of need. Court records are usually available in paper and electronic versions. To obtain Iowa court records, a requestor may:

  • Visit the local courthouse to inspect or obtain a paper copy of the record
  • Visit the local courthouse to access electronic court records through the public access terminal
  • Remotely access the court record from the Iowa Judiciary website or the local courthouse website in jurisdictions where the service is available

To determine the location of any courthouse in the state, use the Court Directory on the Iowa Judiciary website. Note, court records that have been expunged or restricted by law or court order may not be available to the public. The custodians of court records in the state may charge a fee for copies of available records.

HOW CAN I OBTAIN A COURT RECORD ONLINE FOR FREE?

Obtaining paper copies of court records comes with a fee. However, electronic versions of court records are available to be accessed online for free. If a requestor requires the certified copy or a paper copy of a court record, a visit to the local courthouse which has the case on file will be necessary.

The Iowa judiciary website provides free online access to basic case record information such as case titles and filings, charges, names of parties and attorneys, case disposition, and fines and fee payments. A paid subscription will, however, grant access to other information such as case schedules, judgment index, lien index, bonds, exhibit lists, and service return information. Subscribers are required to pay a $25 monthly subscription fee to continue using the advanced search option open to registered users only. Public trial cases after 1998 are maintained on this database. However, case information for some court records before this date may yet be accessible. Note that juvenile and other confidential court records are not available.

The Find a Case tool on the Iowa Judiciary website helps the public gain access to case information from the trial and appellate courts in Iowa. A search can be performed with one of these options:

  • Name
  • Case ID, or
  • Citation number

To perform a simple search using the name search option, a user is required to specify at least two letters of the Last/Firm name field. There are several other options on the search page to improve the accuracy of search results if relevant information is known by the requestor. To search for a record by case ID, specifying the case type and the county where the case is on record is enough to perform a simple search. However, if the case ID is known, the user may also specify it for a more accurate search result. To perform a search by citation number, all that is required is the citation number.

The Iowa Courts Online Search tool also allows users to search appellate court case records by one of three options, including:

  • Appellate Docket Number
  • Short Case Title
  • Last name/Firm name

An appellate docket number is usually a 6-digit number. Case title examples are Dan v Mark or State v Michael. Users are required to use “v” between the name of the parties involved in a case when using the short case title search option. Users are also advised not to specify first names while performing a search using the short case title option. At least two letters of the last name must be specified to use the last name/firm search option.

The Iowa Courts Online search tool may not be available between 2:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. CST daily due to routine backup and maintenance. Note that registered users are only permitted 1,000 searches per calendar day.

Court records are considered open to the public and are usually accessible through government sources, though they may also be accessed through third-party websites. These websites offer an easier method in most cases, as they are not limited by geographical area, or by limitations in search engine technology. They can often serve as a starting point when looking for a specific record, or multiple records. Interested parties must usually provide:

  • The name of the person listed in the record. This may not apply to records on juveniles.
  • The assumed or known location of the person listed in the record. This will most often be a city, county, or state.

Because they are not government-sponsored, record availability on third party websites may vary when compared to government sources.

HOW DOES THE IOWA COURT SYSTEM WORK?

Unlike several states in the United States that run a decentralized court system, Iowa runs a unified court system that spawned a 2-level court system; The Trial Courts, and the Appellate Courts. District Courts in Iowa are the state's trial courts. The appellate courts are the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The District Courts are the first contact with the Iowa court system for most citizens. A large portion of cases both begin and end here. However, in cases where a party involved in a case desires to appeal the decision from a District Court, petitions are made directly to the Supreme Court in Iowa

Based on discretionary jurisdiction, the Supreme Court decides which petitions for appeals to grant and transfers other appeals to the Court of Appeals. If a party still feels aggrieved after a judgment has been passed at the Court of Appeals, a petition may be made to the Supreme Court for review.

Iowa consists of 8 judicial districts. Each judicial district is supervised by a chief judge who is appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the district's operations and case assignments. The judicial district divisions are:

  • District One: Allamakee, Black Hawk, Buchanan, Chickasaw, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, Winneshiek
  • District Two: Boone, Bremer, Butler, Calhoun, Carroll, Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Humboldt, Marshall, Mitchell, Pocahontas, Sac, Story, Webster, Winnebago, Worth, Wright
  • District Three: Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, Crawford, Dickinson, Emmet, Ida, Lyon, Kossuth, Monona, O'Brien, Osceola, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Sioux, Woodbury
  • District Four: Audubon, Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, Shelby
  • District Five: Adair, Adams, Clarke, Dallas, Decatur, Guthrie, Jasper, Lucas, Madison, Marion, Polk, Ringgold, Taylor, Union, Warren, Wayne
  • District Six: Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn, Tama
  • District Seven: Cedar, Clinton, Jackson, Muscatine, ScottĀ 
  • District Eight: Appanoose, Davis, Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa, Mahaska, Monroe, Poweshiek, Van Buren, Wapello, Washington

About 2,000 appeals are filed annually with the Iowa Supreme Court. Not all filed appeals end in a formal opinion as some get settled before submission while others are dismissed.

WHAT ARE IOWA TRIAL COURTS?

Iowa District Courts are the courts of general jurisdiction. District Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over cases relating to:

  • Civil matters
  • Criminal matters
  • Juvenile issues
  • Probate matters
  • Domestic relations matters
  • Traffic violations
  • Small claims (up to $5,000)

Several judicial officers of the District Court are responsible for handling the different jurisdictions of the court. Officers in the District Court include District Court Judges, District Associate Judges, Associate Probate Judges, Associate Juvenile Judges, and Judicial Magistrates. All judges are appointed to 6-year terms by the relevant authority from a pool of nominees picked by the nominating commission.

District Court Judges can hear cases across all the jurisdictions covered by the District Court such as juvenile matters, probate matters, felonies, domestic issues, and disputes involving state administrative agencies.

District Associate Judges hear cases relating to major misdemeanor issues, Class D felonies, civil cases in which claims are not greater than $10,000, and juvenile issues on some occasions. There are 69 district associate judges in Iowa.

Associate Probate Judges only hear cases relating to probate matters. Their duties may also be as prescribed by the Chief Judge, especially in auditory roles. There is only one Associate Probate Judge in Iowa.

Associate Juvenile Judges' jurisdiction only covers cases of juvenile matters. These relate to matters of juvenile delinquency, parental rights, and adoptions. There are five Associate Juvenile Judges in Iowa.

Judicial Magistrates hear cases relating to simple misdemeanors, violations, municipal infractions, and small claims cases. Their services are usually in the county of residence but the Magistrates may hear cases in other counties in line with an order of the Chief Judge. Judicial Magistrate jurisdictions also cover issuing search warrants, preliminary hearings, and handling particular involuntary hospitalization matters. Judicial Magistrates are appointed to 4-year terms by the county magistrate appointing commissions. Judicial Magistrates are not required to be attorneys by law. There are 146 Judicial Magistrates in Iowa.

WHAT ARE IOWA APPELLATE COURTS?

The Iowa Court of Appeals and the Iowa Supreme Court are the appellate courts in the state. Unlike in most states in the United States, petitions for appeals are filed directly with the Iowa Supreme Court.

HOW DOES THE IOWA COURT OF APPEALS WORK?

The Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court in the state. Petitions to review judgment from the trial courts are not made to the court but are transferred to it from the Supreme Court. Decisions made on cases transferred to it are final unless appealed at the Supreme Court. Some 90 percent of all appeals to the Supreme Court is eventually handled in the Court the Appeals.

There are no jury proceedings at the Court of Appeals. No new evidence, exhibits, or testimonies are received at the Court of Appeals. The court's responsibility in an appeal is to verify that no substantial legal errors occurred during the trial court's proceedings. Iowa Court of Appeals may do one of three things in an appeal:

  • Uphold the decision from the trial court
  • Set aside the decision from the trial court
  • Send the case back to the trial court with instructions

Decisions in the Court of Appeals are made by nine judges sitting in a panel of three. Published opinions from the court become standard guides for future cases. Court of Appeals judges are appointed to 6-year terms by the governor from a pool of nominees selected by the state judicial nominating commission.

HOW DOES THE IOWA SUPREME COURT WORK?

The Iowa Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state. It holds a discretionary jurisdiction over appeals made to the court. As such, it chooses which petitions for an appeal to grant or transfer to the Court of Appeals. For those granted, the written record of the trial court is reviewed to ensure no substantial legal errors occurred in proceeding and judgment. Therefore, no new evidence, exhibits, juries, or testimonies are allowed.

Decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court are binding on other courts in the state. As well, the court has administrative superintendence over all judicial officers and court employees in the state. Other responsibilities of the court include admitting individuals to the practice of law in Iowa, disciplinary actions over erring attorneys, and formulating rules and standards for Iowa courts.

There are seven justices in the Iowa Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices are appointed to 8-year terms by the governor from a pool of nominees chosen by the state judicial nominating commission.

HOW MANY CASES DOES THE IOWA COURT SYSTEM HANDLE ANNUALLY?

Approximately 700,000 cases are filed annually in Iowa trial courts. In the 2019 court year, the District Courts in Iowa recorded a total of 724,899 new or reopened cases. In the same period, the Trial Courts disposed of 721,872 cases. Over 70 percent of the cases filed in the District Courts are simple misdemeanor offenses while small claims cases account for approximately 10% of total case filings.

Criminal appeals account for roughly 30 percent of the total appeals made to the Iowa Supreme Court while family law and Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) appeals represent 20% and 25% of total appeal filings respectively. In the 2018 court year, the Supreme Court recorded 483 applications for appeal but granted only 41. In total, the appellate courts of Iowa issued 1,262 opinions in the 2018 court year.

Below are caseload summaries for some of Iowa courts.

District Court Caseload* 2015-2019

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Civil Cases 27,300 25,000 26,900 27,800 26,700
Felony and Indictable misdemeanor 63,000 73,000 72,000 73,000 70,000
Simple misdemeanor and traffic cases 490,000 475,000 490,000 470,000 474,000
Small Claims and forcible entry and detainer 62,000 65,000 77,000 84,000 83,000
Adult and Juvenile Commitment Petitions 13,700 14,200 14,400 13,900 13,700
Juvenile Delinquency & Child Welfare 10,800 11,000 12,200 12,000 11,400
Probate 14,000 13,600 14,000 13,500 13,000
Domestic Relations 34,300 34,200 34,600 33,200 33,400
Estimated Total 715,100 711,000 741,100 727,400 725,200

Data provided by the Iowa Judicial Branch

* Estimates are from IOWA JUDICIAL BRANCH 2019 ANNUAL REPORT (pages 17-18)

Court of Appeals Caseload, 2014-2018

Court Year Opinions Filed by Court of Appeals Pending Dec.31 Transferred to Court of Appeals Pending Jan. 1
2018 1,167 314 1,227 259
2017 1,298 258 1,334 227
2016 1,389 227 1,440 186
2015 1,199 186 1,118 269
2014 1,151 267 1,208 136

Data provided by the Iowa Judicial Branch

Further Review of Opinions by the Iowa Supreme Court

Court year Applications Filed Applications Granted
2018 483 41
2017 511 48
2016 517 41
2015 513 46
2014 472 43

Data provided by the Iowa Judicial Branch

First names in Iowa