What to Expect if you are Facing a DUI Charge in Seattle Municipal Court
If you have been arrested and processed by a Seattle Police officer for a DUI, the case will likely be filed into the Seattle Municipal Court in downtown Seattle. If you were arrested in Seattle by a King County Sheriff's Deputy, you case will be heard in one of the King County District Courts. For cases filed in Seattle Municipal court, the attorneys prosecuting your case will be from the City of Seattle Attorney's Office, Criminal Division.
Seattle Police use various city precinct stations to breath test DUI suspects – or Harborview Medical Center in the case of blood testing. If you are booked into the King County Jail, you will appear before a judge on the next court day. Arrestees booked on a Friday night, over the weekend or the day before or day of a legal holiday must wait until the court reopens to appear unless they are booked in time to be heard on the weekend jail calendar.
What happens after a DUI arrest is made by the Seattle Police?
If you were arrested for a DUI by the Seattle Police, then you will be given notice of a court date by the arresting officer. This is unlike many jurisdictions where the Court will mail you a letter a month or two after the arrest notifying you of a court date. The Seattle Municipal Court files DUI cases very quickly and it is not uncommon for a DUI arraignment to occur one or two days after a DUI arrest. Typically, the arraignments are scheduled Tuesday – Thursday, and then again on Saturday mornings.
Because these DUI cases get filed so quickly it is important to hire a Seattle DUI Attorney right away, so they can appear with you at the arraignment and be prepared to argue for your release if the Prosecutor is asking for bail and/or ignition interlock requirements.
Seattle Municipal Court DUI Procedure
Seattle Municipal Court differentiates itself from most other Washington courts of limited jurisdiction in both the speed with which a DUI defendant is arraigned and the potential severity of pre-trial conditions that are imposed at arraignment.
First Court Appearance - In most cases, the first court appearance for a DUI is called an arraignment or first appearance. In Seattle Municipal Court these hearings usually occur within 72 hours of the Seattle DUI arrest. Most often they are held in the Seattle Justice Center, 600 Fifth Avenue, Seattle on the third floor. However, DUI first appearances are sometimes (particularly on the weekends) held at the King County Jail, 516 3rd Avenue, Seattle. There is a courtroom on the 1st floor of the jail. These two buildings are located on the east side of 5th Avenue and are separated by James Street.
At your first appearance if the prosecutor has decided to file charges, you will be arraigned and then assigned a pretrial hearing date (next court date) about a month later. The judge will most likely will also impose DUI conditions of release.
Arraignment. Arraignments for most DUI charges in this court will occur within the first 48-72 hours. The plea you enter at the arraignment should always be “Not Guilty” regardless of the facts and circumstances of your case. The court will also set conditions of release at this hearing. Deputy Seattle City Attorneys (prosecutors) often ask the judge to impose strict conditions such as bail or an Ignition Interlock Device. An experienced Seattle DUI defense attorney can usually effectively resist these conditions, especially on first-time offenses.
Conditions of Release for DUI Cases - In many courts, such as King County District Court, if there are no aggravating circumstances or prior DUI convictions, most prosecutors will ask the judge to impose "standard DUI conditions" such a no driving without license and insurance, commit no criminal law violations, and do not refuse a breath test.
By contrast, in Seattle Municipal Court the Seattle DUI prosecutors routinely request that as condition of release people accused of a Seattle DUI post bail, not drive without an ignition interlock on their vehicle, and in some situations, have an alcohol detection device installed in their home and be on house arrest. It is not uncommon for Seattle Municipal Court judges to impose some of these restrictions, even on first offense DUIs.
It may also be important to have bail money available and a bail bondsman be at the ready. Pewitt Law has preferred bail bond agents that do an excellent job for our clients. The good news is that many bail bond companies are at the first appearance ready to help you if the court imposes bail - however, it is best to be prepared in advance.
Because the imposition of bail and conditions such as installation of ignition interlock, SCRAM bracelets and/or pretrial home detention are common, those arrested for DUI in Seattle should be consulting with a Seattle DUI Lawyer as soon as possible. Attorneys who practice DUI defense in Seattle Municipal Court know that it is essential to anticipate what types of conditions of release the Seattle City Attorney may seek and be prepared to address the court's concerns. Anticipating and addressing the court's likely concerns often can be the difference between imposition of large bail and/or home detention and a release on your personal recognizance (or your promise to appear).
DUI Pretrial Hearings (PTR). Another way DUIs in Seattle Municipal Court differ from other jurisdictions is that cases are pre-assigned to individual judges from the outset. Specific city attorneys are assigned to discuss and/or negotiate the cases depending on the first letter of the last name of the defendant. Knowing this information ahead of time can help both the client and attorney prepare and strategize accordingly. In Seattle Municipal Court a pre-trial hearing is usually held within a month of your first court appearance. Typically, your pretrial hearing will be held in 1 of 4 courtrooms in the Seattle Municipal Court. You will most likely be in the same courtroom throughout the entire DUI process.
At the pretrial hearing, your Seattle DUI attorney will negotiate with the prosecutor. DUI negotiations can mean anything from a reduction in the charge, to a dismissal, to the prosecutor saying that no offer will be made. DUI reductions are typically made because of both evidential problems (i.e. the prosecutor may have a tough time proving the case) and equitable reasons (person with no criminal history and a low breath test). Most cases have several PTR's before they are resolved or set for trial. Pre-trial hearings generally occur 4-5 weeks apart. If a good offer is presented by the Deputy Seattle City Attorney (prosecutor), the case can be disposed of by a plea deal (plea bargain) at a PTR. During this process, your defense attorney will be investigating your case and obtaining police reports, medical records, interviews from witnesses, victims, experts and law enforcement as well as any other evidence related to your case.
It is not uncommon for there to be more than one Seattle DUI pretrial hearing. This occurs when the attorney asks for a continuance of the hearing. For a continuance to occur, you (the defendant) must waive your right to a trial within 90 days of your first court appearance. If the case is not resolved after a few pre-trial hearings, the court will often pressure the parties to conclude the case with a plea deal or go to trial. If your case is not resolved at the pretrial, then it can be set on for a jury trial. Often there is a pre-trial motion hearing before the DUI trial.
Pretrial Motions DUI substantive legal motions in Seattle Municipal Court are set at the pretrial hearing stage. Though individual judges in this court sometimes differ on their preferences for when these motions are heard, most DUI motions can be set prior to the day of trial. There are numerous pretrial motions that can have a significant impact on your defense – or even result in the dismissal of your case. A few common ones include motions to challenge probable cause (PC) for the stop or arrest, to challenge admissibility of statements made by the police, witnesses or defendant, motions to compel or limit discovery and motions to dismissed based on insufficient evidence. Pretrial motions require extensive legal briefing and strategic planning to be successful.
Readiness Hearings: In Seattle Municipal Court, like most other courts in Washington, when a case is set for trial, the defendant is provided with both a trial date and a readiness date. The readiness date is normally set 4-12 days prior to the actual trial date. At the readiness hearing, parties will either confirm the pre-set trial date, resolve the case by way of an agreed disposition, continue the trial date for a variety of reasons, or set a new date for disposition of some other motion. In Seattle Municipal Court, if a defendant has not missed a previous court date during the pendency of the matter, his or her presence at the readiness can be and usually is waived.
DUI Trial in Seattle: You may choose to go to trial in the event the prosecution has not offered an agreeable plea deal, or if a conviction would be unacceptable or especially damaging to your career or personal life. Your Seattle DUI case will be set for trial for a specific date. You will need to show up on this date. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for several cases to be set for trial all on the same day. This means that you may end up waiting hours, or potentially even a day or more for your case to goes to trial. Once you start your Seattle DUI trial, if there is a breath or blood test in your case and if motions have not been heard, it is not uncommon for these trials to take 2-3 days once you begin. If there is no breath or blood test in your Seattle DUI and limited motions, then trial will typically take 1-2 days. You will need to be present for the entirety of the trial.
Jury trials typically proceed in the following order:
- Legal motion
- Jury selection or "voir dire"
- Opening Statements
- Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
- Closing Arguments
- Jury Instruction
- Jury Deliberation and Verdict
The Seattle Municipal Court handles misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, infractions and civil violations. It enforces the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC), which is similar or in some sections identical to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The Seattle Municipal Court is a limited jurisdiction court hearing all violations of the Seattle Municipal Code in the City of Seattle limits including traffic infractions and both misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor violations of the law. Which includes DUI and most DUI related offenses. There are three courts in Seattle; a Municipal court, District court and Superior court. The King County Jail system currently serves all three of these courts. The Municipal Court is the largest limited jurisdiction courthouse in all of Washington State.
Coming to Court: Seattle Municipal Court handles more DUI related cases than any other court in the State. When coming to court, allow extra time to navigate traffic congestion and to find parking. The courthouse is located at 600 5th Ave., Seattle, WA 98104. The courthouse is on the corner of 5th and James, directly across the street from the King County Jail. All criminal matters are held on the 9th, 10th or 11th floors. Occasionally arraignments are handled on the 3rd floor or in the jail court located across the street on the SE corner of 5th and James.
The Municipal Court of Seattle is the largest Limited Jurisdiction Court in the State of Washington with seven elected Judges and six appointed Magistrates. The Court adjudicates all misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes, infractions, and civil violations authorized under the Seattle Municipal Code and certain Revised Code of Washington Statutes
Misdemeanors are crimes where the maximum sentence is 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine. Gross misdemeanors are such crimes that carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, including offenses such as driving under the influence, domestic violence, theft, and trespass. Infractions are acts which are prohibited by law but are not legally defined as a crime; such as parking citations and traffic or non-traffic infractions. Civil offenses are heard by the Court when the City of Seattle seeks enforcement of its fire code, housing, and City ordinance violations. The current judicial assignments for Seattle Municipal Court are:
Judge Adam Eisenberg Court 902
Judge Damon Shadid Court 903
Judge C. Kimi Kondo Court 1001
Judge Anita Crawford-Willis Court 1002
Judge Karen Donahue Court 1003 Current Presiding Judge
Judge Willie Gregory Court 1101
Judge Ed McKenna Court 1103
If you have questions about your Seattle Municipal Court DUI charges or need help with your case, please contact Pewitt Law, PLLC. Sheri Pewitt, is a Seattle Washington criminal defense attorney with an emphasis in DUI and criminal traffic law.