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Criminal Records in Iowa

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Need more information? Check out our guides to Iowa arrest records and Iowa background checks.


Iowa has an Open Records Law that allows the public to search for and obtain criminal and court records. It also is one of the states that makes finding such records easier because many court cases are put online in a searchable state database. 

However, Iowa also has laws that allow for some details and information to be withheld from court and criminal records so those searching may not get everything, especially if they are looking online. Criminal records are not yet online as the state is still developing a website. Court records are online, although they could be limited. In those cases, requests will need to be made in person, by fax or mail to either the state Department of Criminal Investigations (DCI) or the court where the original case was heard. 

There is not a cost for researching online records, but there is a fee for obtaining a hard copy of criminal or court records. The fee depends on the amount of research and printing costs although the fee for a standard criminal record is a $15 flat fee.

What is a criminal record?

A criminal record is an official document detailing a person’s criminal convictions, pending criminal cases, prior arrests, and other interactions with law enforcement agencies. Additional names for a criminal record include criminal history record, rap sheet, and a police record.  

As with marriage records and court records, criminal records are generally public records in the United States and can be accessed through a criminal background check. However, public access to specific criminal record information varies from state to state.

In the State of Iowa, criminal records are available by requests sent by mail or fax, in person. Criminal records are maintained by the Criminal History Dissemination Unit, which is developing a website to search for criminal records online. The State of Iowa doesn’t accept records requests sent by email or over the phone. 

What is included in an Iowa criminal record?

As criminal records are kept by law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in the United States, an Iowa criminal record may vary in format and content depending on the law enforcement database from which it is accessed.

Generally, an Iowa criminal record will include the following information: 

  • A person’s full name and possible aliases
  • Personal information such as age, date of birth, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, and other physical characteristics
  • Fingerprints and mugshot
  • Misdemeanor criminal offenses and convictions
  • Felony criminal offenses and convictions
  • Traffic records
  • Past and outstanding arrest warrants
  • Prior arrests
  • Pending and dismissed charges

Why would someone access a criminal record?

There are a variety of reasons why someone would want to see a criminal record.

  • People need to see their own records to make sure of their validity or to do a background check on themselves.
  • Background checks are also required for security privileges and being approved for some professional licenses.
  • There are also times when a criminal background check may be necessary to advance a business deal such as a merger or acquisition.
  • Attorneys and law enforcement sometimes want past criminal records for new investigations or subsequent court cases.
  • Someone may also need a criminal record for civil matters such as adoption, probate court cases, divorce or custody cases.
  • Sometimes a person requests his or her own record. It always helps to know what is on a criminal record in case false information needs to be removed.

What’s the difference between an infraction, misdemeanor, and felony?

When you access a criminal record, the person listed on the record may have an offense listed. Criminal offenses are usually broken into three categories: Infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. 

An infraction is a minor violation, a misdemeanor is more serious, and a felony is the most serious type of crime.

To better understand the information listed on a criminal record, here’s a quick overview of each offense and its severity:

  • Infraction: A small traffic violation or littering are considered infractions. An infraction is a minor violation of the law. Usually, punishments are a warning or a fine. Typically, no jail time is associated with an infraction. 
  • Misdemeanor: If someone were to get a DUI or a drug violation, it’s considered a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction but less severe than a felony. Jail time of less than a year or probation are usually associated with these types of crimes. Likely, the offender will do time in a local or county jail.
  • Felony: Murder, rape, and arson are considered felony charges. A felony is the most serious type of crime. Offenders are typically sentenced to jail for more than a year and are likely held in a state or federal facility.  

What is the difference between an Iowa arrest record and an Iowa criminal record?

An arrest record is an official document including the details of a specific arrest. A criminal record is a more comprehensive document that includes a person’s entire criminal background known to law enforcement agencies. 

Both types of documents are usually public records in the United States, although information about specific arrests may be sealed and rendered inaccessible to the public for a variety of reasons.    

Whether an arrest record or a criminal record is accessed, the information listed is for state crimes only. If a person is involved in a federal crime, this information is not listed on a state record. 

How do I search for an Iowa criminal record?

The first place to go is to go to the Iowa of Public Safety website to find out how to best obtain a criminal record for the State of Iowa. From there, those searching for a criminal record should click on the Division of Criminal Investigation to find out more on how to obtain a criminal record. 

The online search website is still in development, so those looking for criminal records must submit their request by fax, mail, or in person. One thing to note is that Iowa requires the subject of the search to sign a release authorization on the Criminal History Record Check Request Form. Also, state law doesn’t allow information about arrests that are more than a year and a half old without court disposition to be publicly released. It also restricts access to information on the completed deferred judgment. Authorization forms are available through links on the page. There is a $15 fee for every last name searched.

How do I obtain a physical copy of an Iowa criminal record?

The state website has two forms someone looking for criminal records must download and fill out to obtain a physical copy of a criminal record from the State of Iowa. Both are available on the state’s Criminal Investigation website. There is the history request form and the history billing form.

Note that Iowa will not fax or mail criminal histories to fax numbers or addresses outside the United States.

How do I search for Iowa criminal case court records?

Iowa has a lot of court cases on a state website, so those looking for cases can start a search there. Those looking for cases can search the appellate court, trial court, and even advanced court cases that provide updated information. The search can be used for cases across the state but can be limited in information as cases are manually entered into the system at the end of the last business day. Updated information is entered by the court clerk.

Does Iowa allow criminal records to be sealed or expunged?

While other states handle sealing and expunging of criminal records as different categories, Iowa does not. In Iowa, criminal history can’t be removed from someone’s record. However, the court file can be sealed in certain circumstances. Misdemeanor cases that include dismissal or acquittal for at least 180 days, or included a deferred judgment or probation are eligible to be sealed from public access. 

That doesn’t mean the records aren’t visible to everyone. Third-party vendors are not prohibited from publishing the information.

How can I have false information on an Iowa criminal record corrected?

Correcting false criminal record information can be a challenge because those taking this action need all criminal and court information to prove it was false.

  1. The place to start is by filling out an Application to Expunge Court Record from the Iowa Judicial Branch. The form should be filled out and filed with the county court clerk at the courthouse where the case was tried.
  2. A judge may review the case and make a decision without a hearing or the court could call a hearing before the judge in the matter.
  3. Those meeting eligibility requirements and where the district attorney’s office doesn’t object can get a false record expunged.

How long are Iowa criminal records kept on file?

The Department of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is the state repository for criminal records. Criminal records are kept until the person is 80 years old or dies. Some serious cases are kept on record beyond 80 years old.