Navigating Through The Criminal Justice Process

For many people, this is the first time that they have been through the system. Law is a foreign process to outsiders, which is why we have a right to have an attorneys represent us in these proceedings. However, every criminal case is different, so the length of time that each case takes depends on the evidence available, the complexity of the legal issues presented, and even the prosecutor’s workload. But generally, criminal trials are disposed of either during the pretrial process or after a jury trial.
What is an arraignment?
For most cases, the first appearance in a criminal proceeding is the arraignment. This stage is where defendants are “apprised of their rights in a criminal case and of the charges against them for the first time.” Judges will often make a finding of probable cause and set bail and other release conditions. As many judges impose alcohol and drug use restrictions at this point in the case, it is important for you to let your attorney know if you work in an occupation where alcohol is served on the premises so that by going to work you are not violating the court’s order.

Pretrial Hearing
Following the arraignment, where the court sets the pretrial calendar, comes the pretrial hearings. These hearings are usually set out between four and six weeks apart depending on the court and how much time remains on your speedy trial. Each hearing is like a progress report to the judge. The sides will present where they are currently in their trial prep. Your attorney will be reviewing the evidence presented against you and working with the prosecutor to find the best way to resolve the case. If your attorney needs more time, they may ask you to waive your right to a speedy trial to allow them to have more time to work out a favorable disposition. While some clients are satisfied with the deal that their attorney manages to work out with the prosecution others will prefer to go to trial, as it is only your right to make such a determination.

Jury Trial
If you do opt to go to trial, there will be a preliminary hearing before the trial to ensure that both of the parties are ready for trial. Usually within a week the court will hold the trial. However, even trials can get pushed back a few weeks depending on the court’s schedule and caseload. A trial starts with jury selection, moves into opening arguments, the prosecution calls its witnesses and makes its case, then the defense makes its case, closing arguments, and then the jury deliberates and makes its finding of guilty or not guilty.

Review Hearings
These review hearings can be held between six months and a year after negotiating a judgment. Often with cases that involve Driving Under the Influence, the judge will impose certain penalties and conditions for the deal that your attorney has negotiated with the prosecution. Here, the court will make sure that you have followed through on things like attending your victims impact panel, drug and alcohol evaluation, or that you have paid the fine that the court has issued against you. If you have complied with all of the court requirements at this time, then hopefully you will not need to familiarize yourself with the process again.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

In 2012, the States of Washington and Colorado legalized the consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes. One of the components of the legislation in Washington State included provisions on driving under the influence of marijuana. These new laws place marijuana under the same regulatory scheme as alcohol, which I believe is a mistake, particularly for the offense of driving under the influence.

Marijuana DUIs
Washington State defines the offense of driving under the influence of marijuana under 46.61.502, which establishes a legal limit similar to alcohol utilizing the concentration of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content per milliliter of a person’s whole blood. (THC is the chemical compound associated primarily with the psychoactive effects of ingesting cannabis.)

According to 46.61.502(1)(b), if within two hours of operating a vehicle, your blood test comes back with a THC concentration of 5.0 ng/ml or higher (nanograms per milliliter of whole blood), you have violated the statute and committed a DUI.

After smoking, THC levels rise to approximately 150 ng/ml blood. Within the first hour these levels drop dramatically to about 15, and continues on a steady decline. On average, it takes between two and a half and three hours after smoking for your blood levels to return to the legal limit.

Follow the Law
Now, I know what you may be thinking, The National Highway Traffic Safety Association just recently stated in February of this year that with regard to psychoactive drugs, “At the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment.” And this is where I believe these new laws will need to be changed because regulating marijuana like it is alcohol.

While having a BAC of 0.05% or higher increases your chances of being in a collision by almost six, consuming marijuana has no statistical influence positively or negatively with your risk of being involved in an automobile crash (when adjusting for the drivers, age, gender, race, and consumption of alcohol). But that’s not to say that marijuana could not impair your driving; just that the presence of THC in your system does not correlate with impairment the way that alcohol blood concentration levels do.

But regardless of whether marijuana does impair your driving, it is important to always follow the law.

How Can I Follow the Law If I’m Always Above the Legal Limit?
The NHTSA study notes that “Most psychoactive drugs are chemically complex molecules, whose absorption, action, and elimination from the body are difficult to predict, and considerable differences exist between individuals with regard to the rates with which these processes occur. Alcohol, in comparison, is more predictable. A strong relationship between alcohol concentration and impairment has been established, as has the correlation between alcohol concentration and crash risk.”

Marijuana does not metabolize in a predictable manner like alcohol. Moreover, if you regularly consume marijuana, your blood levels may be in excess of the limit because marijuana stays in your bloodstream long after you have consumed it. How you consume your marijuana will also affect your blood concentration levels and impairment. So it’s important to always monitor your consumption.

The new DUI laws for marijuana will likely affect innocent drivers, which will certainly be the subject of litigation for years to come if the legislature continues to treat marijuana as alcohol.

Picking a Good DUI Attorney

Getting charged with Driving Under the Influence is a serious crime that has very significant consequences. A DUI interrupts everything in your life and its affects range from your family, criminal record, driving record, personal finances, even to your current/future employment prospects. Moreover, the Washington State Legislature passed legislation in the most recent session that will increase the punishment on offenders and make the consequences more permanent, making the choice of proper legal representation all the more important.

What Would I Look For in My Attorney?

Zealous Advocate
If you were to ask me what I think is the single most important thing to look for in an attorney, it would be someone who will zealously advocate on your behalf throughout all stages in court proceedings. Having effective representation means having a competent attorney who is devoted to learning about the area of law that they practice. So the first thing I’d look for from a prospective DUI attorney is whether or not they are dedicated to learning the science and methodology of proper DUI defense, and the best way of making that determination is by asking: are they a member of the National College for DUI Defense?

Competent and Knowledgeable
An effective attorney is one who learns how to do their own job but also police officers. Members of the NCDD are required to attend a seminar once every two years to stay current on new developments in the field including technological advancements and defense strategies. This includes learning the proper administration of standard field sobriety tests according to Federal guidelines; functionality of the instruments utilized to test an individual’s sobriety; as well as the proper evidentiary standards for lab record keeping. The NCDD helps a legal practitioner establish a minimum level of competency by ensuring that the attorney is kept abreast of the developments in their field.

Active with local courts
However, in addition to having the knowledge necessary to practice criminal law in the subfield of DUI defense, an effective criminal defense attorney knows how to form productive relationships. Every district has its own local rules and staff, so a good attorney is one who is familiar with all of the pertinent local courts, prosecutors, and judges because they have worked to establish those relationships. Establishing effective working relationships with the other side is key to criminal law defense because they enable an attorney to provide the best available information to you and in due course, to help you decide how best to navigate your case.

Finally, I look for how long and how much of an attorney’s practice has been devoted to criminal law and DUI defense. Those who have substantively worked in this field will have acquired the knowledge and formed the personal relationships necessary to leverage the best outcomes on behalf of their clients. I would look for an attorney who has worked against the other side long enough that the prosecution knows that they don’t want to try the case against this lawyer.

Ratings and Reviews

10.0Sharon Elizabeth Chirichillo
Sharon Elizabeth ChirichilloReviewsout of 60 reviews