The Iowa City City Council will vote for the first time tonight on whether to get rid of the possibility of jail time for most simple misdemeanors.
The city staff made the recommendation because the infrequency with which the city asks for jail time in the case of most simple misdemeanors, said Sue Dulek, an assistant city attorney.
“The city staff doesn’t really think its necessary to have the possibility of jail time for these types of crimes,” she said. “I think we’ve asked for jail time in one simple misdemeanor case in the last 20 years.”
The change in part comes from a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision, State v. Young, which made it a requirement to appoint counsel to those charged with simple misdemeanors with no set fine.
Dulek said the decision will only affect simple misdemeanors with no set fine, such as traffic violations, disorderly house, disorderly conduct, and public urination.
The change is a step in the right direction but not a huge one, said City Councilor Kingsley Botchway.
“Anytime we can forgo sending people to jail for misdemeanors like this, that’s a good thing,” Botchway said. “It’s hard to say that this is a major change, though. I believe there’s only been one instance of jail time in the last several years.”
The possibility of jail time will only remain for one misdemeanor, indecent exposure, Dulek said.
“Staff thought that it was good if we kept the option for jail time in those cases,” she said. “The one time we’ve actually asked for jail time in the last 20 years involved an indecent-exposure case.”
Dulek said it is unknown at this time whether this change will save or cost the city any additional money.
In the end, it is a judge, not the city, who does the sentencing, Dulek said.
“The city can only ask the judge for a certain sentence,” she said. “It’s not the city that makes the decision on a person’s sentence, it’s a judge.”