The Arrest and/or Investigation
Law enforcement investigates the alleged criminal behavior. Oftentimes, but not always, they may arrest the individual suspected of a crime, based on the evidence they have and the probable cause that the individual arrested was likely responsible for the crime. The evidence can be circumstantial, physical, or based on witness testimony. However, as a general rule, the police do not file the charges; rather, they provide the case to the prosecutor who determines if charges should be filed. Many individuals put themselves in jeopardy by talking to law enforcement without an attorney. You have a constitutional right to remain silent and should not talk to law enforcement without first getting legal representation.
Filing the Complaint & the Arraignment
As a general rule a criminal case starts with prosecutor filing a complaint with the court. This is followed by a hearing in which the accused is charged with the offense. At this hearing, which is referred to as an arraignment, the accused is advised of the nature of the charge. He or she may also be advised of the potential penalties associated with the charge and his or her rights. A plea is then entered. In Washington state a defendant may plead “not guilty” or “guilty.” Bail may be set at this hearing as well. An accused should never attend this hearing without legal counsel to advise you how to proceed.
This conference gives your criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor the opportunity to discuss the case and such aspects as reducing the charge, plea agreements, or other deals that could be worked out regarding the case. The hearing can be part of a formal process, with you and your attorney both present at the courthouse, or can be a less formal meeting between your attorney and the prosecutor. It is critical that you are represented by a smart, aggressive negotiator from our firm at this point, as it may be necessary to convince the prosecutor about some aspect of the case in order to assist the client. If a resolution is not reached you case will be set for trial, and possibly motions. As such, it is also important that your attorney be a skilled in the courtroom, and prepared for trial.
This is an important hearing that may result in evidence available to the prosecution being excluded, or even the case being dismissed. For instance, in some cases a defense lawyer may have a court challenge to certain evidence if your constitutional rights were violated when it was gathered. In such a case, if the challenge is successful and the evidence suppressed, the charges may be dismissed.
The trial is in a standard format for each case. Jury selection is made by the prosecutor and the defense attorney. This is a crucial part of the process, as having an understanding about who to choose and who to reject in the jury pool based on the information gotten from the potential juror can make or break a jury trial for the defense. The trial begins with opening arguments, and the prosecuting attorney always is the first to speak. Your defense attorney then makes their opening argument. The witnesses are now called and evidence and testimony is presented to the jury. When the case is wrapped up, both attorneys now make their closing statement. The jury will now have to decide whether they feel you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They must agree 100% in order for the verdict to occur.
If you are found guilty, you will be sentenced at a sentencing hearing in which you will have the opportunity to ask for probation or a lower sentence based on certain facts. The judge will sentence you based on their determination about what you deserve for the crime, and in some cases this is probation, and in others it can even be the death sentence, depending upon the severity of the crime and prior agreements made with the prosecutor.
If you were unfairly convicted or there were procedural or legal errors in the trial, you can file an appeal. This is a carefully crafted document that requires legal research in order to show how the misapplication of the judicial system came to pass and its result on the case. If it is approved, it may reverse your conviction. In some cases, a new trial will be scheduled, or you will be totally freed.
Once you have served any jail or prison sentence you will likely be placed on probation. During this period, you will be required to meet certain expectations of the court.