What Can You Expect From The Criminal Process?
Facing criminal charges can be overwhelming, and you may not know what to expect. Below, we provide a summary of the criminal process itself in Washington. If you have questions about your case and what you can expect given your situation, call Fury Duarte at 425-329-8900 to schedule a consultation with our criminal defense attorneys. You can also contact our Seattle office online.
Charged With An Offense
The criminal case begins when a person is cited or charged with an offense. In a majority of jurisdictions, this does not occur at the time of arrest, even if someone is booked into jail for a period of time. The law allows the government to charge a gross misdemeanor crime such as a DUI for up to two years after it occurs. This rarely happens, but it is not uncommon for several months to go by before an offense is filed in court. Some police agencies issue criminal citations at the time of arrest, which include an almost immediate court date that the person must attend.
The first court date is called the arraignment hearing, and its purpose is to officially notify the person of the nature of the charge they are facing and to issue an advisement of rights to defendants. This is a required legal formality. The judge must also determine that there is sufficient evidence to charge the offense and, if so, can impose conditions of custody or release while the case is pending. Such conditions could include things like posting bail (a monetary guarantee to return for future court appearances), installing an ignition interlock device for driving, maintaining law-abiding behavior and, in extreme cases, alcohol monitoring, house arrest or detention in jail.
Approximately 30 days after the arraignment hearing, the court will hold a status conference, called a pretrial hearing, to assess the progress of the investigation and negotiation between the defense and prosecution. A case may have several of these “check-ins” while information is exchanged and legal defenses reviewed. If there is an agreed resolution of the case (usually by way of plea bargain negotiations), a disposition can be completed at this stage.
Challenge The Evidence
If no resolution is possible, there is one opportunity to make legal challenges to the evidence the prosecution wants to present at trial. This often involves some witness testimony and legal argument. If the judge concludes that a legal error has been made by law enforcement in the course of the arrest, it could result in certain evidence being excluded or suppressed, which means it would not be presented to a jury in a trial.
The next stage of the case involves a trial, usually in front of a jury. This often gets delayed multiple times because of the difficulty in scheduling all of the lawyers, witnesses, judges and jurors. In fact, a criminal case can sometimes take a year or more before being tried.
If there is an eventual conviction (either following trial or as a result of a plea bargain), the judge is required to impose a sentence, or penalty. In addition, the court will retain jurisdiction over the person for a period of time, which can range from six months up to five years. During that time, the court will monitor the person to ensure they complete their affirmative sentencing obligations and don’t incur any new offenses.