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. Skagit
County Prosecutors Office does not investigate crimes and crimes that
are not referred to our office by law enforcement will not be reviewed for
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 death penalty offense, a defendant must
have a bail amount set while pending trial. Other conditions of release,
such as no contact with the victim, can be addressed.
Within 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, in almost
all instances, 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 prosecutors office if they contact you directly. If you wish
a prosecutor and/or victim witness advocate will be present.
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. If there are other
legal motions that need deciding by the judge a date may be set. These
are generally short hearings lasting less then five minutes. The defendant
may or may not be present.
The confirmation hearing is generally held Thursdays at 1:30 p.m.
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 for a variety of reasons.
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. If you are nervous about testifying a victim/witness advocate
may accompany you in the courtroom.
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 defendants 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 impacted 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 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 Victims 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.
Victim / Witness
Jame Witzel (DV & Juvenile)
Sofia Cavanaugh (District Court)
(360) 416-1600 phone