Successfully navigating through criminal prosecution for driving under the influence in Washington state requires a clear understanding of the DUI court process. In other words, knowing what is coming will greatly reduce the amount of stress you feel when fighting a DUI charge.
Although each court system in Washington varies somewhat in how it handles the initial stages of a criminal proceeding, the basic outline below will help you understand the court process as a whole:
When you are arrested for a crime, you will have to go through several court dates. His first time in court is called an impeachment. Your next short date is called a Pretrial or Status Conference. You may also have short dates for Motions or Trial.
This is your first time in court and it is where you are formally informed of the charges against you. In the case of DUI, he may already know what the charge is before he walks into the courtroom. However, there may be additional charges that you were not aware of, such as felony misconduct or additional criminal charges that were brought by the prosecution after your DUI arrest.
Depending on the jurisdiction, you will be mailed a Notice of Hearing or you will need to look on your summons (about 1/3 from the bottom) where it says Required Court Appearance for the date and time of your hearing. If you are not sure of the date or time, call the Clerk of Court’s Office (numbers are available online). The court you are in is listed at the top of the citation, for example, a citation marked “District Court” and the crime occurred in Snohomish County, would do an internet search for “County District Court of Snohomish”.
Please arrive a few minutes early. Most courthouses will have a computer printout of everyone scheduled for court that day, called a docket. These footprints are usually visible near the patios. Next to your name will be a courtroom number. That’s where you have to go. If you get confused or can’t find the courtroom, ask at the court clerk’s office; they are usually very helpful.
Once you arrive at the correct courtroom, be prepared to wait. Most courts will have a video or document explaining your rights at arraignment. If it is a piece of paper, they will want you to sign your name, saying that you understand your rights.
Eventually, you will be called to appear before the judge. Do not panic. This is not his time to explain what happened; there will be time enough for that later. All the judge wants to know at the arraignment is whether he understands the charges against him and whether he wishes to plead guilty or not guilty. That is all.
Common sense would tell you that if you did something wrong, you should take it easy with the court system by pleading guilty and the court system will take it easy by not sentencing you as harshly as if you had fought the charges. Unfortunately, the judicial system is not always based on common sense. In fact, he will most likely receive a worse punishment if he pleads guilty at arraignment rather than fight the charges. In other words, DO NOT PLEASE GUILTY!
Once you have pleaded not guilty, the court will ask if you want a lawyer. The old cliche “The man who represents himself has a fool for a client” is very true. If he doesn’t understand the rules of the court and the law regarding DUI (or any other crime), he doesn’t stand a chance against a well-trained prosecutor.
Attorneys come in two flavors: public and private defenders. You do not need to have an attorney with you at the arraignment. If you are planning to hire a private attorney, you just need to tell the judge and he or she will be satisfied, but will warn you not to wait too long to hire one. If you cannot afford a lawyer of your choice, then you may qualify for a Public Defender. The Court will have a series of questions for you in order to determine whether or not you qualify based on your income, dependents, etc. The disadvantage of a Public Defender is that you have no control over who is appointed to your case. Even if you qualify and have a Public Defender representing you, you can always have a private attorney take over at any time. It is very common for people with a Public Defender to hire a private attorney, so don’t worry, your Public Defender won’t mind if you replace him with a private attorney; you may even feel relieved as it means one less case to handle. .
After the judge addresses the issue of your attorney, the court will address the status of your release. If he has a clean record, he will likely be released on his promise to return. If he has a criminal record, the judge may set a bail or bond amount to make sure he comes back.
The Court will assign a date by which you must return for your pre-trial hearing. If you cannot attend on that date, be sure to let the judge know about your dispute so that another date can be chosen. If a dispute arises later, contact your attorney immediately so he or she can file a motion to continue the hearing date.
You will leave court with a piece of paper that tells you the date and time of your next court date. Don’t be surprised if this is two to three months from the date of your arraignment. This may seem like a long time, but don’t wait; If you need to find a lawyer, start right away, as it can take a long time to find the one you want and raise the money to hire one.
Once you have hired your attorney, that person will need to send a Notice to Appear, telling the court and the prosecutor that they represent you. They will also need time to obtain all the Police Reports and other documents that the District Attorney intends to use against you (collectively called Discovery). After your attorney has all of the Discovery, they will need to sit down with you face-to-face and discuss your case. One of the strange rules in Washington state is CrRLJ 4.7, the rule that allows your attorney to obtain discovery in your case. Same rule actually prevents avoid being given a copy of the discovery, even if it is your case! This rule is even more bizarre considering the fact that if you were to fire your attorney and represent yourself, the State would be MANDATORY to give you a copy of Discovery. However, nothing prevents your attorney from giving you access to Discovery whenever you want, as often as you want; they just can’t send you home with a copy.
These hearings take place in court and in front of a judge. Its purpose is to ensure that no case “slips through the cracks” by ensuring that the case is reviewed in a systematic manner. During a pre-trial, the judge wants to know what the status of the case is: Do the parties (prosecutor or defense) want to plead guilty to something, do they want to set a time for a petition hearing, do they want to have proof, or do they not know what want and simply ask for more time?
These hearings are of an administrative nature. That means they have a relatively low stress level because nothing will happen in a pre-trial phase unless the defendant makes it happen. In most cases, the Defendant does not need to say anything more than respond to the Judge when the Judge asks if the Defendant agrees with what is happening, for example, asking for a continuance or setting a Hearing on Motion. You and your attorney will have discussed what will happen at the pre-trial long before you get there.
Most criminal cases have multiple pre-trial dates. There are many reasons why you may not want to settle your case during the first pre-trial: You may have legal issues that need to be decided by a judge (during a motion hearing), your attorney may need more time to negotiate with the prosecution, Or it’s possible that you just haven’t decided which way you want to go with your case.
If you are asking the judge to continue with your case, the issue of speedy trial will come up. If you are out of custody, your case must be resolved within ninety days (sixty if you are in custody). When a defendant requests an adjournment, the judge will either not want that additional time to count against the 90 days or will ask for a new 90 days, from the date of the adjournment request, before granting the adjournment request. Although this speedy trial rule is an important right, as a practical matter it very rarely determines the outcome of a case. In other words, if your attorney thinks it’s a good idea to waive the speedy trial rule, giving the state more time to take you to trial, then it’s probably in your best interest.
Motions are written legal arguments about why the evidence in your case (sometimes the entire case) should be thrown out. There are potentially hundreds of motions that could be filed in a criminal case. Your attorney will know which ones (if any) apply to your specific facts.
Motions serve two purposes: First, if you can suppress the evidence, then you may have a better chance of winning if you go to trial. Second, motions are a wonderful way to change the strength of your case, making it more likely that the prosecution will want to make a settlement offer that you really want to accept.
A motion hearing is similar to a bench trial: it takes place in court and in front of a judge, there may be witnesses, both the defense and the prosecution will present arguments to the judge, and eventually the judge will issue a legal decision on the topic. This is where the similarity to a trial ends. The burden of proof at a hearing on motion is substantially less than at trial and the judge must view the evidence at a hearing on motion “from the point of view most favorable to the State.” These two elements combine to make a motion hearing easier for the State to win than the Defense. The reason behind this unfair advantage is actually a good one: the heart of our legal system is Trial by Jury. If you win at a hearing on motion, then you can skip the jury trial entirely.
Trials come in two flavors: Court and Jury. A bench trial is one in which the judge decides everything. A jury trial is one in which six people (twelve in a felony case) decide what the facts are and the judge decides what the law is.
You can give up (give up) your right to a jury trial at any time, but if you do, you usually won’t be able to get it back. If you’re ever asked to decide whether you want a court or jury trial, you always choose Jury (since you can always change your mind) because if you choose Bench Trial, that’s what you have to do.
At trial, the prosecution must prove each of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney will discuss the elements (what the state has to prove in your case) with you. Your job as a Defendant is to decide whether or not the State can prove each of those elements. Can any of the items become unprovable if you win at a motion hearing?
The outcome of a trial is easy: either you win or you lose. If you win, go home, you’re done. If you lose, you will usually (but not always) end up with slightly more jail time and slightly more fines than if you had pleaded guilty. Is it worth the risk? That is something for you and your attorney to decide.
Being able to mentally prepare for the types of court dates you will encounter while fighting a DUI charge may not eliminate the stress you feel, but it will reduce it to a manageable level.
Copyright (c) 2007 Cahoon Law Office – All rights reserved.