The Criminal Justice Process
Reporting the Crime/Investigation
When a crime is reported to law enforcement, an officer is sent to the crime scene to find out what happened. An arrest may be made at that time. Many times a detective with special training is assigned to the case. The detective will interview all parties involved, gather evidence, and write a report that will be sent to the Prosecuting Attorney with a charging request. Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office does not investigate crimes and crimes that are not referred to our office by law enforcement will not be reviewed for charging.
Once a charging request is sent to our office by law enforcement for review, the report is assigned to one of the Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys. The report is evaluated to determine if there is enough evidence to file charges. One of three things will occur: (1) no charges are filed due to lack of evidence or other considerations; (2) further investigation is required and law enforcement is asked to obtain additional information; or (3) charges are filed in a document called an Information. It is important to remember that if charges are filed, it is on behalf of the State of Washington and not the crime victim. The prosecutor represents the State of Washington and does not represent victims or witnesses of the crime.
Warrant or Summons
If the decision is made to file charges, the defendant will be notified of the charges by either a summons that is sent via the mail or a warrant will be issued for their arrest. In most cases, a summons is issued. However, if the case involves allegations of violence, a warrant may be issued.
If a suspect is arrested and held in jail, they are entitled to a hearing before a judge within 72 hours of arrest called a first appearance. This appearance determines if the defendant is released or if they have to post a bond. The charges will be read to the defendant, he/she will be advised of his/her rights, and appointed an attorney if needed. No plea will be entered. Unless it is a capital offense, no defendant can be held without bond while pending trial. Other conditions of release, such as no contact with the victim, can be addressed.
Approximately two weeks after the first appearance, the defendant and his/her attorney will be required to appear in court for the arraignment. During the arraignment, the charges will be read again to the defendant, he/she will be informed of his/her rights, and the defendant will enter a not guilty plea. The case will then be set for an omnibus hearing and trial.
Meet & Greet
On some crimes, such as violent crimes, you may be contacted to meet with the deputy prosecutor assigned to your case. This is generally an informational meeting and usually lasts 15-60 minutes.
The defense attorney may wish to interview you. This can happen anytime up until trial. The Victim/Witness Unit will gladly set up an interview for the defense attorney or investigation. You may tell them to contact the prosecutor’s office if they contact you directly.
The omnibus hearing is a status conference for the defense attorney and prosecuting attorney to report on the progress of their case and request further information they need from the other attorney. The trial date, set at the arraignment, may be reset at this time and the case is set for a pretrial conference.
The pretrial conference is generally held approximately two weeks prior to trial. The attorneys report on the progress of their case and if the case is ready for trial or if the case has reached a settlement. The trial date may be reset at this time if additional preparation is needed.
Change of Plea
Many times the parties will reach a resolution in the case prior to trial, this is called a plea bargain. A plea bargain may involve an agreement to a particular sentence, a reduction in the number of charges or a change in the actual charge. If a defendant accepts a plea bargain, there will be no trial, no requirement of the victim or witnesses to testify, no need to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, and no appeal. Instead, the defendant will pled guilty under the terms of the bargain and the case will proceed to sentencing. Sentencing is generally held immediately following a change of plea, however, it can be delayed and held at a later time.
Trials will be heard either before a judge or jury. Subpoenas will be issued to anyone who must testify in trial. If you are issued a subpoena, you are required to appear for court and failure to do so may result in the judge issuing a warrant for your arrest. It is very important to contact the Victim/Witness Unit or the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney assigned to the case prior to the trial date. They will tell you when and where you need to appear. Often time, while trials may start on the time and date of the subpoena, you may not be needed to testify until later in the week. If a trial is continued, the subpoena remains valid and it becomes even more crucial to contact our office to obtain the correct time and date you are required to appear. While trials are open to any interested person, many times witnesses will be barred from coming into the courtroom until they testify. If you are a witness, do not enter the courtroom until you are instructed.
After the evidence is presented at trial, the judge or jury deliberates and reaches a verdict. The verdict may be guilty, not guilty or guilty of a lesser crime. If the jury is unable to reach a verdict, the judge will declare a mistrial and the prosecutor will have to determine if they will re-try the case. If the defendant is found not guilty, the case is over and he/she will be immediately released on that case.
If the defendant changes his/her plea or is found guilty after trial, the case will proceed to sentencing. Sentences are imposed within a standard range based on the crime and the defendant’s prior felony history. While you do not have to appear at sentencing, we highly encourage it. Many victims that attend the sentencing find some measure of closure. In addition, it is important for the judge and defendant to hear how this crime has impact you. You have the right to make or have a statement read at sentencing. Someone from our Victim/Witness Unit would be happy to attend the sentencing with you and to read your statement to the court if necessary.
If the defendant pleads guilty he/she waives his/her right to appeal. If the case proceeds to trial and the defendant is convicted, he/she has a right to appeal any conviction. If successful, the conviction might be overturned or modified. In some cases, the case may have to be retried, resentenced, or the prosecution may be barred from retrying the case completely.
If you have had a financial loss because of the crime, you have a right to request restitution. Restitution can be ordered at sentencing or at a restitution hearing within 180 days from the date of sentencing. Any request must have supporting documents to justify the amount such as estimations for the replacement value of the item lost. Medical bills for injuries from the crime may be covered by Crime Victim’s Compensation. Please contact the Victim/Witness Unit for a further explanation of this program. This program does not cover loss to property.
If you have any questions regarding the criminal justice process or your case in particular, do not hesitate to contact the Victim/Witness Unit. We will be happy to assist you!