Being charged with a crime is an incredibly stressful and trying experience for any person. Unlike the attorneys at our office, you’ve likely never been in this situation before and don’t know what lies ahead. That uncertainty can compound the emotions involved. In this post, we will try to give you a basic overview of the procedure that happens after you’ve been formally arrested or charged with a crime.
In Spokane, Washington, most criminal cases begin the next business day after the arrest. The initial court appearance is called a first appearance hearing. This hearing begins with roll call to see who is present. The judge will then advise all defendants of their constitutional rights and the potential consequences of their charges. Remember, the judge will list the absolute maximum punishment for your charge, not the minimum or the likely outcome.
Next, the judge will call each person individually to come up the counsel table. If you have an attorney present with you, they will speak on your behalf. The judge may ask if you some basic information: your name, date of birth, whether you understand the crime that has been charged, and if you received a copy of the citation. The prosecutor will then summarize the police report to establish probable cause. This is usually done by the prosecutor giving a brief summary of the police report that was filed in your case. The judge is required to evaluate probable cause to verify there are sufficient allegations for the case to proceed. If the judge finds that there is some evidence as to each element of the crime charge, then the case move forward. At this point, if there is a problem with the State’s case, your lawyer would use that opportunity to try to get the case dismissed before it goes any further.
If the judge finds probable cause, you will be asked if you would like to enter a plea: guilty, or not guilty. By entering a plea of Not Guilty, you preserve all of your rights including the right to go to trial, if you so choose. Also, pleading Not Guilty at your First Appearance will avoid a separate Arraignment Hearing about two weeks later. Pleading Not Guilty also allows you and your attorney time to review the evidence against you, investigate suppression of evidence, and allow time to attempt to negotiate a resolution which could be beneficial to you in terms of reduced charges, jail time, fines, or other collateral consequences.
One thing that a lot of first-time clients worry about: no, the judge will not hold it against you if you plead Not Guilty but later plead Guilty. They don’t consider it a “lie,” rather they recognize that you are exercising your constitutional rights to see the evidence against you before making your decision.
After the Arraignment portion of your First Appearance the judge will set Pre-trial Release Conditions. These are rules you must follow while the case is active, rules that if broken, would allow the State a chance to argue that you should be put back in jail. They usually include conditions such as no new arrests, attend all court hearings, do not drive unless properly licensed and insured, stay in contact with your attorney, and other conditions, based on the nature of the charge and your criminal history.
At the end of your First Appearance the judge will schedule your next court appearance called a Pre-trial Hearing. Your first Pre-Trial Hearing will be approximately one to two months after your First Appearance. The best way to describe these Pre-trial Hearings is a status conference: the judge checks in with both parties to see if an agreement has been reached, if more time is needed to gather discovery or negotiate, or if parties would like to set the matter for trial. It is an opportunity for your attorney to talk to the Prosecutor to see what can be done with your charges. These hearings usually end with the entry of a scheduling order, which either sets a new pre-trial date or sets the matter for trial.
Depending on the specific facts of your case, a Motion Hearing may also be set. At a Motion Hearing, one of the parties asks the court to do something that the other party thinks should not happen. While this is usually suppression of evidence, it could also be dismissal of charges, continuance of trial, removal of a no contact order, or an amendment of release conditions. Parties would each file paperwork in advance, and then argue their positions at the hearing. The judge would rule, and then enter a scheduling order so that the case can proceed forward with its new status.
If the matter is set for trial, it is usually actually set for two hearings: a Readiness Hearing and a Trial Setting. The Readiness Hearing gives the court a chance to organize all the cases that have been set for trial on that Trial Setting, determine which ones are actually ready to proceed to trial, and then rank the cases in the order by which they will actually proceed the trial. Then, at the Trial Setting, first on the list will proceed to Jury Trial.
While this may seem like an overwhelming amount of information, the Spokane Criminal Defense Attorneys at our office can walk you through this procedure to answer any questions you may have. They have decades of combined experience and have been to hundreds of these hearings. Call today if you need more information or have been charged with any crime in Spokane!