Last updated on July 10th, 2024 at 06:40 pm

If you have been accused of a crime, you are likely feeling a lot of stress. You may be unsure what to expect, ashamed or frightened about being in this situation, or worried about accidentally incriminating yourself. Now is a great time to read up on the rights of the accused and talk to a criminal defense lawyer.

Below, we discuss what to do after you are accused of a crime, your legal rights, and how a lawyer can help you take your next steps.

Immediate Actions to Take After Being Accused

When you are accused of a crime, we recommend the following actions:

  1. Ask for a lawyer immediately. 
  2. State that you are exercising your right to remain silent and that you won’t answer any questions without a lawyer present.

If you have been arrested, you have the right to make up to three phone calls in Washington State (five if you are the custodial parent of a minor child). These calls are free if they’re local, but if they’re long-distance, you or the person you call will have to pay for them. Keep in mind that the police may record phone calls made from jail.

Your Legal Rights After Being Accused of a Crime

In the U.S., legal rights for accused criminals are protected by the constitution, as well as numerous state-specific laws and past court decisions. Here are some of your most important criminal defense rights.

The Right to Remain Silent

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to avoid self-incrimination in a criminal case. In other words, you can refuse to answer questions, make statements, or testify at a trial. This right applies any time you are in custody and being interrogated by the police, as well as anytime you are in a courtroom.

If you are a witness in a trial, you can “plead the Fifth” to avoid answering a question that may be self-incriminatory. Similarly, if the police start to interrogate you after you are in their custody, you can invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. However, if you choose to voluntarily speak to the police or waive your rights, anything you say could potentially be used against you in court.

You should always clearly state that you are exercising your right to remain silent. Yes, you read that right — to stay silent, you need to speak up! Otherwise, prosecutors could comment on your silence in court and claim that your reaction suggests you are guilty. 

To avoid your silence being used against you, you must explicitly say something like, “I invoke my privilege against self-incrimination” or “I want to invoke my right to remain silent.”

The Right to Legal Representation

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to legal counsel. You are far more likely to gain a good outcome with a lawyer’s help, so most people choose to exercise this right.

The right to legal representation applies during criminal prosecutions throughout the U.S. In Washington State, it also applies during police interrogations and juvenile proceedings, among other situations. 

If you want legal representation but can’t afford a lawyer, the state must provide one for you. 

The Right to a Fair Trial

Your right to a fair, speedy trial is also guaranteed through the Sixth Amendment. This right includes:

  • The presumption of innocence until and unless you have been proven guilty.
  • The right to know who has accused you of a crime and what the charges are. 
  • The right to know what the evidence against you is.
  • An impartial jury during your criminal trial.
  • The right to have witnesses appear in the trial.
  • The right to confront witnesses against you during the trial.
  • The right to have legal representation, as defined above.
  • A prohibition against the state unnecessarily delaying the trial.

Navigating the Legal Process

Everyone who has been accused of a crime goes through a legal process. This process includes five main steps in court unless you can resolve your case earlier.

1. Arraignment 

Arraignment is typically your first court appearance after you are accused of a crime. During this step, you will appear before a judge and receive formal notice of any charges filed against you, as well as notice of future court hearings such as a pre-trial hearing. You will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. 

You should nearly always enter a plea of not guilty, even if you want to take responsibility for the situation. There is no penalty for entering a plea of not guilty at the arraignment stage, and you can change your plea later. In the U.S., your plea at arraignment is viewed as a legal step, not an attempt to avoid responsibility.

During this stage, the judge can impose conditions that you must abide by while the case is pending. They can also require you to post bail to remain out of jail while the case is pending. You and your attorney can object to the expected conditions of release and bail.

2. Pre-trial Hearing

A pre-trial hearing helps to resolve issues that may arise while your case is pending, such as access to evidence, witness interviews, and other investigation challenges. You can ask for your case to be “continued” to gain more time to fully investigate and negotiate your case. The court may also modify your conditions of release at this stage.

The pre-trial hearing is often a good time to negotiate with the prosecutor. You may be able to negotiate a settlement or disposition and avoid proceeding to trial. 

If the case is going to proceed to trial, the court will schedule a trial date. They will also schedule motion hearings if necessary, as we discuss below.

3. Motion Hearings

Legal motions are formal requests for a ruling, judgment, or order from the court. There are many types of legal motions your lawyer may recommend filing, such as these:

  • Motion to dismiss the case for an unconstitutional delay in filing charges.
  • Motion to dismiss for failure of the government to preserve evidence.
  • Motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence of a crime. 
  • Motion to suppress evidence for violation of the 4th amendment (in other words, because the evidence was gathered during an invalid search).
  • Motion to suppress evidence of invocation of the right to remain silent.

A lawyer can advise you about whether it makes sense to file a motion and which motions you should file.

4. Readiness Hearings

During readiness hearings, you and the prosecution inform the court of your “readiness” for trial. These hearings can include omnibus or jury calls. If there is some reason why your case is not ready to proceed to trial as scheduled, such as unavailable witnesses or additional evidence discovered, your case can be continued.

Some cases are resolved during readiness hearings. You may be able to negotiate a disposition and sentencing if appropriate.

5. Trial

If your case proceeds to trial, the prosecutor must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury or judge will hear the evidence, be instructed in the relevant laws, and then decide whether you have been proven guilty or not guilty.

You can choose between two types of trial: a jury trial or a bench trial. During a jury trial, six or twelve randomly selected people from your community decide whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime. The jury must make a unanimous decision to reach a verdict. During a bench trial, the judge is the lone decision maker. 

The Role of a Criminal Defense Lawyer

A criminal defense lawyer is responsible for protecting the rights of the accused. Their role includes all of the following: 

Guiding you through the legal process. A good criminal defense lawyer can explain your criminal defense rights and tell you what to expect during every phase of your case. During arraignment, they can tell you whether it’s likely for the court to set bail and help you prepare to post bail quickly. They can also help you negotiate your conditions of release and determine which motions to file.

Investigating and gathering evidence. A lawyer can analyze evidence, review police reports, interview witnesses, and consult experts to help you build a strong defense.

Negotiating a settlement. If you are hoping to avoid the time and expense of a trial, your criminal defense lawyer can help you negotiate the best possible settlement. 

Representing you in court. If you do reach the trial stage, your lawyer can represent you in court. They will present your side of the case as well as possible to the judge or jury.

Expunging your record. In certain situations, such as cases where you are found not guilty, a criminal defense lawyer can help you expunge your record after two or three years. Expungement deletes your criminal record, restoring you to the status you had before the offense.

Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Western Washington?

The Anderson Hunter Law Firm helps individuals accused of crimes in Snohomish, King, Skagit, Whatcom, and Pierce Counties. We also represent individuals in the Tulalip and Muckleshoot Tribal Courts. Our criminal defense lawyers can help with:

  • Misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor charges, including DUI charges.
  • Felony charges.
  • Pre-charging investigations.
  • Expunging, vacating, or sealing your record.

We take cases on a flat fee basis to ensure you receive proper legal representation throughout the criminal defense process. Our law firm offers affordable fees with payment plans if needed.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation with a lawyer for your criminal defense case.

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