Serious traffic offenses (DUI, reckless driving, hit and run, etc.) and violations of City of Tacoma ordinances that carry the penalty of a jail sentence are commonly referred to as criminal offenses. An individual arrested for a criminal/criminal traffic violation may or may not be booked into jail. If an individual is released from custody, upon release he/she may be issued a citation with a court date, or mailed a summons. A summons requires an appearance in court to respond to a charge that you have committed a crime.
All individuals accused of a crime or traffic offense which carries the penalty of a jail sentence have the following rights:
- To have a lawyer present at all hearings.
- To have a lawyer appointed at public expense if the defendant cannot afford to hire one.
- To represent themselves without a lawyer.
- To a public, speedy, jury trial in the City of Tacoma.
- To cross-examine any witness who testifies against you.
- To call witnesses to testify on your behalf, and have the court compel their attendance.
- To testify or not testify.
- To appeal to the Superior Court if convicted after a not guilty plea.
In many cases, you may want to talk with an attorney before going to court for the first time. The attorney will provide advice on the many aspects of the case including, but not necessarily limited to, why or why not you should or should not plead guilty to the charge. An attorney from the Department of Assigned Counsel (DAC) is present at all arraignment hearings.
Defendants who cannot pay for an attorney may be eligible to have a public defender assigned to their case. At the arraignment hearing, defendants must ask for a public defender and the Judge will determine the defendant's eligibility for a court-appointed attorney.
Criminal Case Process
Whether in jail or out, a defendant will be arraigned as part of the initial court hearing on the charge. The arraignment is normally a defendant's first court appearance. At the hearing, the Judge informs the defendant of the charge and makes sure the defendant understands his/her Constitutional rights as explained at the beginning of the court session. The defendant is then asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the offense, or if they wish to speak with an attorney (private or public defender) before entering a plea.
If you plead guilty, you are admitting that you committed the offense as charged. If you plead not guilty, you are denying that you committed the violation or may have a defense to the charge. No Constitutional rights are waived unless expressly waived by the defendant. The case will then be set for a pre-trial conference. At this conference, all parties must be present. Plea agreements concerning the case may be made at these hearings. If the case goes forward, the next hearing will be either a bench or jury trial.
If the defendant waives his/her right to a jury trial, the next hearing will be a bench trial where the Judge will hear testimony and decide the case. If the defendant requests a jury trial, the case is determined by a jury of up to six citizens from the community. Defendants are presumed innocent, and the Plaintiff, the City of Tacoma, must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
You have the right to appeal a guilty finding. If you plead guilty, the right to appeal is waived
Failure to Appear (FTA)
Individuals issued a citation and released from jail, or issued a summons to appear in court and respond to a charge they committed a crime, are given a court date at the time the citation or summons is issued. Appearance in Court is mandatory. If you fail to appear at your scheduled hearing, a bench warrant of arrest may be ordered by the Judge. If the charge is a criminal traffic offense, you may also have your driver's license suspended by the State Department of Licensing.
Quash a Warrant
To quash a warrant you must appear in person at the counter on the 8th floor of the County-City Building and schedule a warrant hearing. Warrant hearings cannot be scheduled over the phone.
A warrant remains outstanding until your hearing is held and the Judge orders the warrant quashed.