Iowa Supreme Court deliberates case at CF

Cedar Falls High School hosted an Oral Argument of the Iowa Supreme Court on Thursday Nov. 2. In this special session, deliberated the State of Iowa v. Jason Gene Weitzel in a further review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

In this case, defendant Jason Weitzel pled guilty to charges of domestic abuse assault, possession of methamphetamine, carrying weapons and operating while intoxicated. The district court sentenced the defendant to a prison term and is required by the Iowa Code to impose certain fines for each offense, totaling $3,250. In addition to fines, the Iowa code section 911.1 imposes a “criminal penalty surcharge” of 35 percent of the total amount of fines. In this case, the 35 percent surcharges amounted to an additional $1,135.50 that Weitzel owed to the government.

In the Iowa criminal justice system, defendants have the right to plead guilty to a criminal charge instead of pursuing their constitutional right to a jury trial. The justice system also requires that a defendant’s guilty plea must be voluntary and have complete and accurate information concerning the constitutional rights given up and the possible punishments when pleading guilty.

In this case, after pleading guilty and being sentenced for his crimes, Weitzel appealed to overturn his guilty plea because he said the district court failed to warn him of the additional surcharge imposed as a result of his guilty plea in violation of Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.8(2)(b).

On Nov. 3, seven Supreme Court judges sat on the Clare Stanard auditorium stage and argued the case. Over 75 spectators, clerks and officers filled the seats of the auditorium, listening intently to the lawyers plea their case to the judges.

After about an hour, the case was put to rest for the night and people flooded into the lobby, greeted by members of student senate along with cookies provided by Main Street Sweets and refreshments.

“I think it is really cool that they do these so that people in the community can learn more about our judicial system,” Student Body President Arlo Hettle said.

The court previously visited Davenport before going to Cedar Falls for a hearing.

“The purpose of the courts touring was to have an outreach to the communities.

A few years ago a few people were voted off and that caused a big upset, so this is almost to humanize the court and connect them to the people of Iowa,” lawyer and organizer Bruce Gettman said.

In a live back and forth argument, it not only educates citizens, but makes them feel as if they know the court.

“I liked when they would make sassy comments,” Hettle said.

Gettman also sees a positive impact that the visiting trial has on not only the community, but the students as well,

“I see a great impact in the community, and the student outcome is amazing. I don’t know how many were forced to be there, but I heard talk of some of them driving down to see them have a true trial, which is amazing.”

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