Whether the case is civil or criminal, or tried by a judge or jury in a superior, district, or municipal court, the procedure is essentially the same. There may be some differences from court to court, however.
Jurors are randomly selected from voter registration lists, and lists of those who are valid driver’s license or “identicard” holders. In superior courts, 12 persons are seated on a jury. In district courts, the jury consists of six or fewer people.
In district, municipal and superior courts, jury selection is handled in the same manner. Selection, or voir dire, consists of questions asked of juror candidates by the judge and attorneys to determine if they have any biases that would prevent them from hearing the case. Questions can be general (directed at the whole panel) or specific (directed at specific candidates).
If an answer indicates a prospective juror may not be qualified, that individual may be challenged for cause by a party, through his or her attorney. It is up to the judge to decide whether the individual should be disqualified.
After questions have been asked, peremptory challenges--those for which no reason need be given--may be exercised by an attorney and the prospective juror will be excused. Just how many challenges may be exercised depends on the type of case being tried. How they are exercised (orally or in writing) depends upon local procedure. After all challenges have been completed, the judge will announce which persons have been chosen to serve on the case. Those not chosen are excused.
After the judge or clerk administers the oath to the jurors, the case begins. Because the plaintiff always has the burden of proof, his or her attorney makes the first opening statement.
An opening statement is an outline of the facts a party expects to establish during the trial. The plaintiff opens first, then the defendant. The defendant can choose to delay making an opening statement until after the plaintiff rests or presents his or her evidence.
Evidence is testimony and exhibits presented by each side that is admitted by the judge. The plaintiff presents evidence by direct examination of each witness, who are then subject to cross examination by the defendant. After plaintiff rests, the defendant presents witnesses who may be cross examined by the plaintiff’s attorney.
After the defendant rests, the plaintiff may present rebuttal evidence. Following that, the evidentiary phase of the trial is over.
The judge then instructs the jury on how the law must be applied to that case. Jurors may be given written copies of the instructions.
Following the judge’s instructions, attorneys for each party make closing arguments. As with opening statements, the plaintiff goes first. After the defendant presents closing arguments, the plaintiff is allowed time for rebuttal.
After closing arguments, the bailiff or other court-designated person escorts the jury to the jury room to begin deliberations. While deliberating, jurors are not allowed to have contact with anyone, except as designated by the court.
In Washington, superior court judges make sentencing decisions under a determinate sentencing system.
Under the determinate sentencing system, offenders convicted of felony crimes are sentenced according to a uniform set of guidelines. The guidelines structure, but do not eliminate, a sentencing judge's discretion. The purpose of the system is to assure that those sentenced for similar crimes, and who have comparable criminal backgrounds, receive similar treatment.
The guidelines are based on...
....seriousness of the offender’s crime(s)
....the offender's criminal history
A judge can depart from these guidelines but only if compelling circumstances exist. Only sentences imposed outside of the guidelines can be appealed.
All convictions, adult or juvenile, include mandatory penalty assessments, which are deposited in the state's victim compensation fund. A judge may also order the offender to make restitution to victims for damages, loss of property and for actual expenses for treatment of injuries or lost wages.
Those convicted of misdemeanors may be given probation and/or time in a local jail. Violating the terms of probation can result in a longer jail term.
Crime Victims and Witnesses
State law "ensure(s) that all victims and witnesses of crime are treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, and sensitivity; and that rights extended (to them) are honored and protected...in a manner no less vigorous than the protection afforded criminal defendants."
The law lists nine rights of crime victims and witnesses, and in some cases, their families. These include the right to be told about the outcome of a case in which they were involved, and to be notified in advance if a court proceeding at which they were to appear has been canceled.
If threatened with harm, victims and witnesses have the right to protection. They also have the right to prompt medical attention if injured during the commission of a crime. While waiting to testify, they must be provided with a waiting area away from the defendant and the defendant's family and friends.
Stolen property is to be returned quickly. Criminal justice system personnel are expected to help victims and witnesses work out employment-related problems that might arise during the periods of time they are involved in the trial.
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