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What Are The Differences Between Federal and Iowa State Crimes?

Criminal charges are generally classified into federal and state crimes, and although both are similar in numerous ways, they have striking differences. Federal crimes are investigated and prosecuted by federal law enforcement agencies, and it involves people accused or suspected of violating Federal Criminal Law.

Federal crimes are offenses that are committed on federal property or across state lines, tried in federal court, and handled by federal law enforcement agencies such as;

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (F. B. I.)
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (D. E. A.)
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (A. T. F.)
  • The Secret Service
  • The Internal Revenue Service (I. R. S.)
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I. C. E.)
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (S. E. C.)
  • The Department of Homeland Security (D. H. S.)

Examples of federal crimes include;

  • Identity theft
  • Mail and wire fraud
  • Drug trafficking
  • Weapons charges
  • White-collar financial crimes
  • Computer crimes
  • Internet sex crimes
  • Organized crimes

In Contrast, state crimes involve breaking or violating Iowa State criminal law, and this makes up a large percentage of offenses tried within the state. They are prosecuted and investigated by state and local law enforcement agencies according to Iowa rules of criminal procedure in an Iowa State Court.

Examples of State crimes include;

  • Domestic violence
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol (D. U. I.)
  • Homicide
  • Assault and battery
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Small amounts of drug possession
  • Offenses relating to theft

Some of the state law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating state crimes in Iowa are;

  • Iowa Department of Corrections
  • Iowa Department of Public Safety
  • Iowa State Division of Criminal Investigation
  • Iowa State Division of Narcotics Enforcement
  • Iowa State Fire Marshal
  • Iowa State Patrol
  • Iowa State Patrol Motor Vehicle Enforcement Agency

Generally, most criminal cases are prosecuted by the state because a larger percentage of crimes committed in the country violate state laws more often than federal laws.

These state laws are passed by governing bodies in Iowa and the federal laws passed by the U.S congress and the constitution.

How Does the Iowa Court System Differ From the Federal Court System?

The federal court system constitutes district courts (the trial court), circuit courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States. The Iowa Court system Comprises of 3 courts; The Supreme Court, The appellate Court and the District courts with multiple divisions such as the Juvenile Court, Probate Court, and Small Claims. The major difference between Federal Court Systems and Iowa Court systems is their Jurisdiction, that is, the type of case they are allowed to hear. Generally, in comparison with Iowa State courts, Federal courts have limited jurisdiction. They are limited only to cases provided for by the U.S. constitution with claims and cases under the federal Jurisdiction only.

These are cases that risk national security or involve violation of the U.S. constitution and sometimes, bankruptcy cases and legal disputes between foreign citizens or citizens from different states.

Iowa state courts primarily hear cases involving the violation of state laws. Cases that go to trial in state courts are prosecuted by a District attorney, while on the federal level, criminal cases are prosecuted by the U.S. attorney.

Federal Judges are appointed for life by the President with the confirmation of the senate per Article III of the Constitution while Iowa State Judges are appointed and retained through elections.

The procedures followed within each court system are primarily similar, but the laws governing them are different. Criminal procedures in a Federal court are guided by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and in Iowa State courts, they are governed by Iowa rules of criminal procedure.

How Many Federal Courts Are There In Iowa?

There two federal judicial districts in Iowa, namely:
  • The Northern District of Iowa, and
  • The Southern District of Iowa.
  • Northern District of Iowa has 4 court divisions and two major locations across the state
  • The Cedar Rapids Division
  • The Central Division
  • The Eastern Division
  • The Western Division

Northern District court locations

Cedar Rapids:

U.S. District Court

Northern District of Iowa

111 Seventh Avenue SE

Cedar Rapids, IA 52401–2101

(319) 286–2300

Sioux City:

U.S. District Court

Northern District of Iowa

320 6th Street

Sioux City, IA 51101

(712) 233–3900

2. Southern District of Iowa.

The Southern District of Iowa has three court divisions and 2 major court locations across the state.

  • The Central Division
  • The Eastern Division
  • The Western Division
The Southern District Court locations in Iowa

Des Moines

U.S. District Courthouse

123 East Walnut Street

Des Moines, IA 50309

Phone: (515) 284–6248


U.S. District Courthouse

131 East 4th Street

Davenport, IA 52801

Phone: (563) 884–7607

Bankruptcy Courts in Iowa

U.S. Bankruptcy Court (Southern District of Iowa)

110 East Court Avenue, Suite 300

Des Moines, Iowa 50309

(515) 284–6230

U.S. Bankruptcy Courts (Northern District of Iowa)

Cedar Rapids

111 7th Ave. S. E., 6th Floor

Cedar Rapids, IA

(319) 286–2200

Sioux City

320 6th Street, Room 126

Federal Building

Sioux City, IA


Are Federal Cases Public Records?

Yes, Federal cases are public records. According to Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc.435 U.S. 589 (1978), members of the public have the right to request access to records created and maintained by federal agencies across the state. However, the right of access may be restricted under “special” circumstances. These special circumstances occur when a record of interest is exempted by law or sealed by a court order.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or Government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How To Find Federal Court Records Online

Federal laws have mandated government agencies to provide records in electronic format for public inspection. Therefore, in addition to maintaining paper and tangible copies, federal court records are also filed and maintained electronically on court websites.

Also, federal case files are accessible on the internet-based Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service. This system allows individuals to search for court records across the federal courts in the country with an account and a small fee.

The system provides access to details of a case file such as;

  • Parties involved in a case
  • The Presiding judge and attorneys
  • Final judgments
  • Court opinions
  • Documents filed during a case, etc.

The database is updated daily; hence, newly filed cases will appear in the system within a day.

However, the system maintains the law by restricting access to sealed documents. That is, records sealed or exempted by law will not be accessible on the system.

Inquirers may also access federal court records through the Federal Records Centers of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

How To Find Federal Court Records In Iowa?

Locating federal court records in Iowa begins with knowing the exact court where the case was filed. In addition to the online service, PACER provides, each federal courts in Iowa maintains their databases. Records in these databases are accessible on request according to the law.

Written requests for federal court records can be made in person at the clerk’s office. How the request is made depends on the type of record being requested, and the appropriate court where the case of interest was filed.

Depending on the court, the requestor is advised to address the request to the appropriate clerk’s office in the Northern or Southern District. All requests for court records are processed with valid photo identification.

Requests for transcripts can be made by contacting the Court recorder responsible for maintaining the official record.

The following information will be required to process the request;

  • Inquirer’s contact information (name, email, phone number)
  • Case name and number
  • Exact Proceeding to be transcribed
  • Date of proceeding
  • Deadlines for the transcript if there are any,

All other requests for records should be made directly to the Clerk’s office via phone, fax, or mail. Fees can be paid in cash when the request is made in person. Checks and Money orders should be made payable to Clerk, U.S. District Court.

Payments must be made before the requests are granted.

Requests from Bankruptcy court records.

Requests for records managed by the Bankruptcy courts can be telephoned, mailed, or faxed to:

U.S. Bankruptcy Court

110 East Court Avenue, Suite 300

Des Moines IA, 50309

Phone: (515)–284–6230

Fax: (515) 284–6404

The appropriate fees may be paid in the form of cash, money orders, or credit cards. Checks and money orders must be made payable to the Clerk, United States Bankruptcy Court.

In the federal court locations in Iowa, there are also public terminals available in the Clerk’s office where inquirers may look up cases in the courts’ database.

If this is in the Northern District, records, before 2004, may be difficult to access as most of them were destroyed in the flood of 2008. If the clerk’s office does not have these records, they might be available in electronic format in NARA.

Can Federal Crimes Be Dismissed In Iowa?

Dismissing a federal crime in Iowa means that the defendant will not be convicted of whatever crime he/she has been charged with. According to Rule 48 of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure, dismissal in a criminal case can only be initiated by the Court or by the Government with the permission of the court.

The court may dismiss a complaint or indictment when there is a delay in filing a valid complaint against the defendant, bringing a defendant to trial or presenting a charge to the jury.

In addition to the provisions of the criminal rule, a case may be dismissed in a federal court when;

  • The prosecution does not have enough evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,
  • There are errors or inconsistencies in the criminal complaints, and
  • When it has been established that the jury is prejudiced in any way. This goes against the fifth amendment, that gives every defendant a right to an unbiased jury.

Although the dismissal means that the defendant will not be convicted, the charges will still reflect on the individual’s criminal record.

How Do I Clear My Federal Criminal Record?

A federal criminal record may be cleared via expungement or sealing of the conviction. Expungement and sealing are legal processes by which an individual’s record of a criminal conviction is destroyed or restricted. An expungement order directs the court and other law enforcement agencies to address the criminal conviction as if it had never occurred. This permanently removes it from a defendant’s criminal record and public records. While a non-disclosure or sealing order simply restricts public access to the record. Federal courts rarely give expungement orders as there are no specific federal statutes governing expungement at the federal level. A few statutes directly addressing expungements are the;

  • Federal First Offender Act (Misdemeanor Drug Possession), where records of an offender below 21 years old, convicted of drug possession, may be expunged under 18 U.S. C. 3607(c).
  • Expungement of D. N. A. analysis records held by the Department of defense when the conviction has been overturned under 10 U.S.C §1565(e). Other than these terms, the judge may only give an expungement order when it is in the “interest of Justice” to do so. That is, when;
  • The records are not crucial to societal protection,
  • The records are no longer required for future criminal investigations,
  • The records in question may threaten national security and might be misused,
  • The conviction was based on extreme law enforcement misconduct,
  • The conviction was based on a law that was later found to be unconstitutional.

Although an expungement order may remove a particular conviction from an individual’s criminal history, it may not apply to records outside the court’s jurisdiction. Records outside Court’s jurisdiction may include press, social media and news stories.

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