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City Council approves clinic rezoning amid environmental discussion

BY BILL COONEY | MAY 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City City Council has moved forward on a proposed ordinance that would remove jail time as a punishment for simple misdemeanors with no set fine, except for indecent exposure.

The proposed ordinance comes after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in State v. Young that the state Constitution requires court-appointed counsel for defendants in simple misdemeanors if the penalty includes jail. Councilors passed the first consideration.

In Young, the defendant contended a third-degree theft conviction — which was used to bolster a later theft conviction — was unconstitutional because she was not represented by counsel when she pleaded guilty and faced the possibility of imprisonment.

City staff members suggested the ordinance because they did not believe misdemeanors except for indecent exposure required court-appointed counsel, City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes said.

“City staff felt it was just unnecessary to require court appointed counsel for these simple misdemeanors because we almost never ask for jail time,” Dilkes said. “I believe there’s only been one time in the last 20 years we have asked for jail time, and that was in a case of indecent exposure.”

Jail time will be kept as an option in indecent exposure cases in the best interest of the public, she said.

Councilor Kingsley Botchway said that the ordinance is a step in the right direction.

“I think that anytime we can keep people from going to jail, we’re doing a good job,” he said. “But [jail time for a misdemeanor] is rarely asked for, so it’s hard to say how much of a step it really is.”

Dilkes said simple misdemeanors affected by the ordinance include disorderly house, disorderly conduct, and certain auto-accident situations.

Misdemeanors such as PAULA, open container, and presence in a bar after hours are not included because they have a set fine.

Simple misdemeanors are the only type of crime handled by the city. Either the county or the state, Dilkes said, handles anything more serious depending on the gravity of the crime.

Mayor Matt Hayek praised city staff members for their hard work on the matter.

“Staff has done a great job staying on top of the court’s decision and reacting appropriately,” Hayek said. “I think the decision to keep jail time available for indecent exposure is in the best public interest.”

Tuesday’s vote is only the first consideration on the issue. The council will vote on the ordinance two more times before it is adopted.

It is unknown at this time if passing the ordinance will save the city any money, Dilkes said.


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