Walking into a courthouse when facing a Washington State DV criminal charge can be a scary and intimidating experience. We want you to know what to expect when you walk through those doors so you can mentally prepare yourself for the process to come.
Below, we have laid out the path that most Washington State DV criminal cases travel. Remember that you are required to be present at every hearing you are given notice of, unless a judge tells you otherwise. If you miss any of these hearings, you run the risk of being issued a warrant for your arrest. Also, remember that the vast majority of cases never travel the entire path to trial, but are settled or dismissed at some stage prior.
Arraignment is generally the first court appearance that occurs after arrest or after initial contact with law enforcement. There are three major issues that are dealt with at arraignment. First, the defendant is officially notified of the charges which he/she is facing.
This usually comes in the form of a written document called a complaint. The second issue dealt with at arraignment is that a plea is entered. It is very important to plea NOT GUILTY at arraignment, no matter how you feel about the strength of your case. You will not be prejudiced in any way by pleading not guilty.
The last issue that is dealt with at arraignment is the imposition of potential Pretrial Conditions of Release. These are restrictions that the judge may impose on you while your case is pending to ensure community safety and limit the threat of flight.
These may include bail, ignition interlock devices, abstention from alcohol and electronic home monitoring. In almost all Washington State Domestic Violence charges, the issue of whether or not a No Contact Order will be issued is also raised at arraignment. Once all of these issues have been heard, the Court will notify all parties of the date of the next hearing, the Pretrial Hearing.
The second stage in a Washington State DV criminal case is the pretrial hearing. This is a scheduling hearing where no testimony is heard. Most often, the pretrial hearing gives the defense attorney an opportunity to meet face to face with the prosecutor to discuss issues with the case, and potentially come to a negotiated resolution.
Often times, pretrial hearings are continued to allow the parties more time to further investigate legal and factual issues that may determine the case’s path. If a resolution is reached, a disposition may be entered into at a pretrial hearing.
There may also be issues of evidence production heard by the judge, as well motions to modify conditions of release that were set at arraignment. If it is decided by the parties that the case will proceed to trial, the court will set a trial date, and at the same time may set a motions hearing date, if requested by either of the parties.
There may also be an opportunity at a pretrial hearing to address lifting a No Contact Order if one had previously been issued.
Motion hearings provide defendants with the first opportunity to challenge the evidence the prosecutor is seeking to admit at trial. We are also able to make important and definitive motions to dismiss based on numerous legal issues.
Some common motions made during Motion Hearings include motions to suppress evidence based on lack of probable cause to arrest, motions to suppress statements due to lack of Miranda warnings during custodial interrogation, Knapstead motions to dismiss due to lack of evidence of a crime, motions to suppress breath and blood tests, and many others. Many of these motions, if successful, will end in dismissal of the charges.
A readiness hearing is generally scheduled just prior to trial (usually a week) and allows the Court to assess whether her or not the parties are prepared to begin the trial. If both parties answer “ready” then the case will be set for trial to begin on the trial date.
Every defendant charged with a crime in Washington State has a constitutional right to a trial. Most cases, however, are resolved prior to trial through negotiations or dismissals. If your case is set for trial, you will have the choice of either a bench trial or a jury trial.
A bench trial is where a judge decides the outcome of the case, without a jury. In misdemeanor cases, a jury trial will consist of a jury composed of 6 jurors whereas a felony trial will consist of a 12 person jury. The procedure at trial is as follows:
- Voire Dire
- Opening Statements
- State’s Case
- Defendant’s Case
- Closing Arguments
A Sentencing Hearing is the last stage of the official court process and is the opportunity for a judge to impose punishment in the event that a conviction has been entered, either after trial or after a plea of guilty. In Washington State criminal cases, a judge determines the sentence. The range of sentences are determined by statutes laid out in the Revised Code of Washington.