Trial Process

How does a case move through the system?

  1. Once a crime is reported, the police investigate the matter. If the matter involves the commission of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, the police may refer the matter to the Seattle City Attorney's Office. Felony matters are referred to the King County Prosecutor's Office.
  2. A defendant who is in-custody will be seen on the next available jail calendar in Seattle Municipal Court. An out-of-custody defendant will generally be issued a summons to appear in court on a future date.
  3. The City Attorney's Office reviews the matter and decides what, if any, charges should be filed. During this period, the assistant paralegals and volunteers contact victims and witnesses to confirm their statements, ascertain their willingness to pursue the case,  find information regarding the impact of the offense and determine if any restitution or bail conditions should be sought. Victims may also fill out a victim impact statement and return it to the City Attorney's Office.
  4. Once the charges are filed, the defendant is arraigned. At arraignment, the charges are read and the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty. In some cases, a No-Contact Order/Anti-Harassment Order will be issued to prohibit the defendant from contacting the victim and witnesses.
  5. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will set a pre-trial date. This usually occurs a few weeks after arraignment. At the pre-trial hearing, the judge will either accept a plea or set the case for trial.
  6. The court sets the trial date, and witnesses and victims may be asked to appear and testify. They will receive a subpoena telling them when to appear and may be contacted by someone from the City Attorney's Office and/or the defense attorney's office for an interview before the trial.
  7. Anyone contacting a victim or witness is obligated to identify which agency he or she represents.
  8. It is important to appear when and where you are directed to in a subpoena because it is a court order, and the case may be dismissed or delayed if you fail to appear.
  9. Either a judge or a six-member jury will hear the trial. If the defendant is found guilty, sentencing will either occur right after the guilty finding or at a later hearing. At sentencing, restitution can be ordered or it can be determined at a later hearing. Even if the victim is not present, the City Attorney may present the judge with their victim impact statement if they have submitted one.
  10. If the defendant fails to appear at any point, a bench warrant may be issued and the next hearing date canceled until the defendant is rearrested. Continuances and other delays may also occur during any case.