10.0Scott Weymouth Lawrence
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How criminal cases get files in Washington

In Washington State there are two ways a criminal case gets filed. The first, and by far least common, are cases filed by the arresting officer. In this instance, the officer gives the accused a ticket (like a traffic ticket) with the charges and a mandatory date to appear in court. There are only a few cities in Washington that still do this and only misdemeanor charges are filed this way.

The more prevelant method of initiating cases is "prosecutor filed." When someone has contact with the police, or a crime is reported, the officer decides whether there is enough information to justify forwarding a report to the prosecutor. The bar for what is given to the prosecutor is very low. Mere suspicion is usually enough.

Once the prosecutor receives the reports it goes into a pile to be reviewed. Typically things such as DUI and violent crimes get priority, while property crimes, driving while license suspended, and the like go to the bottom of the pile.

Once the prosecutor reviews the file, he or she decides whether to file charges, what charges should be filed and whether to offer some type of alternative resolution. This is done by filing a document with the court called an information or complaint.This process can take weeks or years. (The statute of limitations, or how long the prosecutor has after an incident to file charges, is one year for a simple misdemeanor, two years for a gross misdemeanor, and three years for most felony charges.)

If a person is actually charged with a crime they are mailed a subpoena requiring them to appear for arraignment. If you have not already retained an attorney, this is the time to do so. It is also important that you keep your address updated with the court. If you don't get notice, and thus don't appear at arraignment, a warrant will be issued.

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