If you have been charged with an alleged criminal offense in Washington, it can be a terrifying and overwhelming experience. You may have to deal with questions from police, some time in jail, and conditions of release set by the court. It is important to remember that you have rights, and that the courts, police, and prosecutors have to follow rules established by the U.S. Constitution and state law. A Washington criminal defense attorney with knowledge of Washington law, court procedures, and court personnel can guide you through the process and create a strategy to fight the state’s accusations.

What should I do if I’m arrested?

You have the right to remain silent. You are not obligated to say a word to police or prosecutors. They are not your friends, no matter what they may tell you. They may be trying to get you to admit to something, and you do not have to oblige them. You also have the right to consult with an attorney, and if you ask for one, they have to give you that opportunity. Call a criminal defense attorney right away.

A police officer pulled me over for not signaling, but then arrested me for drugs in my car. Can they do that?

It depends on the circumstances, but a police officer generally cannot search your vehicle without probable cause to suspect the presence of contraband or other evidence. If the drugs were in the officer’s plain view, such as in the passenger seat or on the dashboard, the officer has the right to seize them. If they were out of sight, such as in the trunk, the officer cannot search the car without probable cause or a warrant, and you may be able to have the evidence thrown out of court.

If my spouse and I get in a fight, and the police get called, can I be arrested for domestic violence?

Police take allegations of domestic violence very seriously, and they may arrest someone based on a report made during a domestic disturbance call. This is not the same as being charged with domestic violence, which requires a prosecutor’s decision to pursue a criminal case. Some domestic violence arrests are the result of a misunderstanding, or even a false report. A criminal defense attorney can review police reports and evidence and advise you of how best to protect your rights.

What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

A felony is a serious crime, such as murder, assault, rape, or large-scale theft. Felony convictions can lead to state prison and a substantial fine. Misdemeanors are less-serious offenses, such as most DUI cases, minor theft, simple assault, and prostitution. The harshest misdemeanor convictions can lead to up to one year in county jail and a fine.

What happens to me if I am convicted of an offense?

Judges make a decision on sentencing after a conviction. The sentence may include jail or prison time, a fine, and an order to pay restitution to a victim. A judge may grant probation, meaning that a jail or prison sentence is put off for a specified period of time, unless the defendant violates the terms set by the court. A conviction also results in a criminal record, which you may have to disclose on job and lease applications. Some sex-related offenses result in mandatory registration as a sex offender. Registration is not always permanent, however, and a person may request removal from the registry under certain circumstances.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Lakewood, Bellevue or elsewhere in Washington, seek the assistance of a Washington criminal defense lawyer with experience navigating the state’s legal system. For more than 20 years, we have protected the rights of defendants in criminal cases throughout western Washington. Contact us today for your confidential case evaluation, or call (888) 212-4824.