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Seattle / Tacoma Juvenile Court Overview

Juvenile courts in Washington operate differently than adult courts. It is important to have an experienced Seattle / Tacoma juvenile criminal defense attorney in order to ensure that your child is represented competently.

Juvenile Arrest

Law enforcement may arrest a juvenile if they have probable cause that a criminal offense was committed in the Seattle / Tacoma / Olympia area. Following arrest, and depending on the nature of the charges, the juvenile may be booked into jail or released to a guardian.

Probable Cause

If a juvenile is taken into custody, a judge must determine whether there is probable cause within 48 hours. If probable cause is found, the juvenile may be released to a guardian or the juvenile may be kept in custody. If the juvenile is kept in custody, the prosecutor has 72 hours (business days) to file charges. Otherwise, charges may be filed later in the future, in which case the juvenile would get a summons in the mail.

Arraignment

The arraignment is usually the first court appearance. The juvenile will be informed of the charges he or she is facing. Generally, the juvenile will plead not guilty and a future court date will be set to allow the attorney to investigate and review the case. At the arraignment, it is possible for the juvenile to be taken into custody, or to be released with certain conditions (such as a requirement to remain at home, not miss any school, and submit to UAs etc.).  Factors considered by the judge include the nature of the charges, criminal history, family situation, and warrant history. If the juvenile is kept in custody, the attorney can request that a detention review hearing be set in the near future. At that hearing, the juvenile’s attorney can present information to the court in order to persuade the judge to release the juvenile from custody.

Seattle / Tacoma Pretrial hearing

The pretrial hearing is an opportunity for the juvenile’s criminal attorney to negotiate with the prosecutor. If a satisfactory resolution is reached, the court will set a disposition hearing for a later date. If a resolution cannot be reached, the attorneys may continue the case to continue negotiating, or the case may be set for trial.

Disposition hearing

If the defense attorney and prosecutor reach an agreeable resolution, it will formally be entered into at this hearing. Examples of possible resolutions include a reduction of the charge, dismissal of the charge or deferral of the charge.

Trial

If a resolution could not be reached by the attorneys, the case will proceed to trial. Juvenile trial determinations are made by a judge rather than a jury. The defense attorney and prosecutor will each present their case, and the judge will determine whether or not the juvenile is guilty. This is called a “bench trial.”

Potential Juvenile Court Resolutions

Diversion

The diversion program was created to divert non-serious offenders from the juvenile court system. Diversion generally happens before charges are filed. For first time offenders charged with minor offenses, they may be given an opportunity to participate in the diversion program. Rather than file charges, the prosecutor refers the case to the diversion unit. The juvenile meets with the unit and essentially enters into a contract that requires law abiding behavior for a period of time, as well as other conditions such as community service or restitution. Once the contract is completed, the case terminates without a conviction and outside of the court system. The program is an opportunity for a juvenile to keep his or her record clean while still being held accountable for his or her actions.

Reduction of charge

An experienced Washington state juvenile defense attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charge that he or she is facing. For example, a juvenile facing a serious felony charge may be able to obtain a resolution that results in a less serious misdemeanor charge.

Deferred Disposition

With a deferred disposition, final sentencing of the juvenile is delayed. The juvenile will be required to stay out of trouble for a period of time as well as complete certain conditions, which might include community service, treatment, and/or restitution. Upon successful completion of the agreement, the charge is dismissed and in most cases, vacated from the juvenile’s record.

Dismissal of charge

Depending on the nature of the charge and the evidence presented in the prosecutor’s case, an experienced Tacoma juvenile defense attorney can potentially negotiate for the complete dismissal of a charge, meaning that it would not go on the juvenile’s record.
Angela Horwath and her team are experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyers. Horwath Law is respected in the legal community and has proven results in Pierce County, King County, Thurston County and Kitsap County, WA.
Waiting is not in your best interest. Call Horwath Law today.