Criminal Procedure 101


Washington State District and Municipal Courts handle both Gross Misdemeanor and Misdemeanor cases, not Felonies. Gross Misdemeanor and Misdemeanor cases are initiated in one of three ways: (1) the prosecuting attorney files a “Complaint” and a “Summons” is mailed to the defendant to appear in court; (2) law enforcement files a “Citation” and gives the suspect a “Notice to Appear” in court; and (3) in very rare circumstances, an ordinary citizen initiates criminal charges against another citizen.


An “Arraignment” is the first formal step in any criminal court proceeding and is where the accused is: (1) called to court; (2) his identity established; (3) he is informed of the charges being brought against him; and (4) he is called upon to enter his plea of not guilty/ guilty to the charge before him. Although not absolutely necessary, it is wise to have a qualified Seattle criminal defense attorney at this stage of the proceedings. A Gross Misdemeanor/ Misdemeanor defendant is required to be arraigned not later than 15 days after the complaint has been formally filed.


By constitutional mandate, every person accused of a crime is entitled to be brought to trial in an expeditious manner. If an accused is in custody, he must be brought to trial within sixty (60) days from the date of Arraignment. If an accused is out of custody, he must be brought to trial within ninety (90) days from the date of Arraignment.


Depending on the jurisdiction of the court, either a Pre-Trial Hearing or a Readiness Hearing will be set at the Arraignment. Pre-Trial Hearings are set to determine the status of the case, and to encourage the parties to work towards a resolution short of having an actual litigated trial. There may be one or more of these types of proceedings; it is not uncommon to have several Pre-Trial Hearings. Readiness Hearings are set to inform the court whether the parties are ready to proceed to trial, jury or judge alone. Usually the trial occurs a week or two after the applicable Readiness Hearing.


Motion Hearings are set when the parties desire to litigate legal issues that may, or may not, result in suppression of evidence and/or dismissal of a charge. These are legal issues that are raised before, and resolved by, the judge who is presiding over the case.


Jury trials consist of: (1) jury selection (commonly known as, “Voir Dire”); (2) opening statements; (3) examination of witnesses; (4) jury instructions; (5) closing arguments; (6) verdict; and, if necessary (7) sentencing. Bench trials generally consist of: (1) examination of witnesses; (2) closing arguments; (3) verdict; and if necessary, (4) sentencing.


If the result of the case is unfavorable for the defendant, and there were procedural errors in the processing of the case, a defendant may want to appeal the verdict. A defendant generally has thirty (30) days to appeal a guilty verdict, unless he was not properly notified of his appeal rights. If a defendant is not properly notified of his appellate rights, he generally has three hundred sixty five (365) days to appeal the guilty verdict.

Contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney to help you navigate through the criminal justice system.

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