What Happens Next If I am Charged With a Felony?

If the authorities are considering filing felony charges against you, you may be aware of the investigation before any charges are filed. If you are a suspect in an investigation, it may be helpful to hire an attorney to assert your rights, protect you from interrogations and searches, communicate with law enforcement to obtain as much information about the pending investigation as possible, and to do independent investigation early on to get a jump start on your case.   In some cases early advocacy can persuade the prosecution to refrain from filing charges against you.

Under Washington law, the authorities can take their time—three years or more —from the date of the commission of a felony offense to the time they formally accuse a defendant. In practice, whether the authorities “rush file” a case or take their time to gather more evidence depends on the seriousness of the charge and the confidence the prosecution has in the evidence.

If you are arrested for a felony offense, the police must bring you before a judge within 48 hours to establish that there is “probable cause” for your detention and for the judge to address bail and conditions of release. (Superior Court Criminal Rule 3.2.1) If the judge finds probable cause and sets bail that results in your detention, you can be held for up to a total of 72 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) from the time you were first detained, pending the prosecutor’s decision on whether to file charges against you.  If you are released, the prosecution has 72 hours to file charges from the time conditions of release are set, or you are automatically released from those conditions. If charges are filed, your arraignment in Superior Court must happen within 14 days from the time charges are filed. (Criminal Rule 4.1)

If charges are not filed after the 72 hour period following your arrest, you will be released, but the State still reserves the right to file charges later, as long as they file charges within the statute of limitations. The State will often delay filing in less serious charges such as property offenses, drug offenses, and other nonviolent offenses. Even if charges are not immediately filed against you, you may want to hire an attorney to lessen the chances you will be charged in the future and to be ready to defend you if you are charged.

At your arraignment you will be formally notified of the charges against you and, if you are still detained or subject to conditions of release that you wish to change, you will have the opportunity to have the court address your bail amount and conditions of release.

In King County Superior Court, at the time you are arraigned a case scheduling (also called “case setting”) date will be set within two weeks of your arraignment unless you elect to have it set for a later date. [1] From here on your case will move along one of two tracks. If you are actively negotiating your case and you are willing to delay your trial date in order to work out a plea agreement, you will remain on the case scheduling calendar, with court dates every several weeks, for as long as both parties are willing to delay the case and the court permits the delays. If you do not want to negotiate a plea agreement, or if you reach an impasse in negotiations, you may set your case for trial. At that point your trial date will be set within 60 days of your most recent court date if you are in custody, or 90 days from your most recent court date if you are out of custody (if you set your trial at the first case scheduling date your trial date will be set within 60/90 days of your arraignment).   At that time you will also be given the date for your “omnibus hearing,” a trial readiness hearing that happens on a Friday morning near your trial date. At that time your trial may be continued if you and your attorney need more time to prepare your case, or your attorney and the prosecutor may notify the court that you are ready to proceed to trial.

If you proceed to trial your trial may or may not start on its assigned date. Your trial may be delayed if the assigned prosecutor is in another trial or if there are no judges available at the moment. You may also be competing for a courtroom with other cases on “standby,” with priority being given to defendants who are in-custody or whose cases have been pending the longest. It is not unusual for a trial to be delayed days or weeks from its scheduled trial date.

Typically you will not know who your trial judge will be until your case is assigned to a courtroom. By rule your lawyer can use one “affidavit of prejudice” to disqualify a judge if he or she feels, in consultation with you, that you would be better off being assigned to another judge. This affidavit must be used judiciously, however, because the lawyer can’t choose who the succeeding judge will be.

Trial begins with arguments over pretrial motions, hearings on the admission of statements and evidence (where applicable), followed by jury selection, opening statements, presentation of evidence, closing arguments, and jury deliberations. In King County Superior Court almost all substantive motions are heard at the time the case is assigned for trial, while in other counties you may be able to argue motions to suppress evidence and other substantive motions in advance of trial.


[1] In most other counties no case scheduling calendar exists and you are assigned a trial date at your arraignment.