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Washington criminal case procedures, including felony case procedures, are handled through a very specific court process. The steps of this process are important to understand if you or a loved one has been arrested by law enforcement and formally charged with a crime. Although certain distinctions exist between how criminal cases are handled in municipal and district courts, most cases in Washington proceed through the same phases. Regardless of whether you are charged with a minor or major crime, a Seattle criminal court attorney at Emerald City Law Group are ready to handle your case.

At Emerald City Law Group, an experienced Seattle criminal court attorney will provide you with aggressive representation that seeks to reduce, or possibly eliminate the charges and consequences you are facing during the arraignment, pre-trial or trial process. To begin the process of your defense with a free, initial consultation, call us today at 206-973-0407, or complete our contact form.

What Is Criminal Procedure in Washington State?

There are a number of steps in the criminal court process, including:

Washington State Arraignment Process
At an arraignment, the court will advise you of the type of charges issued, the potential penalties stemming from these charges, and your rights, including the right to legal counsel, the right to remain silent, and the right to a jury trial. The judge may issue a finding of probable cause after reviewing evidence that is available to the prosecution. After reviewing this evidence, the judge may impose conditions for your continued release, or in other cases require you to post bail and have you taken into custody.

If you are accused of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, your Seattle criminal court attorney can have your appearance at the arraignment hearing waived. This means you will not have to appear in court at this time.

Pre-Trial Procedure in Washington State Courts
The pre-trial hearing is the next step in the criminal court process. This hearing serves several purposes. It is the first official setting at which both sides discuss the case along with the judge. This is the point of the process in which many plea agreements are reached. If a plea agreement is not reached between the parties at this stage, the case will march forward toward a trial.

Barring a plea agreement, the court will issue a pre-trial order that includes a notice of motions to be argued in the case, important dates coming up in the case, and defense assertions offered by the defense. As well, the order will mention names of witnesses the defense and prosecution intend to call to the stand if the case goes to trial.

Motions Hearings
Motions may be initiated by the defense and prosecution. When they are noted at the pre-trial stage, the court will schedule a date to address these motions. In some cases, motions may be handled at the beginning of a trial. The various motions available include motions to suppress evidence, motions to suppress statements, and motions to dismiss. Depending on the facts in your case, other motions may be available for either side to make.

Readiness Hearing / Jury Call
Before the trial date arrives, the majority of municipal and district courts schedule a readiness hearing, otherwise known as a jury call. The purpose of this hearing is to have both the defense and prosecution confirm the case is ready for trial. At this stage of the criminal court process, the parties have the opportunity once again to negotiate and reach a plea bargain.

Trial Process
The majority of criminal trials in Washington are jury trials. However, in certain circumstances, it may be advantageous for the defendant to have their case tried before a judge rather than a jury. Cases before a judge are referred to as bench trials. As the defendant, you must waive your right to a jury trial in order to obtain a bench trial. You should avoid waving this right unless you have first discussed the matter thoroughly with your legal counsel.

A trial starts off with the selection of jurors. Both sides are free to question prospective jurors and then challenge them. Jurors left after these challenges are completed are chosen for the jury.

The case is tried with both the prosecution and defense giving opening statements, calling, questioning, and cross-examining witnesses, and presenting closing arguments. The jury (or judge in a bench trial) deliberates and reaches a verdict of not guilty or guilty. On occasion, a hung jury may result.

If you are found guilty or enter a guilty plea, the case proceeds to the next step – sentencing. The sentencing hearing may occur on a separate date or immediately after the guilty plea or verdict is issued.

At a sentencing hearing, the prosecution recommends a sentence to the judge. The defense and the defendant also have the opportunity to speak to the judge at this time. After both sides are heard, the court imposes a sentence.

Probation and Review Hearings
The court will often set conditions you are required to meet in conjunction with your sentence. For instance, part of your sentence may include formal probation that contains particular conditions to be met in order to remain on probation and avoid jail time.

At the sentencing hearing, the court may decide to also schedule a review hearing as the next step in the criminal court process. At this hearing, the court can make an evaluation of your compliance with the stated conditions it set at sentencing. Often, a review hearing is scheduled when the court is informed of a potential violation of one or more of the conditions of your probation.

If the court finds that you violated the conditions of your sentence, you may be subject to jail time or other consequences.

Contact a Seattle Criminal Court Attorney Today

Are you accused of a criminal offense? Questions about the criminal court procedures in Seattle? With aggressive and intelligent advocacy, our Seattle criminal defense law firm at Emerald City Law Group is prepared to mount a strong defense on your behalf and help facilitate a result that secures your rights and freedoms as much as possible. To set up a free case evaluation, call a criminal defense attorney today at 206-973-0407, or send us a request through our contact form.