Frequently Asked Questions About Going to Court in Washington State
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We have helped many people who are in a similar situation to you fight their charges.
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What should I wear to court?
We recommend that you dress professionally - as though you are going to a job interview. Definitely do not wear the following: shorts, tank tops, or hats - some Judges will refuse to allow you in the courtroom wearing such items. Also, do not chew gum in court!
When should I arrive for my court appearance?
It is generally not necessary to arrive more than a few minutes before the hearing is scheduled. However, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to find your way to the courtroom. If the judge calls roll at the beginning of the calendar and you are not present the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. This may occur even if you arrive shortly after the start of the calendar or you may have to wait until all the other cases have been heard.
What should I bring to court?
You should keep a file of all documents relevant to your case and bring this to court every time you appear. Also, if the judge has ordered you to attend self help meetings like AA or be in treatment - make sure you bring proof of this (in writing) to every court hearing.
I missed a court date, what should I do now?
First, contact an attorney who can help you deal with the warrant that was issued when you missed your court date. You also have the option of calling the court and seeing if they have a way to handle it, posting the bail or bond, or turning yourself in to the jail.
What happens at the arraignment?
First, you are asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. We recommend that you enter a plea of not guilty so that you have adequate time to hire a lawyer and evaluate all the options available to you on your case. The court will also address conditions of your release that will be imposed while your case is pending. These conditions can include: posting bail or bond; entering into a drug or alcohol treatment program or attending self help meetings like AA; a no contact order; or even electronic home monitoring.
What should I plead at the arraignment?
Will the court hold it against me for pleading not guilty?
Absolutely not. Judges understand that this is an important step and some will not even allow you to plead guilty until you have had time to consult with an attorney about your case.
Can I go to jail at the arraignment?
Yes, but only if the judge imposes bail or bond and you are not prepared to post it. You will be released once bail or bond is posted.
What is bail or bond?
Bail is an amount of money posted with the court as a sort of insurance that you will appear at all your court appearances and follow all the orders of the court. You may post 10% of this bail amount with a bail bonding company (with collateral) as well. If you post cash bail with the court - you will get all this money back at the end of your case. If you use a bail bonds company, you will not receive the 10% fee back.
What happens at a pre-trial hearing?
A pre-trial hearing is essentially a status conference between you, your attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge. The following things can happen at a pre-trial hearing: the case can be continued and a new pre-trial hearing scheduled; the case can be resolved and you can plead guilty to the original charge or an amended charge; you can be sentenced; or the case can be scheduled for motions and trial.
Can we get more time to work on my case?
Generally, yes. It is not uncommon for a criminal case to be continued at least one time so that your attorney has adequate time to investigate the charges and negotiate with the prosecutor.
I signed a speedy trial waiver, what is this?
You have a right to be tried within what is defined as a "speedy" time frame (90 days from your arraignment if you are out of jail, 60 days from your arraignment if you are in jail). If you want more time to work on your case (i.e. you ask for a continuance) you will need to sign a speedy trial waiver to extend this period.
What happens at a readiness hearing or a jury call hearing?
This is a hearing a week or two prior to your trial date. At this hearing you confirm your readiness for trial and confirm the actual trial date.
What is a bench trial?
This is a trial where the judge hears all the evidence and makes a decision about your guilt or innocence.
What is a jury trial?
This is a trial where people from the community (a jury) hear all the evidence and then make a decision about your guilt or innocence.
Does my case have to go to trial?
No, it is always your choice to proceed to trial. However, your attorney can advise you if proceeding to trial is a good idea or not.
Will I have to testify at trial?
No, you cannot be required to take the stand at trial and testify.
Can I have witnesses testify for me at trial?
Yes, these witnesses can also be subpoenaed and required to appear and testify. However, any witnesses must have relevant testimony to provide about the actual incident.
If I am convicted after a trial, will the judge punish me for going to trial?
No, it would be improper for a judge to increase the penalty just because someone exercised their right to proceed to trial. However, sometimes the prosecutor will file additional charges if a case proceeds to trial. This can increase the possible penalties.