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Understanding Criminal Procedure and Arraignments in Kittitas or Yakima County

Posted by Tony Swartz | Dec 27, 2022

When a person is arrested in Kittitas or Yakima County, they have a right to know what their charges are. They also have a right to plead guilty or not guilty. This all happens at the first hearing, otherwise called an arraignment. It can be a particularly nerve-wrecking time for anyone, even those who have been charged with criminal activity previously. Many people without lawyers try to defend themselves or explain their story during an arraignment, which is a horrible idea for many reasons. 

Knowing what to expect can help relieve some anxiety. Tony Swartz, a criminal defense attorney based in Ellensburg and Yakima, can inform you of the process and your rights. He believes informed clients make the best decisions for themselves. Contact Tony at 509-293-7593 to schedule a free consultation - he wants to help get the best outcome in your unique situation. 

Arraignment Process in Kittitas or Yakima County

An arraignment is your initial appearance in open court. Its purpose is to advise the defendant of their right to know the charges against them, as such, the judge formally reads the charge or charges to a defendant and asks the defendant how they plead. 

Timing of the Arraignment

A defendant cannot be held indefinitely without knowing what the charges are against them. They must be allowed to seek release from custody, if possible. An initial appearance, therefore, usually occurs within a reasonable time of the defendant being arrested and charged, even though the precise timing of arraignment varies. Arraigning the defendant at an early stage ensures:

  1. Their case is progressing; and
  2. They are not spending more time in custody than necessary. 

Summary of an Arraignment

The specific procedures and rules for arraignment vary among jurisdictions. In addition to reading the charges and taking the defendant's plea, a court may also read out the substance of the charges, confirm that the defendant understands them, and inform the defendant of their relevant constitutional rights, like their right to a court-appointed lawyer. 

The judge may also decide on bail and schedule a court hearing on it. Depending on how the person pleads, the judge may also schedule a sentencing hearing, pretrial conference, and/or a trial.

The Right to Waive Arraignment

You also have the right to waive arraignment in some scenarios, though cases like DUIs and domestic violence cases do require a first hearing even if you try to waive it. If you hire an attorney for your Yakima or Ellensburg criminal case, your attorney can generally waive some arraignment hearings to save you the time and expense of going to court. 

Arraignment versus Indictment in Kittitas or Yakima County

Sometimes there is confusion regarding an arraignment or an indictment because in both instances, the alleged suspect is informed of charges to be brought against them. An arraignment, however, is different from an indictment. While an arraignment is an opportunity for a defendant to hear the charges against them and enter a plea, an indictment is a legal document formally charging a defendant with a crime and is usually only used in felony cases in certain states - Washington is not one of them, though. 

In Washington, a person can be charged by law enforcement authorities via a citation or by a complaint issued by a prosecutor. Once a defendant has been charged, their case proceeds to an arraignment hearing. 

To note, in some other states - again, not in Washington, a grand jury must issue an indictment. A grand jury is a group of impartial, randomly selected citizens who hear from the prosecution and witnesses. Then, they decide whether sufficient evidence exists for the defendant to be charged. 

Understanding Pleas at an Arraignment in Kittitas or Yakima County

When a judge asks a defendant how they plead to a charge during an arraignment hearing, a defendant can enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. 

  • A guilty plea indicates the defendant accepts the charges and allegations. By entering a guilty plea, the matter will proceed to sentence either immediately after the arraignment or at a later date. Most judges do not allow you to plead guilty at your arraignment for various reasons. It is really not a good idea.
  • A not-guilty plea indicates the defendant is contesting the allegations and the matter will proceed to the next step, which is usually a preliminary hearing. Pleading not guilty is advised because it offers you the only opportunity you will have to either (1) negotiate a plea deal; or (2) fight the charges against you. Remember: the State or City must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, and that can be a high bar to achieve. As a criminal defense attorney in Ellensburg and Yakima, Tony will fight for you, and if a plea deal is in your best interest, he will make sure the terms favor you and not just the state. 

Will I Be Released or Taken into Custody?

The judge decides whether a defendant is released on their own recognizance, is released after granting bail, or is taken into custody.

To be released on your own recognizance, the following two factors must exist:

  1. The charge is less serious; and
  2. You pose no risk to others.

To be released on bail, the judge will consider the following factors:

  • Whether you have family ties in the area
  • What your ability and resources are to flee the city, state, or even the country
  • What danger, if any, you pose to the community
  • Your criminal record
  • Any other factor that may be relevant

When released either on your own recognizance or by bail, the judge can set certain terms and conditions of the release. If you violate the conditions, you can be taken into custody.

Some defendants after the arraignment may be immediately taken into custody. This does not automatically mean you will not be released. You are entitled to a bail hearing where you can challenge the judge's decision.

In any of the scenarios, it is always best to have a competent, committed criminal defense representing your interests. At Law Office of Tony Swartz, Tony works as a criminal defense lawyer to effect an outcome best for all our clients. He has the skill, knowledge, and resources to negotiate, strategize, and argue successfully in your defense.

Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer for an Arraignment in Kittitas or Yakima County ?

You're not always legally required to have a lawyer represent you at an arraignment hearing. However, it's at least worthwhile to speak to an attorney before your arraignment so you can obtain advice relevant to your case and the options available to you. Engaging an attorney at this early stage also allows the attorney to start preparing for your case. 

That said, it is in your best interests to be represented by an attorney. Going before a judge in open court is stressful. It is at the arraignment that you realize the gravity of what you face. A lawyer by your side will ensure your rights are upheld and advise you on what to say to the judge so that you do not make a bad impression.

Plus, if you seek release, a judge may set harsh conditions for your release. An attorney can counter those conditions and persuade a judge to set different, more favorable terms.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Ellensburg and Yakima Today

An arraignment can be scary for many people, especially if it is your first time before a judge in open court. All eyes will be on you when the charges against you are read. Not only is a criminal defense attorney a strategic move on your part, it is also a comforting one. Knowing that someone has your interests in mind will help you throughout the course of the arraignment and your criminal case.

Contact Law Office of Tony Swartz today by calling us at 509-293-7593 to schedule a free consultation. Tony is here to help you get through the criminal system as best as possible.

About the Author

Tony Swartz

Tony Swartz is an experienced lawyer in Washington State. He has handled, most from start to finish, over 10,000 criminal cases with a focus on DUIs and other misdemeanor charges. In addition to his legal practice, Tony is a recognized expert in the field and routinely teaches classes at both Central Washington University and Yakima Valley College.

Law Office of Tony Swartz

Tony Swartz is a lawyer practicing criminal defense in Kittitas County and Yakima County who specializes in Ellensburg DUIs and Yakima DUIs. He also represents clients with other misdemeanor charges. Call today for a free consultation.

Tony moved to Ellensburg in 2005 and has lived here since other than a brief break for law school. He attended CWU and Willamette University College of Law. He is also on the executive board for Ellensburg Music Festival, Ellensburg Downtown Rotary, and Ellensburg Big Band (where he also plays trumpet). He also plays hockey at the Yakima Ice Rink and Kraken Community Iceplex, in addition to attending a lot of Seattle Kraken games.

Contact Info

​PO Box 684
Ellensburg, WA 98926
Office: 422 N Pine, Ellensburg WA 98926

[email protected]
Fax: 509-295-8378