Serving Iowa Families Statewide | Se Habla Español

When Can a Juvenile Be Charged as an Adult in Iowa?

The November 2021 murder of teacher Nohema Graber has resulted in the arrest of two 16-year-olds from Fairfield, Iowa. These teens are facing adult first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges. The teens are seeking a reverse waiver in the hopes of sending their case to juvenile court.

Iowa law allows for children as young as 14 to be sent to the adult judicial system for certain crimes. Youths aged 16 or older are automatically sent to criminal court if they are charged with forcible felonies as well as certain drug crimes and weapons charges.

The juvenile justice system procedures are outlined in Iowa Code Chapter 232. Juvenile court has jurisdiction over most offenses purportedly committed before the age of 18. Jurisdiction over the matter can be retained until the individual is 19 years 6 months and follow-up services can continue until 21 years old.

Juvenile Crime Rate in Iowa

Data from 2017 shows that more than 14,000 juveniles were processed through the state’s juvenile system, a sharp decrease from the 22,400-plus youths in 2010.

The numbers of youth facing allegations are as follows:

  • Drug: 2,773
  • Property: 6,996
  • Public Order: 4,579
  • Violent: 3,960
  • Local Ordinance: 164
  • Other: 203

Most drug-related allegations were for drug possession. Theft topped the charges related to property offenses. Assault was the most common violent crime. More than 250 minors in 2017 were waived to adult court.

Juvenile Charges Automatically Sent to Adult Court

Iowa Code 232.8(1)(c) specifies that a minor 16 years or older shall be adjudicated by the adult criminal justice system for certain charges.

The following crimes are automatically waived to adult court:

  • Murder
  • Voluntary Manslaughter
  • Sexual Assault
  • Assault Causing Serious Injury
  • Kidnapping
  • Arson (First Degree)
  • Burglary (First Degree)
  • Felony Weapons Charges
  • Manufacturing, Delivering, or Possessing Controlled Substances with Firearm Possession

Youth who are sent to adult court automatically can file a motion to request a reverse waiver. In a hearing, the court considers the seriousness of the offense, any prior criminal behavior, the age of the juvenile, and other factors in determining whether to send the case back to juvenile court.

Waiver Hearings to Transfer Case to Adult Court

In addition to automatic transfer to adult court for certain crimes, the juvenile court also has discretionary action to remove the case from juvenile jurisdiction. In Iowa Code 232.45, the juvenile court is given the authority to conduct a hearing to consider removing the case to adult court if the minor is at least 14 years old and involves violent criminal behavior. The case is generally sent to adult court if there is no reasonable prospect of rehabilitating the minor in the juvenile system.

Once an Adult, Always an Adult

After a minor 16 or older has been waived to adult court and convicted of a felony or aggravated misdemeanor as an adult, any subsequent wrongdoing will also be dealt with in district court. Their offenses are no longer eligible for juvenile disposition, even if they are still under the age of 18. Any case mistakenly begun in juvenile justice will be transferred for adult adjudication. If the original case in adult court results in acquittal or dismissal, any subsequent offenses will begin in juvenile court (unless meets the standard for a waiver to adult court).

Criminal Defense for Adult Crimes

When a minor is facing adult criminal charges, they need a skilled attorney to fight for their rights. At the Hope Law Firm, we understand the high stakes. Our attorneys have extensive experience in defending individuals charged with a wide array of crimes.

Request a free consultation online or by calling (515) 298-5056.