If you, or a client, have been arrested and processed by a Seattle Police officer for a DUI, the case will be filed into the Seattle Municipal Court in downtown Seattle. The attorneys prosecuting your case will be from the City of Seattle Attorneys Office, Criminal Division. Far and away the busiest municipal court in the state, Seattle Muni (as it is often referred to) has a way of doing things a little differently than most of its municipal and district court counterparts. This brief guide is an attempt to assist both the DUI defendant and DUI lawyer in navigating Seattle Municipal Court. For a full treatment of DUI defense practice in Seattle Municipal Court, visit us at Seattle DUI Lawyer.
Intake Hearing: 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 pretial conditions that are imposed at arraignment. In my experience only the courts of Kitsap County (automatic $5,000-10,000 minimum bail imposition upon arrest, even for first offenders) and Fife Municipal Court (no bail until first appearance in almost all cases) are routinely more severe at or prior to arraignment than Seattle Muni.
Arraignments for most DUI charges in this court will occur within the first 48-72 hours. 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. Those who practice DUI defense in this court need to be proactive about assessing the likely conditions being sought by the Seattle City attorney and putting your client in the best possible position to avoid these conditions. Draw the sting by showing the court how proactive your client is being. Get him or her and alcohol evaluation and show that the recommended follow up has been scheduled at a bare minimum. For more extreme cases, proactively install the ignition interlock license and have a bail bondsmen at the ready just in case. We have found that by projecting and addressing this court’s likely concerns often can be the difference between imposition of large bail and/or home detention and a PR release.
Pretrial Hearings: Another manner in which DUIs in Seattle Municipal Court differ from other jurisdictions is that cases are pre-assigned to individual judges from the outset and specific city attorneys are assigned to these individual courts. As a result, most cases are handled by the same prosecutor/judge pairing through out. Knowing this information ahead of time can help both the client and attorney prepare and strategize accordingly. Otherwise, pretrial hearings in this court do not differ dramatically from those in other courts. Often times, cases can and are resloved at this stage, those that aren’t are set for motions and trial.
Motions: DUI motion 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. In some instances the court will prefer that they be set for the day of trial but this common Seattle Muni practice more and more seems to be falling out of favor. If the DUI attorney prefers that the motions be heard prior to the day of trial, and it is always are preference that they are, than they most likely will be.
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 the purpose of disposition of some other motion. In Seattle, 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.
Trial: Trial days in Seattle Municipal Court can be the bain of the DUI and criminal defense attorney’s very existence. Fraught with uncertainty, the waiting to see if the case will go to trial on a given day can seem interminable and indeed can go on for several days. It is not uncommon for 10-15 cases or more to be set for trial on the same day, in the same court room. Because not all cases can be tried simultaneously, cases are given priority based on their speedy trial expiration date. That priority can be circumvented for those that are more complex or that have multiple witness concerns. The bottom line is that if you have a case set for trial on a specific day in Seattle Municipal Court, be prepared to go to trial on that date regardless of the “priority” list but also set aside a sufficient amount of “wait and see” time in order to play the Seattle Muni trial waiting game.
Because of its sheer size and numbers of cases processed, DUI practice in Seattle Municipal Court poses several challenges to the DUI lawyer and defendant. On the other hand, those same factors also create opportunities for positive outcomes in DUI cases that aren’t always as readily available in other smaller and less busy courts. Know the Seattle Municipal DUI process as well possible and as far in advance as possible.