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The criminal process

For a person who has never been charged with a crime before or who is unfamiliar with the criminal process in Washington State, the following is a basic overview of the major steps or milestones in a typical criminal prosecution.
Not every criminal case begins with an arrest. Unless the alleged crime is a felony, a misdemeanor committed in the presence of an officer, or a domestic violence crime, the defendant will normally not be arrested. The decision to arrest typically lies within the officer’s discretion, absent mandatory statutory mandates. However, some arrests are legally impermissible. If you were arrested unlawfully, your attorney may be able to challenge the arrest and subsequent search or questioning.
The decision to charge in Washington is done typically one of two ways: Issuance of a citation by a law enforcement officer, or the filing of a complaint by a prosecuting attorney. Law enforcement officers will often issue citations for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses, and such citations may include a mandatory court appearance for a specific time and date. In most instances, the officer will write police report and forward it to the appropriate prosecuting authority. The prosecutor then will review the police report, and decide which crime to charge, if any.
The first formal court step in a criminal process is typically an arraignment. However, if a defendant was booked into jail, the defendant will likely see a judge before arraignment for a determination of “probable cause” and bail setting. At arraignment, the defendant is informed of the charges facing him or her, what the minimums and maximums are, and the defendant is requested to enter plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.” Upon entry of the plea, the Court will set dates for the defendant’s next appearance(s) at court. Depending on the court and jurisdiction, multiple court dates may be set, and those dates are named differently.
The next court date after arraignment is typically called a Pretrial Hearing in misdemeanor courts, and an Omnibus Hearing in Superior Courts. This date is used typically as a scheduling date, and to keep the court informed of how a court progresses. At this hearing, a plea negotiation may be accepted, a case may be set for trial, a party may request more time to prepare its side of the case, or there may be other activity.
Some courts have a Confirmation Hearing between the Pretrial Hearing (or Omnibus) and the trial date. This date is functionally similar to the Pretrial Hearing, but is nearer to the trial date.
Most criminal cases are not resolved via trial; most are resolved by a plea agreement or hopefully a dismissal. If a successful plea negotiation has been achieved, the plea agreement can usually be entered at the Pretrial Hearing or Confirmation hearing in misdemeanor courts. In Superior Court, special plea court appearances are usually necessary.
After a plea, or conviction at trial, a defendant is typically sentenced. Depending on the severity of the charge and prior history, a standard sentence can vary greatly. The judge typically has discretion to sentence within standard ranges, and if so, the defendant usually cannot appeal the sentence.
After a conviction, court will typically order the defendant to be on probation for a period of time, from months to years. Terms of probation typically include lawful behavior and payment of fines, but also can include treatment, meeting with probation officers, and other affirmative obligations. If a person fails to comply with probation requirements, the court will schedule a probation review hearing. If the court determines probation was violated, sanctions such as jail time, community service and fines may be imposed.
After the probationary period has passed, and the case is closed, a person convicted of a crime may be eligible to have the conviction vacated (called expungement in other states). To qualify, the person must meet several criteria, including maintaining lawful behavior for a period of years. If you wish to have a conviction vacated, contact an attorney in your area to see if you are eligible.
Ashbach Law Offices, LLC represents clients charged with criminal offenses in Northwest Washington Courts, including King County, Skagit County, Snohomish County and Whatcom County, as well as other counties on a case-by-case basis. These counties include courts in and for the following cities: Anacortes, Arlington, Auburn, Bellevue, Blaine, Bothell, Burlington, Edmonds, Everett, Issaquah, Kirkland, Lake Stevens, Lynden, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mill Creek, Mukilteo, Monroe, Mountlake Terrace, Monroe, Redmond, Sea-Tac, Seattle, Sedro Woolley, Shoreline, Snohomish, and Tukwila, Washington.
The Ashbach Law Offices, LLC represents clients charged focused on DUI – Driving Under the Influence, Reckless Driving, Negligent Driving, Driving with a Suspended License, Hit and Run, Assault, Domestic Violence, Drug Possession (including marijuana), and Paraphernalia Possession, Malicious Mischief, Public Disturbances like Disorderly Conduct, Theft, No-Contact Orders, Harassment, Probation Violation Hearings, as well as speeding tickets.