Ostergren v. Iowa Dist. Ct. for Muscatine Cnty., 863 N.W.2d 294 (Iowa 2015).
September 03, 2015
The district court for Muscatine County, Iowa, issued an administrative order allowing persons protected by no-contact orders to petition the district court to terminate or modify such orders. The order prescribed a formal procedure through which the protected person must deliver a letter to the court setting forth reasons for the request; the court would review the letter and the underlying criminal case file; the court would set a hearing on the matter giving notice to the county attorney, unless the state waives; and, if there were a hearing, the court would determine whether the defendant still poses a threat to the protected person’s safety. The county attorney filed a writ of certiorari challenging the district court’s authority to issue this order because it would allow victims to circumvent the county attorney’s office and directly seek a modification or termination of no-contact orders in criminal cases. The state supreme court rejected the county attorney’s argument, however, noting that “[t]he fact that a crime victim is not a party to the underlying criminal proceeding does not preclude him or her from asking the court for relief.” The court continued: “We conclude protected persons under no-contact orders in criminal cases have a particularized interest at stake entitling them to request relief from such orders… . The procedure implemented by the administrative order accommodates protected persons’ important liberty interests by permitting such persons to seek termination or modification of no-contact orders in a criminal case notwithstanding the fact they are not named parties.” The county attorney’s office further asserted that domestic abuse crimes are committed against the community as a whole, not just individual victims, and that because no-contact orders are part of the criminal law process and protect the community, victims should not be permitted to seek modification or termination of the orders until after consulting with the office. But the court found these concerns to be ameliorated by the administrative order’s provision that the court will not summarily grant a request unless the state expressly consents. Finally, the county attorney’s office argued that victims are often under enormous pressure from defendants to terminate no-contact orders, and that the office serves as an important buffer in protecting victims. The court rejected this argument as well, finding that the district court judge could also serve in that protective role. The writ was annulled.