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Frequently Asked Questions

Iowa Court of Appeals

Disclaimer: The answers to the Frequently Asked Questions are only generalized statements believed to be accurate at the time of publication.  The information is intended to assist in understanding the appellate process and how the Iowa Court of Appeals functions.  Legal questions should be addressed to your lawyer.  The appellate process is guided by rules and other legal authority, and these generalized statements are not binding upon the court.

What is the Iowa Court of Appeals?

The Iowa Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court.  It reviews appeals from trial court decisions that have been transferred to the court of appeals by the supreme court.  A decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals is final unless reviewed by the Iowa Supreme Court on grant of further review.  Some opinions of the Iowa Court of Appeals are published and become precedent for subsequent cases.  The majority of appeals filed in Iowa are decided by the Iowa Court of Appeals.

As an appellate court, the Iowa Court of Appeals does not preside over trials. Iowa Court of Appeals proceedings do not involve witnesses, juries, new evidence, or court reporters. Instead, the court reviews the written record of the trial court to determine whether any significant legal errors occurred.   

How do I start an appeal?

Generally, a person wanting to contest a judgment or order must file a notice of appeal with the clerk of court in the county where the judgment or order was entered.  There is a limited time to appeal, and there are different periods of time to appeal depending on the type of case.  The person filing the notice of appeal is generally called the appellant.  The opposing party in the case is usually called the appellee.  The appellee may also file a notice of cross-appeal if dissatisfied with the judgment or order.  Most appeals must wait until the final judgment or final order in the case has been entered before the appeal is proper.  Notices of appeal are now filed electronically, and the clerk of court can provide some limited assistance, but a lawyer can fully assist you and provide legal advice about appeals and procedures.

Contact information for Iowa’s clerk of court offices can be found at

Can I represent myself on appeal?

In most civil cases, individuals may represent themselves in Iowa’s appellate courts.  But representation by a lawyer is often preferable because of the complex nature of the law and the appeal process.  Individuals who represent themselves may miss important issues, make errors in arguing their case, or fail to anticipate the consequences of the appeal.  In addition, a person who is not a lawyer authorized to practice law in this state cannot represent you in Iowa’s appellate courts. 

If the party in a case is a corporation, it may not be represented by a director or corporate officer who is not a lawyer.

In criminal cases, defendants do not have a federal constitutional right to self-representation.  The Iowa Rules of Appellate Procedure do allow criminal defendants, applicants for postconviction relief, and individuals committed as sexually violent predators to file pro se briefs to supplement the briefs filed by their lawyers.  But unrepresented individuals who are incarcerated or confined will not be granted oral argument before the Iowa Court of Appeals. 

Can the Iowa Court of Appeals give me legal advice or appoint a lawyer to represent me?

No.  The Iowa Court of Appeals does not appoint lawyers, and Iowa law and ethical rules do not allow judges and employees to give legal advice.  The district court may appoint a lawyer to represent you if you cannot afford one but only in certain types of cases, such as criminal, child in need of assistance, termination of parental rights, and involuntary commitment proceedings.

You may find some helpful information here:

Does the Iowa Court of Appeals receive new evidence?

The Iowa Court of Appeals only considers matters that were properly before the district court at the time the district court entered the order that is on appeal. 

What is the record on appeal?

According to Iowa Rule of Appellate Procedure 6.801, the record on appeal consists of the original papers and exhibits filed in the district court and a transcript of the proceedings.

Information about ordering the transcripts, requesting the transmission of the district court record, and the creation of an appendix, is found in “Preparation of the Appeal” here:

Will there be a hearing?

Your case will be reviewed to determine if an oral argument hearing will be granted.  This decision is not based upon the merits of your appeal but does take into consideration several factors such as the difficulty or complexity of the facts or law.  The majority of the cases transferred to the Iowa Court of Appeals are decided without oral arguments.  Your case will be decided by a review of the record on appeal and any written arguments, or briefs, filed with the clerk of appellate court, and if granted, the oral arguments.

Can I attend oral arguments?

Yes.  Oral arguments are open to the public.  The Iowa Court of Appeals generally holds hearings in its courtroom on the third floor of the Iowa Judicial Building in Des Moines.  Occasionally, the Iowa Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments at the state capitol, county courthouses, colleges, or other venues across the state.  The dates, times, and locations of the oral arguments will be published on the court’s website.

If you plan to attend oral arguments, please review the court's Courtroom Protocol page.  Please be aware that sometimes the cases being heard on appeal will involve sensitive topics or graphic facts that may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Oral arguments provide a chance for the lawyers to discuss the legal and factual issues raised in their written briefs.  Only the lawyers will sit at the counsel tables during the arguments.  The lawyers will take turns making their presentations to the court.  Generally, three judges from the Iowa Court of Appeals will hear the case and may ask the lawyers questions during their presentations.  The arguments for each case (both sides combined) will take approximately one-half hour.  Usually, the court will schedule two or three different cases for argument during each session of the court. More detailed information about oral arguments can be found here: Frequently Asked Questions about Arguments before the Iowa Court of Appeals

When can I expect to receive a decision in my case?

The time varies depending on many factors.  Cases assigned high priority, such as child custody and criminal matters, generally obtain a ruling in a shorter timeframe.  The court strives to provide decisions within three to six months after a case has been transferred to it by the Supreme Court.  Appeals granted oral argument, however, may take several months to be placed on the argument schedule. 

Information about dispositional rates and other court statistics are available here:

Where can I find information about the status of an appeal?

Information about the status of appeal may be available through an online docket record search:

How will I find out what decision was made?

The Iowa Court of Appeals files cases on average every two weeks.  A list of filing dates is found here:

There is a free email notification service you can sign up for here:

On the day before decisions are filed, a list of expected rulings is found here:

When decisions have been filed, they can be found here:

What are my options if the Court of Appeals does not rule in my favor?

After the Court of Appeals files its written decision in a case, the unsuccessful party may file an application for further review to the Iowa Supreme Court.  In most cases, the successful party may file a resistance to the further-review application.  The Iowa Supreme Court decides whether to grant or deny review after reading the application and any resistance.  In the vast majority of cases, the Iowa Supreme Court denies review and the Court of Appeals decision is final.

If your case involves a claim under the United States Constitution, it may be possible to seek review in the United States Supreme Court, but that Court grants review in very few cases.  

Can I contact the appellate judges or their staff about my appeal?

The Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from communicating with parties or their lawyers about any pending or impending matter outside the presence of the other parties or their lawyers.  Any request for action by the court should be in writing, filed with the clerk of the appellate court, and provided to all other parties involved in the case.  Any further questions can be directed to the Clerk of Appellate Courts office at (515) 348-4700.

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