New law expands protection for ‘Safe at Home’ participants

By Torey Robinson, staff attorney in Iowa Legal Aid’s Central Iowa Regional Office

State lawmakers passed a new law that gives “Safe at Home” participants new protections if they are involved in a court case or administrative hearing.

The Safe at Home program is an address confidentiality program through the Secretary of State’s office. Iowa Code §9E.3. Through Safe at Home, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, or stalking crimes are assigned a substitute address to use for mail and public records. Mail, court papers, and other documents are received by the Secretary of State’s office and then forwarded to participants’ physical address. The goal of the program is to keep victims of certain crimes safe from their abusers.

The original law, which took effect January 1, 2016, did not say whether Safe at Home participants had to give their physical address to attorneys, judges, and other parties when they are involved in court cases or administrative hearings. Lawmakers added to the law this year to clarify when a physical address must be disclosed in court or administrative hearings.

Under the new law, a participant does not have to give her or his physical address just because an attorney or judge asks for it. If a party or lawyer believes the physical address is needed in the court case or administrative hearing, they must ask a judge for it. A judge must give the Safe at Home participant notice and an opportunity to have a hearing in front of the judge about whether or not the address should be disclosed.

At the hearing, the participant can state what safety concerns she or he has if the address is turned over as part of the case. The judge must consider the participant’s safety concerns and decide if the safety concerns and possible harm to the program participant are greater than the need for the address as part of the case. In order for Safe at Home participants to have to turn over their physical address, a judge must find that both:

  • The physical address is necessary in order for the court case or investigation to happen; AND
  • There is no other way to get the information from anywhere else.

There may be other reasons a judge can order a participant’s address be turned over as part of a criminal case. Even if the judge orders that the address must be turned over, it can only be used as needed for the investigation, court case or administrative hearing.

The new law applies not only to Iowa Safe at Home participants, but those that live in Iowa that are involved in other states’ programs that are similar to Safe at Home.

For more information about Safe at Home contact the Secretary of State’s office https://safeathome.iowa.gov 515-725-SAFE (7233) or Iowa Legal Aid.

Iowa Legal Aid provides free legal assistance to low-income Iowans in all 99 counties with civil legal problems involving basic necessities and safety. Information about civil legal issues is available on Iowa Legal Aid’s websites, www.iowalegalaid.org and www.probono.net/iowa. Probono.net/iowa is a free, members-only site that provides a comprehensive collection of information on legal topics, upcoming events including continuing legal education opportunities, and resources on civil law practice for members of Iowa’s justice community.