DUBUQUE — Spending time in jail is no longer a punishment for people who break some city laws in Dubuque. On Monday, the council agreed to eliminate the possibility of jail time for simple misdemeanors.
Simple misdemeanors are among the least severe offenses in the criminal justice system, including charges of theft, disorderly conduct, vandalism, public urination, public intoxication and some traffic violations. More serious crimes, like assault and burglary, are classified as either serious misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the severity of the crime and other factors.
A long-standing law on the city’s books allowed prosecutors to ask a judge to consider jail time for someone who commits a simple misdemeanor. However, a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling has the city considering the financial cost.
Justices considered the case of Archaletta Young, of Des Moines. She challenged a third-offense theft charge on the grounds she was not appointed legal counsel for two prior theft convictions, both misdemeanors.
The justices agreed, throwing out the third conviction and requiring all defendants accused of crimes with the possibility of incarceration receive an attorney.
“If you are entitled to a court-appointed attorney because of the possibility of jail time, then the city or the tax payers and residents of that city are the people who ultimately pay for the court appointed attorney,” Dubuque Assistant City Attorney Maureen Quann said. “Every defendant that gets a speeding ticket here could make the argument, ‘I was entitled to a court appointed public attorney, just like in State vs. Young.”
The change only applies to misdemeanors prosecuted by the City of Dubuque. It will not have any impact on misdemeanors or more serious crimes prosecuted by the State of Iowa or any other jurisdictions, including Dubuque County.
Source: “Dubuque council votes to eliminate jail time for simple misdemeanors,” KCRG News, 20 April 2015, by Katie Wiedemann)