Felony Case Procedure

What to Expect in a Felony Case

If you have been charged with a felony, you are facing more than one year in prison. If it is your first felony charge, you likely don't know what to expect in the coming days, weeks, or months. It is crucial that you familiarize yourself with the process surrounding your charge and your case in order to best prepare your defense. Even if you have had prior encounters with law enforcement, you need to be properly represented throughout this process. The attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC have your best interests in mind. We want to make sure you have all of the information you need throughout the entire process and we want to help you prepare the best defense strategy possible. We have laid out each stage of your felony case, from the investigation until the sentencing hearing. Make sure that you have all of the necessary information and the best criminal defense attorneys by your side - choose Blair & Kim, PLLC.

Investigation

A person may or may not know that they are under investigation by law enforcement. If you've had any contact with law enforcement, especially if you've been detained, arrested and/or questioned by the police, chances are law enforcement is investigating you in connection with a criminal case.

If you find yourself under investigation by law enforcement, you should seek legal counsel immediately. An experienced defense attorney knows how to handle police officers, detectives, social workers, or any other parties who may be involved in the investigation. Your attorney can communicate, on your behalf, with the law enforcement officials involved in your case to ensure that you are not contacted directly by anyone involved in the investigation. In addition, your attorney can track the progress of the investigation and determine whether or when criminal charges will result. In some instances, your attorney can influence the prosecutor's decision to file charges by providing evidence or information to law enforcement or the prosecuting attorney that may bear upon your innocence or the strength of your defense.

If you are currently under investigation, you may be arrested and held in jail while law enforcement completes its investigation. If this occurs, a judge must find that there is “probable cause” to believe that a crime was committed in order to continue to hold you in jail. Once that finding is made, the prosecuting attorney's office has 72-hours to decide whether or not to file formal charges against you. If they do not make a decision by then, you must be released.

On the other hand, if they decide to file charges, you will be given a notice of an arraignment date and held pending arraignment unless you are able to post bail. On the other hand, you may be under investigation but never arrested by law enforcement. In this case, you will receive a notice in the mail called a “summons,” which is an order to appear in court at an arraignment hearing. The summons will advise you when and where the hearing will take place and the charges that will be made against you.

Arraignment

The arraignment is the beginning of the criminal case. At that hearing, the charges against you will be read in open court and your attorney will enter a plea of “not guilty” on your behalf. Immediately thereafter, you will receive written notice of your next court appearance, which is called a case-setting hearing. The issue of whether or not you will be required to post bail in order to remain out of custody pending trial is usually addressed at this first hearing. And if you are already in custody at the time of the arraignment, your defense attorney may ask the court to release you on your promise to return to court (no bail requirement) or ask the court to reduce bail to an amount that you or your family could afford to post.

Case-Setting

After the arraignment, your defense attorney will receive all of the police reports associated with your case (this is called “discovery”) and review it with you in detail. Thereafter, the defense will conduct its own investigation into the allegations made against you. During the case-setting phase, your attorney and the prosecutor will consult with one another and determine whether or how the case might resolve. At some point during this period, the parties must decide whether the charges will be resolved by way of a plea bargain or whether the case will proceed to trial. Plea negotiations are based upon a number of factors such as prior criminal history, severity of the crime charged, and consideration of any evidence issues the State may have if they bring you to trial. If you enter into a plea bargain, then you will complete a form called “Statement of Defendant on Plea of Guilty,” which your attorney will present to the prosecuting attorney and the court at a separate plea hearing. When you plead guilty, you give up your right to make the State prove its case against you beyond a reasonable doubt, which means that you will not have a trial. If you decide against entering a plea and set your case for trial, then you will receive two additional court dates: one for an omnibus hearing; the other for trial.

Omnibus Hearing

In King County, the omnibus hearing is scheduled after the last case-setting hearing and 10 days prior to the trial date. At this hearing, the parties address any outstanding discovery issues, and the court ensures that the case is, in fact, ready to proceed to trial. Between case-setting and omnibus, your defense attorney will complete any outstanding investigation and begin preparing the case for trial. If both parties are ready for trial, then the case is appointed to a judge for trial on or around the scheduled trial date.

Trial

A felony trial can last anywhere from 3 days to 3 months or longer, depending on the number of charges, the nature of the charges, the complexity of the pre-trial motions, and the number of witnesses who testify. The trial begins with both sides presenting any pre-trial motions to the court. These may include motions to suppress or exclude certain evidence that the State intends to use against the defendant. Sometimes, the court will hold a brief evidentiary hearing before ruling on a motion. If the defense prevails on its pre-trial motions, the State may be forced to dismiss the charges against you or offer a reduction in charges.

Once all pre-trial motions are resolved by the court, the next step is jury selection, commonly known as “voir dire.” During this phase of the trial, both attorneys are given time to directly question prospective jurors regarding their ability to serve; questions are typically aimed at routing out those individuals who may be swayed by prior personal experience, prejudice, or media coverage of the alleged crime. The prosecutor and the defense attorney have the right to excuse any juror who cannot be fair and impartial. These are called challenges "for cause.” There is no limit to the number of challenges for cause that each side may exercise (bearing in mind that the court must make its own finding and rule in favor of your challenge). Thereafter, each side gets 6 "peremptory challenges," which allows either attorney to excuse a prospective juror for any reason at all.

Once the jury is selected, the prosecutor gives an opening statement, which is a summary of the evidence the State expects to present during its case-in-chief. The defense has the choice to deliver an opening statement either after the State's opening statement or at the conclusion of the State's case. The defense also may choose to waive opening statements altogether. Whether or when your defense attorney delivers an opening statement is a strategic decision.

At the conclusion of opening statements, the State will call its witnesses to the stand to testify against the defendant. Any physical evidence may be introduced through the testimony of the State's witnesses. Once the prosecutor completes “direct examination” of its witness, the defense is entitled to “cross-examine” that witness. This means that the defense may ask leading questions and inquire about any issues that bear upon the credibility of the witness.

Once the State concludes its case, the defense has the opportunity to put on its own case. Whether or not your defense attorney will put on a formal case depends on a number of factors. For example, sometimes the defense is able to severely damage the strength of the State's case solely through effective and aggressive cross-examination. Because the State bears the burden of proof in a criminal case, the defendant is not required to prove innocence or present evidence of any kind.

Once both sides have had the opportunity to present their case, the trial judge will give instructions to the jurors. These instructions provide a legal framework for jurors to follow during their deliberations. Once the jury receives its instructions, the prosecutor and the defense deliver closing arguments to the jury. The parties are generally given broad discretion during their closing to argue any reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence presented during the trial. At the conclusion of closing arguments, the jury begins deliberation, which may last minutes, hours, or days. In order to reach a verdict, all twelve jurors must be unanimous in their decision. If they are able to reach a unanimous decision, the defendant will be found guilty or not guilty. If the jurors are unable to reach a unanimous verdict and the court determines that they are “deadlocked”, then the trial will result in a “hung jury”. In this case, the court will declare a mistrial. If your trial ends in a mistrial, the prosecutor may decide to dismiss the charges, retry the case before a different jury, or offer to reduce the charge pursuant to a plea bargain. If the jury returns a verdict of “not guilty”, you are free from any further obligations to the court. If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the court will set a date for your sentencing hearing.

Sentencing

At sentencing, the Court will consider arguments from both sides regarding what your sentence should be. In addition to imposing jail time, the Court may also order you to pay fines and fees, participate in a treatment program, pay restitution, or abide by a no-contact order in favor of witnesses or victims in the case. If you are convicted of a felony offense, you will be subject to a “standard range” of confinement as determined by the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines. Your standard range is determined by the seriousness of your crime of conviction and your prior criminal history. The court may also consider the specific circumstances of the current offense in deciding whether to impose the low- or high-end of your standard sentence range. In rare instances, the court may impose a sentence either below or above your standard range. If your sentence is under 12 months, the court will provide you with a report date by which you must turn yourself in to serve your sentence. If your sentence is over 12 months, the court may order you to serve your sentence immediately and take you into custody at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing.