Understanding the Criminal Justice System
The U.S. Constitution guarantees that any person accused of a crime that could result in jail has a right to effective legal representation at every critical stage of the court proceeding. Persons who cannot afford to hire a lawyer may ask the judge to appoint a public defense lawyer to represent them; as well as petitioning the courts for Private Investigative services to assist in their defense.
WA State, Superior Court, Rule CrR 3.1
(a), (b): The right to a lawyer including: sentencing, appeal, and post conviction review.
(d): Unless waived, a lawyer shall be provided to any person who is
financially unable to obtain one without causing substantial hardship to the person or to the person's family.
(f)1: A lawyer for a defendant who is financially unable to obtain investigative, expert or other services necessary to an adequate defense in the case may request them by a motion to the court."
Judicial / Legal Process
Step One: Report of criminal activity to Law Enforcement. An arrest may occur.
Step Two: The Prosecuting Attorney (PA), or his/her representative (i.e. Deputy PA) reviews the report and does one of the following:
- Requests for further investigation of, or more information about, the alleged crime / incident.
- No charges are brought against the individual(s).
- Charges the individual(s) with the crime committed.
Step Three: If charges are filed, the defendant will be brought before the court (a preliminary hearing) and informed of the charge(s) against him/her. A warrant may be issued for an individual who "fails to appear" (FTA). The defendant will have counsel appointed if he/she cannot afford counsel.
Step Four: At arraignment, the defendant will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Not guilty pleas result in further hearings.
Step Five: Omnibus Hearing, attorneys divulge their individual progress and request information needed from opposing counsel.
Step Six: 3.5/3.6 Hearing(s), suppression requests. 3.5 is for suppressing statements made by the defendant. 3.6 is for suppressing physical evidence. These hearings do not always occur.
Step Seven: No change in plea results in trial (jury or bench).
Step Eight: If the defendant is found guility, the case will proceed to sentencing.
Victims / Witness
- Victims have the right to attend all hearings the defendant attends, unless denied attendance specifically by the judge. Victims also have the right to make a "Victim Impact Statement" prior to sentencing.
- Witnesses will usually be asked to interview and/or provide an "affidavit" (statement) for the PA's office and defense counsel due to the defendant's right to "informed counsel". Witnesses will be contacted directly by the PA's office, the defense counsel, or an investigator. Witnesses can always request for defense interviews to be conducted only if a representative from the PA's office is present.
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