Arrest and Booking:
A criminal case begins when police arrest a person suspected of committing a misdemeanor or felony crime. The police must have probable cause to arrest a suspect. Probable cause means that any reasonable police officer, under the same facts and circumstances, would decide that a crime has been committed and the suspect committed the crime. Once arrested, the police may transport the suspect to the police station for questioning or directly to the county jail for booking.
Booking is the process in which the arresting officer submits a booking report to the jail and the Sheriff takes custody of the suspect and incarcerates the suspect in the jail until the suspect is released on bail or his own recognizance.
If someone has been arrested, they can be held in jail until they are released on their own recognizance or after posting bail. The purpose of bail is to ensure that a defendant makes all of their court appearances or is based on the courts concerns about community safety. Bail is generally set on a bail schedule until you are seen by a Judge, who could raise the bail, lower the bail or release you on your own recognizance (though usually with conditions).
In determining an amount of bail, the court will look to factors that insure you will reappear for future hearings: your ties to the community, any previous history of failures to appear (your criminal history which the court has will show all of this information.
In considering community safety the court will look at the nature of the offense, and your prior criminal history.
In setting bail or releasing you on your promise to appear for future court hearings, the court will almost without fail set conditions `on that release, which will depend on the nature of the offense.
Standard conditions will often include no further criminal law
In any assaultive offense it will typically include no contact orders.
With DUI charges it will often include the above standard conditions, but also, no consumption of alcohol or going to establishments where the primary sale is alcohol, no refusal of a breath test, no driving without valid license and insurance. Depending on factors such as the level of a breath or blood test, any prior offenses, the nature of the current offense, the court may impose more stringent conditions such as SCRAM (an alcohol detection monitoring ankle bracelet), a breath testing machine in your home where you are required to submit samples when prompted, or an ignition interlock devise installed in your vehicle.
All conditions of release MUST be taken seriously, as a failure of any one will prompt your arrest and the court will place you back in jail.
It is important to speak with an attorney an have representation as soon as possible so that your rights when setting bail or conditions of release may be protected.
If you are required to post bail, it may sometimes be set at CASH only or may alternatively be bondable. This later requires the use of a bonding company who will post your bail after you pay them typically 10% of the bond amount (which they will keep) and secure the remainder of the bail with some sort of collateral.
A list of bonding companies is often available at the jails. A list of agencies can be found on our resource page.
The arresting officer submits his report to the District Attorney or City Attorney with recommendations as to what charges should be filed. The District Attorney and City Attorney are also called prosecutors. The prosecutor initially reads the police report and decides what if any charges will be filed against the suspect. The prosecutor has a sworn duty to file charges only if the prosecutor conscientiously believes that there is sufficient evidence to prove the suspect's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the prosecutor believes there is enough evidence to convict a suspect, he will file a criminal complaint with the court. The complaint consists of separate counts. Each count of a complaint sets forth a separate criminal offense. When the complaint is filed, the court conducts an arraignment in which the court informs you that a criminal complaint has been filed by the prosecutor charging you with certain crimes. The court asks you for a plea and you should always enter a not guilty plea.
If you are in custody, the court must decide if the amount of bail on which you were booked into jail is appropriate. Your lawyer will ask the court either to release you on your own recognizance without bail or to reduce the bail to the lowest possible amount.
After the bail issue is resolved, the court sets dates for your pre-trial and in some instances sets a trial date as well.
A pre-trial conference, sometimes called a readiness conference, is a court proceeding in which the prosecutor and defense lawyer advise the judge the status of your case. Your lawyer should have spoken with the prosecution at this point, and the prosecution may have made an offer to reduce charges or recommend a reduced sentence. They should have discussed the evidence in the case and any potential mitigating factors on your behalf.
Your criminal lawyer most likely will advise you to reject any plea bargain offer if your defense is strong and likely to prevail at trial. On the other hand, your lawyer may ask you to consider a plea bargain if the prosecution's evidence is strong enough to produce a guilty verdict at trial. and the prosecution has made you a favorable offer.
Each case turns on its own facts, and, for this reason, it is crucial that you choose an experienced lawyer who can properly evaluate your defense and give you the right advice.
If the case is settled by a plea bargain, the court may take your guilty plea at this time and then sets a date for your sentencing in accordance with the plea bargain.
If you reject the plea bargain, the case may be set for legal motions or set directly to jury trial. The pre-trial may be continued if further negotiations may be fruitful or if further investigation of your case needs to be done.
This is the final court proceeding before trial. The second readiness conference is very much like the first conference. In some cases, a different prosecutor may discuss the case with the defense lawyer. At this stage, if your lawyer has conducted a thorough investigation, leading to important evidence that discredits potential prosecution witnesses or other evidence problems, the prosecutor may offer a significantly better plea bargain to resolve the case.
This is where your Seattle criminal defense lawyer's experience really counts. If your lawyer believes that you have risks of conviction, he may advise you to take the offer in order to avoid the possibility of a more serious conviction and punishment; however, if your lawyer believes that the defense strategy is strong and the likelihood of winning at trial is substantial, they most likely will advise you to reject the plea bargain and proceed to defend your case at a jury trial.
If charged with a felony a jury will consist of 12 persons. On a misdemeanor charge the jury consists of 6 persons. A jury trial begins with motions argued before the judge to whom the trial has been assigned. The motions usually involve the admissibility of evidence that the prosecution or defense is either trying to admit or exclude at trial. Next, jury selection begins. The prosecution and defense are both allowed challenges without any explanation and other challenges based on reasons involving prejudice and bias. Motions and jury selection can last from one day to several weeks depending upon the seriousness of the case.
After a jury has been selected, the prosecution puts on its witnesses and introduces other kinds of evidence such as guns, knives, photographs, and laboratory results Your lawyer cross-examines each prosecution witness, trying to show prior inconsistent statements, bias and a motive to lie. After the prosecution finishes its case, your lawyer puts on the defense case which may involve witnesses for the defense and possibly photographs, laboratory evidence, expert witnesses.
The prosecution cross-examines each defense witness trying to discredit the defense case in the same manner the defense is trying to discredit the prosecution's case.
The case concludes with closing arguments and then jury deliberations. A jury decision must be unanimous in a criminal case, meaning all of the jurors must agree to a finding of guilt or innocence. If all of the jurors cannot agree on a verdict it is called a “Hung Jury”. The court dismisses the case and the prosecution usually asks for a new trial date. A person cannot be re-tried if they are found not guilty.
If the jury returns a not guilty verdict, you are a free man. If a jury returns a guilty verdict, the judge sets a future date for sentencing.
Whether you plead guilty after accepting a plea bargain or are found guilty by a jury after trial, your lawyer must have the wisdom and experience to prepare an argument for the most favorable possible sentence and conditions. Your lawyer prepares a Statement in Mitigation. To support his Statement in Mitigation, your lawyer may request letters from family, relatives, close friends, clergy, employers and others who will comment favorably on your character.
Your lawyer may have you undergo a psychological evaluation to show that you are not dangerous to society or that you can successfully rehabilitate from drug or alcohol addiction.
The Court may order a pre-sentence report or investigation from probation or the department of corrections. Your lawyer should also prepare you for your interview with your probation or Department of Corrections officer. A well-prepared client can often impress their probation officer which can lead to a very favorable sentencing recommendation.
Finally, your lawyer will present a persuasive and successful argument for probation or leniency at the time of your sentencing.