Criminal charges are usually based in the state criminal codes. In Washington, the Revised Penal Code of Washington, or RPC, is the source of criminal charges in the state of Washington. Criminal charges are divided into three categories of severity. The least severe are infractions. The next, more severe, charges are misdemeanors. Finally, the most severe charges are felonies.
Infractions are very separate and significantly different than misdemeanors and felonies. The rules of civil litigation apply to infraction hearings. That means people charged with infractions do not have the same rights the constitution applies to criminal charges. For example, there is no right to representation provided by the court, no right to jury trial, and the prosecutor has a smaller burden of proof. In criminal cases, the prosecutor must offer evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the criminal charges are true. For infraction charges, the prosecutor only needs to show a preponderance of the evidence supports the charge. In other words, he only needs to show it is more likely than not that the charges are true. Common examples of infractions are traffic tickets, citations for dog bites, and littering.
Misdemeanors and felonies are the more severe criminal charges. The difference between misdemeanors and felonies is the severity of the possible penalty. Misdemeanors are charges that carry a penalty of less than one year in prison and less than $5,000 in fines. Felonies are charges that carry a penalty of jail time more than one year and more than $5,000 in fines. Another difference between the two is that misdemeanors are usually handled in district and municipal courts, while felonies are handled in superior courts. Felonies may also have adverse effects on other rights or requests, such as gun permits, immigration applications, etc.Legal Assistance with Infractions
An infraction lawyer can help you with your infraction in several ways. If the infraction is not supported by sufficient evidence, if there were errors in the reporting process, or if the prosecutor fails to provide the infraction lawyer with all the evidence before the hearing, it is possible to have the ticket dismissed. On the other hand, where the evidence is clear and the prosecutor provides it in a timely matter to the infraction attorney, there is still some things the attorney can do for you.
First, he can negotiate an amendment to the charge with the prosecutor. This is especially useful in traffic ticket cases. Often times, the prosecutor wants to make sure a person pays a fine for breaking the law, but the prosecutor is willing to amend the charge to a non-moving violation so the insurance and driver record of the person is not ruined. Moving violations will increase the premiums of auto-insurance policies. See this Forbes article for the statistics. Moving violations may also make a job application less competitive, as that is a commonly considered factor for many jobs. We have negotiated amendments to many moving violations so our clients driving record remained clean.
Second, an attorney can also negotiate with the prosecutor and persuade the judge to give a lighter penalty. In the case of dog bites, this can mean avoiding harsh restrictions on the owners of the dog. In the case of multiple infractions, it can mean reducing the total fine required. A court essentially has two phases. The first phase is to determine if the citation was committed, the second is to determine the penalty. Even if the evidence is clear that the offense was committed, there is still room to persuade the court to give a lighter penalty.Legal Assistance with Misdemeanors and Felonies
A criminal lawyer can do many things to help you both before and after charges have been filed against you. If you have been arrested, or if the police or another agency investigated you, their report is forwarded to the prosecutor. It is up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not to formally bring charges against you in court. If the police investigation is insufficient, it is possible that the prosecutor will drop the case before charges are ever filed. This period is know as the investigative phase.
During the investigative phase, a criminal attorney can help you show the prosecutor that a case is not worth charging. The attorney can persuade the prosecutor to drop the case. That way, your records remains clean and you can save time and money by never having to go to court. If the prosecutor decides to go forward with the case, it may still be comforting for you to know that you have an attorney who is keeping track of the investigation and who will organize your case and your hearings. Under any circumstances, the earlier a criminal attorney is on the case, the better.
Once charges have been filed, the prosecutor will usually offer a plea deal to the defendant. As in most negotiations, the first plea deal is usually relatively harsh. In order for the prosecutor to improve his offer, you have to show her something to convince her that you deserve a better deal. Things to show her include evidence that you did not commit the offense, legal arguments about why you cannot be held responsible, and personal good character and merit. The prosecutor will take many factors into consideration when she is making a decision about a plea deal. If you want to avoid trial, a good plea deal is an option that a criminal lawyer can help you pursue.
Another option to avoid trial is an agreement for a deferred finding or a stipulated order of continuance (SOC). Under this option, a person is essentially granted a second chance. The court and the prosecutor monitors your behavior for a period of about two years. If you don’t commit another crime during that time, and comply with other requirements like classes, then the prosecutor will agree to have the charges dismissed by the court. This option is typically only offered to first time offenders.
Trial is the next option. Trial is the best option when the previous options are not available, or if you feel like the charges are weak and not supported by evidence. It will be the prosecutor’s burden to prove you committed the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. You will be able to choose whether you want a judge to make the decision or a jury. You have a right to a speedy trial, which basically gives the court 90 days from the date of your arraignment to schedule the trial. If the court is unable to do that, your case will be dismissed.
A trial attorney can help you by keeping track of the speedy trial clock, interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence, and finally presenting a case in your defense. The attorney will also be able to cross examine the State’s witnesses to point out in bad evidence or false accusations. Often times, a case will go to trial but the jury will never get a chance to come to a decision because the prosecutor is unable to get enough evidence into the court. This happens when witnesses do not appear to testify or when evidence becomes excluded based on court rules.Exclusion of Evidence and Pretrial Motions
The court has rules and you have rights. If the police or the prosecutor breaks any rules, it usually means evidence will be excluded from trial. For example, if you get a speeding ticket, you can request that the prosecutor bring the officer to the hearing to explain how he determined you were speeding. If the officer is unable to come, the court will exclude the evidence gathered by the police officer, which usually results in a dismissal.
Similarly, in felony and misdemeanor trials, if the police gathered evidence without a warrant, a criminal trial lawyer can make a motion to have the evidence excluded at trial. Then, if the prosecutor is unable to show evidence sufficient to prove the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, the case will be dismissed during or before trial and the jury will never get a chance to render a verdict.Billing for Criminal Representation
Our firm, and many others, bill for criminal services on a flat fee basis. That means you pay one price and we will be there to take care of everything until the case is over. We are flexible with payment options and we can take monthly payments if you prefer not to pay all at once. The price depends on the complexity and commitment involved in taking the case. Most infractions, like speeding tickets, are billed at a flat fee of $200. Most misdemeanors are billed at a flat fee of $1,000. Most felonies are billed at a flat fee of $2,000.Free Consultations
Consultations on criminal charges are provided free of charge. By offering free criminal consultations, we hope to be able to help all people know what to expect when facing criminal charges.