A criminal conviction can be devastating, but it is not the end of the world. One of the stated purposes of Washington’s criminal justice system is the rehabilitation of convicted offenders, and those who understand the post-conviction system have a chance of rebuilding their lives. Once a conviction is entered, a defendant can continue to fight for their rights during the sentencing process and once they re-enter regular life. The assistance of a skilled Washington criminal defense attorney who knows the state criminal system is invaluable in dealing with the challenges of post-conviction life.
Criminal trials may take place before a judge or a jury, but after a conviction against the defendant, the judge has the authority to determine the sentence.
At the sentencing hearing, the judge must consider both factors that might merit imposing a harsh sentence, and mitigating factors that justify leniency. A defendant may present evidence, including witness testimony, regarding issues like good character in support of a minimal sentence. Sentences can range from prison or jail time to community service or probation.
A judge has the authority to pronounce a sentence of jail or prison time, but then to probate that sentence for a period of time. For example, a judge may impose a six-month jail sentence probated for one year. If the defendant stays out of further trouble during the probation period, the sentence is considered completed. If the defendant has another arrest or criminal charge fails to comply with court-ordered services, or fails to maintain contact with their probation officer, the state may ask the court to revoke probation. If this happens, the defendant must serve the full jail or prison term.
A defendant may obtain early release from jail or prison through the parole system. While this gets the defendant out of jail, it may impose significant restrictions on their liberty. A parolee must maintain contact with a parole officer who, much like a probation officer, monitors progress with any court-ordered services and supervises matters such as drug testing or a job search. Significant criminal problems or failure to follow a parole officer’s instructions can lead to parole revocation and a return to jail.
Not every individual convicted of a crime in Washington goes to jail, or deals with probation or parole, but most must deal with having a criminal record. Depending on the type of offense and conviction, state and federal law may severely restrict a person’s liberties. Federal law prohibits people with felony convictions from owning firearms, with a broad definition of “felony.” Individuals with convictions for certain sex offenses must register as sex offenders, must make some of their personal information available to the public, and may have restrictions on where they may live. Convictions for DUI-related offenses can lead to driver’s license suspensions and driving restrictions.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Seattle, Tacoma or elsewhere in Washington, an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney can help protect and defend your rights. A vigorous defense against the state’s prosecution can minimize its impact on your life through reduced charges, lesser penalties, and even outright dismissals or acquittals. 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.