What Is Criminal Procedure in Washington State?

Criminal procedure is the system the state uses to investigate, try and punish crimes. Police, prosecutors and judges in Vancouver, Washington must abide by this process which protects a suspect’s constitutional rights.

Criminal being handcuffed in Vancouver WACriminal procedure is the most visible branch of law. Cops and courts coverage is a mainstay of the news. Crime dramas on television and in books abound.

With so much exposure, you may be familiar with some parts of the process. However, if you’re charged with a crime in Washington, you’ll need to know more. You’ll need aand you’ll need to help your attorney mount a defense.

What Is Criminal Procedure in Washington State?

Criminal procedure is an area of due process. The government can and does deprive people of life, freedom and property.

If you’re tried and found guilty of a crime, you may be fined, incarcerated and lose the right to vote and own a gun.

In exercising its power to deprive, the state must follow due process of law. If it doesn’t, a criminal case could be dismissed.

When you enter Washington state’s criminal justice system, you are contending with a powerful opponent. A criminal defense lawyer works to defend your right to due process.

Here’s an overview of criminal procedure as enacted by the state of Washington and the federal government.

Arrest and Criminal Charges

It’s only after a person is arrested that officers are required to tell the person they are a suspect and have a right to an attorney and to remain silent, all part of the Miranda Warnings you have heard given in countless TV shows.

From there, the case goes to the Prosecutor who may file charges against the person.  As former prosecutors, we know that the procedures are not all even and fair.  Some are truly innocent, some are punished more than they deserve and others get off because of issues with their cases.

Sometimes, the system isn’t fair either.  We have won cases because we knew the prosecutors were not giving the defense the evidence in the case.  Evidence the defense needed to help prove their case.  It’s a harsh lesson for prosecutors to learn but we’ve had to teach them – they can’t withhold evidence in cases and get away with it.  When they do, the case gets dismissed.

Plea Agreements


If a defendant pleads not guilty, prosecutors and defense attorneys prepare for a trial. Investigators on both sides collect and examine evidence, interview witnesses and prepare documents.

A defendant has a right to a jury trial, but some people waive that right. In those cases, they will go before a judge rather than a jury.  We have tried hundreds of felony cases and know how the judges and juries react.

In Washington, the state must prove guilt. The state and the defendant present their cases. If the state does not meet its burden of proof, the jury or judge will enter a verdict of not guilty. If prosecutors prove their case, the jury or judge will convict.


Washington state law sets sentencing guidelines. Penalties may include fines, probation, restitution and time in jail or prison.

The convicted may also lose certain rights, such as the right to vote or bear arms. Some defendants may be restricted from traveling, drinking alcohol or approaching or contacting particular people.

Questions to Ask to Get the Best Criminal Lawyer in Washington State

If you need defending in a criminal case, you want to get the best criminal lawyer you can afford. But how exactly do you weed out the good lawyers from the bad? Here are some questions you should be prepared to ask when interviewing with attorneys to potentially defend your case.

Background and expertise as criminal lawyer

  • How many jury trials have you been involved with? It’s important to get a lawyer who is comfortable going to trial. Many lawyers aren’t very confident in trials, and it’s a good idea to find a lawyer who has at least a few dozen trials under his or her belt.
  • How much of your practice is devoted to criminal law? Some attorneys devote themselves to a number of specialties. For example, if you’ve been charged with burglary, you don’t need a lawyer who primarily defends DUI suspects. Be sure to find a lawyer who devotes at least 50 percent of their time to criminal law.
  • Are you local? Sometimes, attorneys will advertise in areas they have no real intention of ever serving. It’s critical to find an attorney who’s familiar with the county you’ve been charged in. They’ll likely know local prosecutors and judges, which can greatly improve your case’s outcome.
  • How long have you practiced criminal law? A good rule of thumb is to hire an attorney who has at least 10 years of experience in criminal law.

Legal fees and extra expenses

  • Do you charge an hourly rate or flat fee? Rates are often competitive. As a general rule, lawyers with a strong reputation may charge more. However, it’s important to remember that the most expensive lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is the most qualified lawyer.
  • If the fee is low, ask why. A low fee can be an indicator of an inexperienced lawyer. It may also be a sign that he or she handles a high case load and pleads out for most clients without exploring other legal options.
  • Are there other costs I’d have to pay? Can you give me an estimate? Other expenses may include retainer fees, referral fees and contingency fees, depending on the lawyer and your case.

Management of case

  • Will you be the attorney actually handling my case? Sometimes, law firms will have first-time clients initially speak to a more experienced lawyer but then assign the case to a less experienced lawyer.
  • Will there be other lawyers working on my case as well? If you’re willing to hire a lawyer to defend your case, of course you should make sure that he or she will be the one who’s primarily handling it.

  • Would you recommend a plea agreement? Experienced lawyers are often very good at predicting the outcomes of cases. If he or she speaks honestly to you about the possible outcomes of the case, positive and negative, you’re likely speaking to someone who is engaged and devoted to your case.
  • Do you see future problems with my case if we do go to trial? If you have an attorney who makes unrealistic and outlandish promises, he or she is probably more concerned with happily accepting your money rather than providing a strong defense.

During all phases of the criminal procedure, you have the right to legal representation. If you’ve been charged with a crime, contact Northwest Legal Advocates. We offer experienced, expert legal advice to those facing criminal conviction.

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