What the Governor's Order means for your DUI.
Since March, several orders issued by Governor Inslee have directly impacted District and Superior Courts. When Governor Inslee issued the first “shutdown” order, all court functions except for a few exceptions, completely shut down as courts struggled with safely holding hearings. Almost unanimously, courts resolved this issue by implementing technology that allowed all parties to appear via zoom or some other online software. For people who could not appear via zoom, courts installed plexiglass and created socially distanced seating arrangements. While this was somewhat effective, courts still struggled with commencing jury trials, so much so that some courts have not had jury trials since March. Some courts have found ways to commence jury trials, albeit carefully and with technological assistance.
How does the most recent Order affect court functions?
On November 18th, 2020 Governor Inslee issued another Order shutting down restaurants and again limiting capacity at other facilities. The Governor specifically exempted courts from this Order. In response to the most recent Order, Presiding Judges across the state have reacted by adjusting court operations by suspending jury trials until at least January 11th, reasoning that the pressing health concerns presented by COVID deem the suspension necessary.
The most recent order has not affected courts to the same extent as March's Order, because courts invested in zoom technology. This means your arraignment, pre-trial hearings, motions, and disposition will proceed as scheduled. However, always consult with your attorney and the court website as to whether this applies to your courtroom and your case. Since each presiding judge makes independent decisions your court may be affected in a different way.
Counties Suspending Jury Trials: (jury trial commencement dates also listed, note this is constantly changing)
- Snohomish County Courts: 1/8/2021
- Pierce County Courts: 2/1/2021
- King County Courts: 1/11/2021
- Grays Harbour County: Speculatively 3/31/21
- Lewis County: 3/1/21
- Whatcom County Superior Court: 1/28/2021
- Clark County: 2/8/2021
- Seattle Municipal Court: 3/15/2021
For a comprehensive list of zoom courts please read further below as well.
Court Procedure During COVID: What to expect for your case
So you have been summoned to “appear” in court. But it is COVID, so what does “appearing” mean right now? Like all other businesses, the judiciary has been forced to adapt to the times…for the most part. With COVID becoming a fixture in our everyday lives Courts around the state have taken this into consideration and implemented new procedures. While this applies to many of the courts in our region, it does not apply to all. (A relatively comprehensive list is provided below).
Court Procedure with Zoom Capabilities
For the courthouses that allow zoom appearances, when you are sent or given your summons to appear, you will also be given a link to a zoom meeting. This will include the zoom ID, password, and your appearance time. A few minutes before your hearing you will login to zoom. If you have an attorney, they will login at the same time and you will be able to see your attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge. If necessary, the court may create a breakout room for you to speak with the prosecutor and your attorney, otherwise the judge will proceed as normal, your case will be called, if it is an arraignment the complaint will be read to you and you will enter your not guilty plea, be given conditions of release, and a new court date.
- Pre-trial Hearings
The hearings that occur after your arraignment are called Pre-Trial Hearings or something of a similar nature. During these hearings you will either continue your case, set for motions, set for disposition, or set for trial. If the matter is a continuance the procedure will be nearly identical with the exception that you may need to sign a Speedy Trial Waiver if the court requires it. Similarly, if you set for disposition (plea and sentencing) then you will also sign a Speedy Trial Waiver like you did for the pre-trial continuance. If you set for motions and sentence then you will need to also fill out and sign a document, however that document will include your motion dates, jury call, and trial dates.
If you decide to take the plea deal carefully negotiated between the prosecutor and your attorney, then your case will be set for disposition. Most courts that allow zoom appearances for pretrials and arraignments will also let you proceed to disposition via zoom. If you proceed to disposition via zoom the procedure is much the same, your attorney will call you before to go over the plea paperwork and you will then appear via zoom with your attorney. During the zoom hearing the prosecutor or judge will read the plea colloquy to you and you will answer the questions when posed to you. The judge will either continue your matter to sentencing or you will proceed to sentencing. If jail time is imposed, then you will be given a report by date and jail location by the judge.
If you are unable to resolve your case through a plea agreement, then you will proceed to motions and trial. Courts are conducting both motions and trials, but it is a slow and tedious process. Depending on the court, you may have your motions conducted in person or via zoom. Trials are even more tedious and complicated with some voir dire occurring in large rooms, others via zoom, some trials predominantly via zoom, others in person. It depends on the courthouse, the courtroom capacity, and the safety provisions put in place by the courthouse. Trials are difficult and stressful at the best of times, COVID has only increased the difficulties associated with going to trial.
In-Person Court Procedures
Some courts have elected to continue in the normal process and still require all parties to attend court IN-PERSON. However, the courts limit the number of people allowed in the courtroom at any one time. Other safety provisions these courts institute are temperature checks prior to entering the courthouse, hand sanitizing stations, and requiring masks. Otherwise, court is largely unchanged.
Zoom Courts and Links
King County District Courts
Tukwila Municipal Court
Snohomish County District Courts
Tukwila Municipal Court
Bothell Municipal Court
Issaquah Municipal Court
Kirkland Municipal Court
Seattle Municipal Court
Kent Municipal Court
For a full link to ALL COURTS in WASHINGTON please see below
Everett Municipal Court
Mercer Island Municipal Court