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Seattle Municpal Court Process for a DUI Charge

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Jul 27, 2012 | 0 Comments

Anyone who is arrested for suspicion of DUI or Physical Control by a Seattle Police Officer will have their case filed by the Seattle City Attorney's Office. When released, a person will receive a citation and at the bottom left will be a date and time for their first court appearance. It is very important for a person to have an attorney with them at their first hearing for their DUI case.

The sole purpose of the arraignment is for the person to be advised of the charge and for a plea to be entered. Anyone accused of DUI (whether in Seattle or anywhere else) should always plea "not guilty" at their arraignmennt. Arraignments are held in courtroom 1002 of the Seattle Municipal Court on weekdays and across the street at the King County Jail at 9am on Saturdays. After the not guilty plea is entered, the court will impose conditions of release. In Seattle, standard conditions are law abiding behavior, no consumption of alcohol or non-prescribed drugs, not to drive without a license and insurance and not to refuse a breath or blood test if requested by an officer.

As I have previously written extensively about, the City typically requests bail, an ignition interlock or even house arrest for certain cases. People who have a high-er BAC result, have prior alcohol offense(s) or who were involved in an accident should anticipate the City requesting these conditions. As such, the need for a DUI lawyer to advocate against these conditions is critical. After conditions are set, the case will be set for a pre-trial conference (PTC) roughly 4 weeks later. The case will be assigned to one of 7 different courtrooms at Seattle Municipal Court.

The purpose of the PTC is negotiations between the prosecutor and defense attorney. These take place in a room outside the courtroom and the accused does not participate in them. One of three things could happen at a PTC. First, a resolution could be reached and a plea could be entered before the judge. After the court accepts the plea, the person would be sentenced. Second, the PTC could be continue to another PTC rougly 4 weeks out for one of several reasons (discovery issues, interviewing of witnesses or further negotations between the parties). It is very common for a Seattle DUI case to have two or three PTC's.

If after discovery is completed and negotiations are stalled, the defense attorney would set the case for motions and trial. The attorney would fill out a pre-trial order and by local court rule (SMCLR 8.2.1(a)(1)) would need to file an affidavit supporting the motions (See SMC Court Rules). Dates would be selected for a motion hearing, readiness hearing (aka RH) and trial. At this point, the DUI case would be assigned to a certain prosecutor who would become the "trial attorney" and handle the case through duration. They would also handle all further negotiations between the parties.

Motions occur typically on Thursday or Friday afternoons. The City would subpoena the arresting officer and other witnesses to the hearing. After witnesses have testified and been examined by both the prosecutor and the defense attorney, the parties would then present legal argument. The judge would then rule on the defense motions and the admissibility of evidence.

The readiness hearing is always held on Friday mornings at 8:30 am in courtroom 1002. If the accused has been at all previous court appearances, then he or she is not required to attend the hearing. The defense attorney and prosecutor will have one last round of negotiations and if they are unable to reach a resolution, will advise the court as to whether the case is to proceed to trial the following week.

The final step of a Seattle DUI case is a trial, which is a jury trial of 6 people unless the accused elects to have it before a judge. A Seattle DUI trial will last anywhere from 1 to 3 days and at the conclusion, the jury will deliberate. In order to convict a person of a Seattle DUI charge, there needs to be a unanimous verdict. If a person is found guilty, he or she will then be sentenced by the judge. In 2011, of the 1667 DUI and Physical Control Charges filed in Seattle Municpal Court, only 117 proceeded to trial (34 jury, 83 bench). For more 2011 Seattle Municpal Court DUI and Physical Control statistics, click here.

It is important for anyone facing a Seattle DUI case to immediately consult with an experienced attorney who regularly appear in Seattle Municipal Court. Both myself and Christopher Kattenhorn appear frequently in that court and offer a free initial consultation. We can be reached directly 7 days a week at 425-284-2000.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 16 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.

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