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The Iowa Appeals Process Explained

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
July 13, 2020

In this article, we will review the Iowa appeals process. We will discuss what types of court orders can be appealed, how the Iowa appeal process works, deadlines for filing an appeal and any associated paperwork, what happens after the appeal is filed, what actions the appeals court can take after hearing a case, and what happens if you lose an appeal. We’ll begin with a short overview of how the appeals process works in Iowa.

How Does the Appeals Process Work In Iowa?

In Iowa, all cases are initially heard by the district trial courts. During these hearings, both sides will present evidence and written and oral arguments. Depending on the specifics of the case (criminal vs divorce vs child custody) a jury may be present or it will be a bench trial, meaning the judge makes all the decisions a jury would.

At the conclusion of the trial court hearing and after final judgment has been rendered, or after a certain order or motion has been entered by the trial court judge, the parties can seek to appeal to the Iowa appellate court to have the judges order reversed. In Iowa, all appeals go straight to the Iowa Supreme Court which then decides which cases it will hear and which cases it will transfer jurisdiction to the Iowa Court of Appeals. 

The appellate court job is not to commence an entirely new hearing, but to review the record of the trial court along with briefs prepared by both parties. Rarely will an appellate court’s review have oral arguments and even if they are granted they are typically short 15-minute affairs. After reviewing all the information the appellate court can affirm the order handed down in the district court, rule in favor of the appealing party and reverse the order, modify the court order, or remand the case back to the district court. It’s not abnormal to have multiple orders of a case appealed in different ways.

What Types of Court Orders Can Be Appealed In Iowa

Any party in a case may appeal a final decision by the trial court. Final decisions are those that determine guilt or innocence, liability, custody orders, etc. For example, one of the parties can appeal a final decision from a child custody case that ordered the child to be placed with a relative rather than the mother or father. An appeal won’t be a blanket statement with the argument of “the other side is wrong,” but rather it will usually focus on one or more specific issues such as misconduct by an attorney, improper review of the evidence, certain evidence being admitted or denied, etc.

In Iowa, an appeal cannot be made until the final decision is handed down, outside of one exception: a participant may ask the Iowa Supreme Court to grant an interlocutory appeal for discretionary review of a rule on a pretrial motion. For example, a participant may want to exclude or suppress a piece of evidence from use at a trial. If an unfavorable ruling is handed down the participant may seek discretionary review by the Supreme Court, because if the lower court ruling is wrong and that piece of evidence is still let in, it may affect the entire trial, leading to a retrial later on.

The process of interlocutory appeal and discretionary review can be complicated, as can knowing what type of order, motion, or judgment can be appealed before the final decision is handed down. An experienced attorney can guide you through the appeals process and explain the various nuances of the Iowa Appellate Court. 

Timetables for Filing an Appeal

Appeals must be filed within 30 days of the final judgment as to all claims in the case. Exceptions to this rule include termination of parental rights and child in need of assistance cases under Iowa code chapter 232. Appeals to orders, judgments, and motions in these cases must be filed within 15 days. Appeals to motions can be filed within 30 days of the motion submitted, regardless of the final judgment. Final orders on partial dispositions are also appealable regardless of the time of the final judgment. Filing a notice of cross-appeal in Iowa also has a 15-day deadline, or within 10 days of the filing of the original notice of cross-appeal while all other cases have a 30-day deadline or 10-day deadline, respectively.

Process For Filing an Appeal In Iowa

Below is an outline of the process for filing an appeal in Iowa:

  • Within the appropriate deadline (normally within 30 days after the final judgment is handed down), the appealing party (known as the “appellant”) must file Notice of Appeal with the district court that entered the order being appealed.  The Notice of Appeal must be served upon every other party and to certain other entities entitled to notice.  Proof of service must be filed with the Notice of Appeal.
  • The appellant must file a notice with the appellate court that the Notice of Appeal has been filed with the district court. This must occur within 7 days of the initial filing.
  • Within 14 days after filing the Notice of Appeal with the district court, the appellant must file a Docketing Statement with the appellate court. 
  • The appellant and his or her attorney(s) should be working with the clerk and court reporters of the district court during this entire process to ensure the appropriate documents are included with the appeal and that the appeal is being filed in a timely manner. 

What Happens Once An Iowa Appeal Is Filed?

If the appeal is filed within the 30 days of the final decision of the court, the final decision for a criminal case being the sentencing, and a decision or judgment in a civil case, the appeal process officially begins. Failure to meet the 30-day deadline, or 15-day deadline for certain family law cases, results in the automatic rejection of the appeal. Unless the defendant posts her bond the ruling of the lower court will remain in effect while the appeal is being processed. 

The appealing party begins the process of generating and filing a draft brief. The draft brief is a document that details the argument for the appeal. It references the portions of the trial record and previous decisions of the appellate courts that support its argument. The other party will respond to this initial draft brief with their own. Another round of briefs (final briefs) are collected and then the appellate court reviews the entire trial court file, including the evidence cited by each party in their briefs. In some cases, an attorney may request an additional oral argument, but these are rare and are limited to 15 minutes form each side. 

The time frame for this process varies somewhat depending on the case. Those involving child custody or physical danger to another person are fast-tracked. Also, cases where a sentence is being appealed, and not the conviction will take less time. In general, individuals should expect the entire process to take between 6 and 12 months for a decision to come down from the appellate court. 

What If Can You Do If You Lose an Appeal In Iowa?

If the appellate court rules against your appeal you can 1) let the ruling stand, 2) file a petition for rehearing with the court of appeals within 7 days of the appeals court opinion or 3) file an application of further review with the Iowa Supreme Court within 20 days of the appellate court’s opinion (10 days for termination of parental rights decision or child in need of assistance decision). An individual can file for both a rehearing with the court of appeals and further review with the Iowa Supreme Court at the same time.

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