Iowa Domestic Violence Laws

By , Attorney (UC Berkeley School of Law)
Updated April 10, 2023

Iowa's domestic violence (also called domestic abuse) laws aim to protect people from violence committed by their family members and other people they live with, or have an intimate relationship with. Read on to learn about domestic violence laws in Iowa and the penalties for violating them.

What is Considered Domestic Violence in Iowa?

Iowa's domestic violence laws increase the punishment for an assault that's committed between family or household members.

Family and household members include:

  • people who live together or have lived together in the past year
  • spouses who are divorced or separated
  • people who have children together, and
  • people who have recently dated one another.

Iowa's definition of assault is broad. A person doesn't have to hit someone or make physical contact with another person to commit an assault. It can include things like pointing a weapon at someone or threatening to injure them.

(Iowa Code §§ 236.2, 708.1 (2023).)

Punishment and Treatment of Domestic Violence in Iowa

The sentence for a domestic violence conviction depends on many factors, including how many prior domestic violence convictions the defendant has, and whether the assault involved serious injury or a dangerous weapon.

An injury is considered serious if it creates a risk of death, or causes permanent disfigurement or sustained impairment. For example, a deep knife wound to the chest would likely be considered a serious injury because it's life-threatening. And a broken jaw could be a serious injury causing sustained impairment if the victim couldn't use their jaw for a significant period of time. (State v. Welton, 300 N.W.2d 157 (Iowa 1981).)

A dangerous weapon is an object that is either designed to inflict death or injury or is actually used with the intent to inflict death or injury and is capable of doing so. So, while guns and large knives are obvious examples of dangerous weapons, a golf club or baseball bat could also be a dangerous weapon if used to inflict injury.

Penalties for First Offense

If no other law applies, domestic abuse assault is treated as a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $105 to $850.

If the victim suffers bodily injury or mental illness from the assault, the offense is a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $430 to $2,560.

If the assault is committed with the intent to inflict serious injury or if the defendant was armed with a dangerous weapon, the first offense becomes an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of $855 to $8,540.

Penalties for Second Offense

If the first conviction for domestic abuse was a simple misdemeanor, and the second offense would otherwise be a simple misdemeanor, the second offense is a serious misdemeanor.

If either the first or second offense is classified as a serious or aggravated misdemeanor, then the second offense is an aggravated misdemeanor.

For first and second offenses, the court must impose at least two days in jail.

Penalties for Third Offense

Third and subsequent offenses are class D felonies, punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a fine of $1,025 to $10,245. The defendant must serve at least one year in jail before becoming eligible for work release or parole. Iowa also imposes a minimum sentence of five years for any forcible felony committed with a dangerous weapon.

Treatment

In most cases, the court must order a defendant convicted of domestic abuse assault to participate in a batterer's treatment program. If the victim and the defendant have only dated (are not married, separated, or divorced, living together, recently living together, or the parents of children together), then the court can decide whether to order treatment. Usually, the defendant must pay for treatment.

(Iowa Code §§ 664A.7, 236.12, 702.7, 708.2A, 708.2B 724.26, 902.9, 903.1 (2023).)

Iowa Domestic Violence Protective Orders

A protective order (also called a restraining order) requires a defendant to stay away from and not contact the victim. Victims can seek protective orders for themselves or a minor child. Generally, the court needs to hold a hearing court before issuing a protective order (but not before issuing a temporary order, as explained below). The hearing is supposed to occur between five and 15 days after the victim files the application for the order. But the judge can delay the hearing if the defendant needs time to hire a lawyer.

After the hearing, the court may issue an order:

  • prohibiting the defendant from abusing, contacting, or coming near the victim
  • granting possession of a shared residence to the victim
  • awarding temporary child custody or visitation
  • awarding financial support for the victim or children
  • prohibiting the defendant from possessing firearms, ammunition, or certain other dangerous weapons
  • mandating professional counseling for the victim, defendant, and children, and
  • awarding attorney's fees to the victim.

Generally, the order is good for one year, but it may be extended.

(Iowa Code §§ 236.5, 236.3 (2023).)

Temporary Restraining Orders

In certain circumstances, a judge can grant a temporary or emergency protective order before holding a full hearing. The defendant doesn't receive notice and isn't present when the judge issues the temporary order. Known as "ex parte" orders, these are granted when there's a present danger of abuse and the order is necessary before the hearing. The order remains in place only until the hearing can be held.

(Iowa Code §§ 236.4, 236.6 (2023).)

Punishment for Violating a DV Restraining Order

Violating a domestic abuse protective order is a simple misdemeanor. It carries a sentence of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $105 to $850. It's also considered contempt of court (violating a court's order), which can result in jail (a minimum of seven days) or a fine.

(Iowa Code §§ 236.4, 236.5, 664A.7, 708.2A, 708.2B 724.26, 902.9, 903.1 (2023).)

Arrest, Bail, and Firearm Restrictions in Iowa Domestic Violence Cases

Officers can arrest anyone suspected of domestic violence or violating a domestic violence restraining order, but as explained below, they must arrest DV suspects in certain types of cases. Bail might be available, depending on the charges and other circumstances. In the typical domestic violence case, the defendant will be banned from having a gun.

Arrests for DV

When officers have probable cause to suspect domestic abuse they can arrest the alleged perpetrator without a warrant even if there's no injury. "Probable cause" is merely a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred.

And in some circumstances, the officer is required by law to arrest someone for domestic violence. An officer must make an arrest if there's probable cause to believe:

  • the victim was injured
  • the defendant has a dangerous weapon, or
  • the defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury.

(Iowa Code § 236.12, 702.7 (2023).)

Arrests for Violating a Restraining Order

If an officer has probable cause to believe someone has violated a protective order, the officer must arrest the person. But if more than 24 hours have passed since the alleged violation, the officer has to get an arrest warrant before they can legally arrest the suspect.

(Iowa Code § 236.11 (2023).)

Bail in Iowa DV Cases

Defendants can't get bail in Iowa if they're charged with felony assault, which includes an assault with serious injury, or other additional serious felonies (like kidnapping or burglary). But in the typical domestic violence case that doesn't involve such conduct, the defendant is eligible for bail.

In setting the amount of bail, a judge must consider whether, if released, the defendant will appear for future court dates, and won't pose a safety threat to others. To make the decision, the judge considers many factors, including:

  • the nature and circumstances of the offense charged
  • the defendant's family ties, employment, and financial resources
  • the defendant's character and mental condition
  • how long the defendant has lived in the community
  • the defendant's prior criminal convictions, and
  • the defendant's past failure to appear at court proceedings, if any.

(Iowa Code §§ 702.11, 811.1, 811.1A (2023).)

Gun Restrictions After Arrest and Conviction

In most cases, after someone's arrested for DV, they'll be subject to a restraining order. If the order was issued after a hearing (and the defendant received notice of the hearing), the defendant can't possess any firearms while subject to the order. And if the defendant is convicted of any domestic violence offense (including a misdemeanor), the ban on firearms will remain in place. A violation of the ban can result in felony gun charges.

(Iowa Code § 724.26 (2023).)

Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges in Iowa

In any assault case, some general defenses might apply, depending on the circumstances. Self-defense and accident (no intent) aren't uncommon in domestic violence cases. Also, though less common, sometimes a defendant can show that the accusations are false because the victim had it out for the defendant or lied for other reasons.

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

If you're charged with a crime or served with an application for a protective order, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney immediately. A domestic abuse conviction or protective order can have serious consequences. An experienced lawyer who regularly practices in the area where your case is charged should be able to tell you how the case will proceed through the system. An attorney can advise you on the strength of the case and any possible defenses. An experienced lawyer should also know whether a good plea deal is possible (or advisable) or if you should instead consider going to trial.

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