How to Handle your First Criminal Charge in Washington


Posted over 5 years ago. Applies to Washington, 7 helpful votes



Gather Information

Before you can do anything in terms of finding representation, or even crafting a defense. You need to know some basic information. You need to know what (exactly) you're charged with. You need to know which court your case will end up in. You need to know when your first appearance is. And if this is a DUI case, you need to know about the possible issues with the Department of Licensing. The great news is that there are tons of resources online that you can access for free to discover a lot of information. The Washington Courts Website, for one ( can answer many basic questions about your case. Make a checklist of what you know, and what you need. Gather your info - and then search for a lawyer!


Find your Legal Representation

Once you have that information you've been searching for - do not try to figure out how to do this yourself. You've been charged with a crime, which means you need someone who knows the system to walk you through it. Search AVVO or other directories for referrals. Ask your friends or family. Start interviewing lawyers. You need to find someone who knows your type of charge, your court, and that you're comfortable with. Most attorneys (myself included) offer FREE consultations. Call around. Ask questions. Take notes. Find the right attorney for you. Ideally you'll be able to retain them before your first appearance. If so, they'll likely give you lots of great information about your court - so you can go to step 4. However, if you're not able to do so, you might have to go it alone at your arraignment. If so - go to step 3.


Going to your First Appearance Alone

Do not be afraid. First of all, know that you have the right to be represented. As such, most courts will have a public defender available to answer basic questions. But if there isn't one, you'll still be okay. Make sure you've dressed appropriately for court (ties for the gentlemen and a nice dress or suit for the ladies). The judge will call your name, advise you of your formal charges and ask you to enter a plea. This will almost always be a plea of "not guilty" - you haven't had an attorney work on your case yet, so most judges won't let you plead guilty. They'll give you a new courtdate and send you on your way. This new courtdate is your "pretrial" hearing. Now you really need to find a lawyer for your case.


Listen to your Lawyer

This is one of the biggest single suggestions I can make for you. When you find that lawyer that you've put your faith and trust in, ask them the questions you have, and listen to their advice. They've been doing this for years and know the court and the system. Let them guide you. Much like at the beginning, the best thing you can arm yourself with is information. The more you know about what's going on in your case, the better you'll feel about it. That being said - don't be afraid to disagree with your lawyer. Ask questions. Have conversations. But be able to LISTEN to him. He's on your side. Your case may or may not end up with the "perfect" results for you - but having that information will go a long way to helping you not only understand the process, but also get the kinds of results you really want.

Additional Resources

Dichter Law Office, PLLC

Rate this guide

Related Topics

Criminal defense

Criminal law establishes the classifications of crimes, how guilt or innocence is determined, and the types of punishment or rehabilitation that may be imposed.

Can't find what you're looking for? Ask a Lawyer

Get free answers from experienced attorneys.


Ask now

28,560 answers this week

3,462 attorneys answering