Criminal Defense Overview
A criminal case can have a devastating impact on a person’s life, keeping them from their family and their job, and possibly leading to jail time and other penalties. A conviction can remain on someone’s record for the rest of their lives. Even without a conviction, an arrest record or the record of a criminal case can affect a person’s job search and interfere with lease or credit applications. People have rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and state law, and the state must follow rules and procedures throughout a criminal case. An experienced Washington criminal defense attorney can help you if you are charged with a crime by guiding you through the process and vigorously defending your rights.
Arrest and Charge
An arrest does not necessarily lead to a criminal charge. Police may arrest someone on suspicion of a crime, and prosecutors may conclude that they do not have enough evidence to pursue the case. You are not obligated to talk to police or prosecutors at any time, since they may want you to incriminate yourself. You also have the right to consult with a criminal defense attorney if you are placed under arrest.
If prosecutors charge you with an offense, the criminal litigation process begins. We represent defendants charged with alleged offenses such as:
- Driving under the influence;
- Domestic violence;
- Elder abuse;
- Child endangerment;
- Prostitution and solicitation;
- Sex crimes, including indecent liberties, custodial sexual misconduct, and child pornography
Plea Agreements and Dismissals
Most criminal cases result in a plea agreement, in which a defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest, often to a lesser offense than the one charged. A plea may result in a significantly lesser sentence or fine than the defendant might have risked at trial, or even probation. Sometimes, a prosecutor will agree to dismiss a charge entirely if a defendant meets certain conditions, such as community service or payment of restitution.
Prior to the trial, a criminal defense attorney has the opportunity to meet with the prosecutors to discuss possible plea agreements. This is also the time when the attorney collects and reviews the state’s evidence, and makes pretrial motions to the court. An attorney may, for example, move to suppress evidence obtained by police in violation of a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, or to dismiss charges that are not supported by the state’s evidence.
Trial preparation includes the collection of evidence, including police reports and other documents, and the preparation of testifying witnesses.
Trial, Conviction, and Acquittal
A defendant has a right to trial by jury, but may waive that right and have a trial before a judge. The State has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Although the State presents its evidence first, the defendant gets the last word to the judge or the jury. If the judge or jury concludes that the State has not met its burden of proof, it must enter a verdict of not guilty, acquitting the defendant. Otherwise, it enters a guilty verdict.
The judge determines the sentence based on guidelines established by state law. This may include a jail or prison sentence, a fine, or a combination of the two. It may also include an order to pay restitution to any victims of the offense.
A defendant may continue to have obligations or restrictions after a conviction, including regular reports to a probation or parole officer. A court might order a defendant convicted of DUI to refrain from alcohol consumption, or to refrain from contacting or going near a person after a conviction for assault. A defendant may be able to request a review or modification of these obligations, based on various changed circumstances or other factors.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Tacoma or elsewhere in Washington, a Washington criminal defense lawyer with knowledge of, and experience in, the state’s legal system can help you vigorously defend against the state’s accusations. We have helped our clients throughout western Washington for over fifteen years in all stages of a criminal prosecution, obtaining reduced charges, lesser penalties, and even outright dismissals or acquittals. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (888) 312-3093.