How a Case is Prosecuted
A suspect may be arrested by law enforcement and booked in jail if there is probable cause to believe the suspect committed a crime. The Prosecuting Attorney's office must file charges within certain time limits. If charges are not filed, the suspect is released.
The Prosecuting Attorney's office also receives reports from law enforcement requesting that charges be filed against a suspect. The Prosecuting Attorney's office reviews the reports and other investigation information and makes a charging decision. If charges are filed, the defendant may be arrested on a warrant or may be sent a summons to appear in court.
A preliminary appearance is a defendant's first appearance in court. The Judge will determine whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime(s) charged. The Judge will also advise the suspect of his/her rights and set bail or release on personal recognizance. If there is good reason to believe the defendant will not return for future court hearings or may be a danger to the community or specific persons, the Judge may impose additional conditions on the defendant's release. If the defendant cannot afford to retain an attorney, the Judge will appoint an attorney to represent the defendant at public expense.
At the arraignment, the defendant enters a plea to the crime(s) charged. If the defendant enters a guilty plea, a sentencing date will be set and the trial process will be avoided. However, entry of a guilty plea at arraignment is highly unusual. In almost every case the defendant enters a plea of not guilty and the Judge sets future hearing dates and a trial date.
Future hearing dates may include an omnibus hearing, 3.5/3.6 hearing, and readiness hearing. An omnibus hearing is set to determine if there is any additional information - called discovery - to be exchanged between the Prosecuting Attorney's office and the defendant's attorney. A 3.5/3.6 hearing may be set to determine if a confession or evidence seized is legally admissible. A readiness hearing is a schedule a few weeks before trial to confirm that the parties are ready for trial.
Burden of Proof
The law presumes every person accused of a crime to be innocent. The legal system treats the defendant as innocent until legal guilt has been established in court. This is called the Presumption of Innocence. The law requires that the prosecution prove the defendant guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt". This means that if the Judge or jury has a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt, it must resolve that doubt in favor of the defendant and find him/her not guilty.
Proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt must be established by legally admissible evidence. The law has strict rules about how evidence may be obtained and how it may be used by the prosecutor to establish guilt.
The parties will decide whether a jury or only a Judge should hear the evidence. Most criminal trials are held before a jury. The first day of the trial consists mostly of jury selection and opening statements. This often takes several hours. The Victim-Witness Unit will do its best to keep each witness informed of the time to appear, but expect some delay if you are scheduled to testify.
There is a requirement that each witness testifies only to the facts within his/her knowledge. Witnesses will be asked to remain outside the courtroom until called to testify. This is done to make sure each witness testifies about only the facts known by that witness. The Prosecuting Attorney's office has an area that can be used by witnesses while waiting to testify.
Sentencing takes place after the defendant enters a guilty plea or is found guilty. The sentencing Judge may have three recommendations for that sentencing - one from the prosecutor, one from the defense attorney, and one from the Department of Corrections. Victims and victims' families have the right to speak at the sentencing hearing and may also submit a letter to the Judge prior to the sentencing hearing.
The Judge will sentence the defendant to county jail or the Washington State Department of Corrections depending upon the crime(s) committed and the defendant's prior criminal history. The defendant will be required to pay courts costs, fees, and restitution, and may be subjected to conditions of supervision. If the amount of restitution is contested by the defendant, then a separate hearing may be set to determine the amount of restitution due to the victim(s).
If you have any questions, please call the office at 745-8535, Monday through Friday, 8 am through 5 pm