Criminal Law

Washington Criminal Law: An Overview

Click the following links to jump each section:

Are you or a loved one facing criminal charges and in need of an experienced criminal defense attorney? Now is the time to educate yourself about the Washington State criminal justice system.

So what topics can you learn about here at LawInfo?

  • Criminal defense lawyers: You’ll need to decide on legal representation. Which criminal lawyer or law firm do you go with – and what factors do you focus on when making that decision?
  • Client’s rights: In this case, the client is the person accused of committing a criminal offense and is seeking legal advice from a criminal defense lawyer.
  • Definitions (and examples): Which crimes are classified as a misdemeanor? What should you expect if you have been charged with one or more violent crimes?

There are so many factors to consider in your fight to avoid a criminal record. You may feel overwhelmed right now, and that is understandable. Take a deep breath and keep reading to learn more.

Choosing a Lawyer

There are a few things to keep in mind when you find yourself with the need for a criminal defense attorney. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Which of the law offices you are considering offers a free consultation?
  • What are the practice areas listed on the law firm websites you are looking at? Are you facing drug charges? Have you been charged with domestic violence or sex crimes? You can save time and decide on a lawyer that much faster if you only call offices that list the practice area that applies to you.
  • How many years of experience does the lawyer have representing clients in similar situations in district court?
  • Is the criminal defense attorney experienced in your area of Washington state? Do they practice in Seattle and King County? Or are they based in Tacoma? A Seattle criminal defense lawyer will have more experience in that locale but may travel throughout greater Washington.
  • Look for testimonials from prior clients on sites that allow for attorney reviews. You can find out a lot by finding out how that attorney handles their criminal cases.

You should avoid attorneys that offer you guarantees. The best lawyers will instead tell you that they will prioritize clients’ rights and your case to position you for the best outcome that can be applied to your unique situation, and treat you with respect.

Crime Classifications in Washington State

Is drunk-driving a misdemeanor or a felony for a first offense in the state of Washington? What about drug crimes or violent crimes such as sexual assault? Crime classification varies from state to state. Washington’s classifications include misdemeanors and felonies.

  • Misdemeanors: This category is divided into two categories (simple and gross misdemeanors).
  • Simple Misdemeanors: May include trespassing or possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The maximum penalties for a simple misdemeanor is a fine of up to $1,000 and 90 days behind bars.
  • Gross Misdemeanors: Rioting, DUI offenses, domestic assault, and racing on public roads are part of this category. Penalties for those convicted may include up to one year of imprisonment and no more than a $5,000 fine.
  • Felonies: These are the most serious crimes – including rape, murder, and some white-collar crimes – and have the most serious punishments. The minimum penalty for anyone convicted of a felony in Washington is 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into a few of the most common violations that may have led you to this page.

DUI Overview

Washington, like every other state, has laws against impaired driving. Most people associate driving under the influence (DUI) charges with drunk driving, but DUIs also include driving under the influence of drugs or medications. Penalties often depend on the number of past offenses and the blood alcohol level of the driver and most often result in fines, time in jail, and even license suspension.

It’s also very important to point out that a DUI stays on your record if you are convicted. This has the potential to affect the rest of your professional life because a DUI will show up on a potential employer’s background check.

But Marijuana is Legal, Right?

The short answer is yes and no. Washington was one of the first states in the nation to decriminalize the consumption of marijuana. However, state laws still criminalize:

  • The possession of more than one ounce of marijuana
  • Public consumption
  • Marijuana cultivation
  • The sale and distribution of marijuana products (especially to minors aged 3 years and younger)
  • Advertising marijuana paraphernalia

Marijuana misdemeanors and felonies may carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Putting Your Knowledge to Work

The more you know about the state’s criminal laws and how the system works, the better prepared you can be. Educating yourself on the process helps you and your lawyer as they build your criminal defense and aim for the best possible outcome for you or your loved one.

Was this helpful?