The Criminal Process 101

No one wants to be charged with a crime, but if circumstances are such that you are forced to learn how to move through the system of defending yourself for a crime brought by the State of Washington, the following discussion could be a useful guide.

Finding the right attorney is an important first step, because the skill and expertise of your attorney can be a determining factor in the success of your case.  Many times you don’t know what you need to know until it’s too late and with criminal law you only get one chance.  Make sure and ask your prospective attorney how long they have been practicing criminal law, how many jury trials they have conducted and how they practice the art of negotiation.  Ask them if they have or will hire an investigator, if they are successful at trial and how much they charge.  A personal interview is best so you can get a feel for your trust, confidence and comfort level with this attorney.

It is important to be upfront and candid with your attorney.

This allows them to help you make important decisions fully aware of all of the pertinent facts and issues.   Your attorney is legally bound by the Attorney/Client privilege so that any sensitive information cannot be shared or used against you.

Be aware that sometimes your attorney may have professional advice that may be hard to accept.  Everyone wants to be proven innocent and get on with their life, so taking a plea bargain is not the advice that you may want to hear.  Don’t forget that you are paying this attorney for their advice, they have the benefit of not being emotionally attached to the situation and that their advice is based upon their extended experience in the criminal law system.

If you haven’t been charged, but think you are going to be charged with a crime, most people’s initial reaction is to wait and see if they get charged before going out to hire an attorney.   According to Robert Cossey at Robert Cossey and Associates in Spokane, Wa, that is unfortunate because it closes the door on the first line of potential defense, to avoid getting charged in the first place.  “Many times when there are multiple defendants or a complicated fact pattern, working with law enforcement or the prosecutor’s office can prevent charges from being filed.”

Once a crime has been charged, your attorney will work with the Prosecutor’s office to see what kind of plea bargain would be available, if any.  Many times it comes down to an honest evaluation of the benefit of an offered plea bargain versus the risk of losing at trial and the potential penalties, Cossey says.  A good attorney can help you with a professional recommendation based upon their own knowledge and past experience with the system. The decision whether or not to take a plea has to be one of the most gut-wrenching decisions of the entire process.

If your case is scheduled for trial, many times there is an extended period of time between the point of being charged and your actual trial date.  Don’t be surprised if your trial gets continued for one reason or another.  This is the time your attorney may hire an investigator to conduct interviews or an expert witness and works on putting together your case.

When your day at court finally arrives, the experience and skill of your attorney will be apparent.  The prosecutor will work to prove your guilt, your attorney will work to prove your innocence and the judge will make sure that all of the rules of the court are followed.  The jury is there to make a unanimous decision based upon the testimony and evidence presented, beyond a reasonable doubt of your guilt or innocence.

It isn’t a perfect system, but it is a good system and one that is the cornerstone of the democracy of America where you are innocent until proven guilty by a jury of your peers.