DC Criminal Defense Lawyer

DC Criminal Courts


To an outsider, someone not from Washington D.C., the court system here can seem a little strange and confusing. This is because it most other areas, the criminal courts are separated into county, district, and state courts.

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The current structure of criminal courts in the city wasn’t really established until 1970, making it relatively new. The route your case takes within the system is largely based on who takes you into custody and the charge you are facing.

If you are charged with a crime, your case will likely either be heard in the Community Courts if it is a misdemeanor, or the Superior Courts if you are facing felony charges.

The Superior Court runs just like any other criminal court in the nation, with an adversarial system that pits the prosecution against you, the defense, and your defense attorney.

DC Community Courts

The Community Courts are a little different and evolved out of a need to take some of the burden off the Superior Courts. Both in the Moultrie Courthouse, the East of the River Community Court (ERCC), and the D.C. Misdemeanor and Traffic Court involve cooperation of numerous community resources to dole out penalties more focused on rehabilitation than incarceration.

There is also a drug court specially designed to help drug offenders make the most of their exposure to the system. Sure, some people convicted within drug court will go to prison. But, the majority of non violent drug offenders will be given the opportunity to serve their sentence while remaining within the community and living according to certain rules.

DC Criminal Court Process

Everything from the charge you are facing to the court it is heard in will affect the different stages of your proceedings. All criminal cases are different. Generally, however, your introduction into the courts begins with an arrest.

1. Arrest. Whether brought in on a warrant or if you turned yourself in, your arrest is when you are first taken into custody.

2. Arraignment. At your arraignment you are informed of the charges against you and the judge will likely assess your eligibility for bail.

3. Indictment. This is the formal filing of charges.

4. Pretrial Motions and Hearings. Before trial everything from the admissibility of evidence to the location of the trial can be addressed in these proceedings.

5. Trial. Most cases never make it to trial. But if they do, this is where the ultimate determination of your guilt occurs.

6. Sentencing. At sentencing the judge will decide on an appropriate penalty.

Plea Bargains

The vast majority of criminal cases are funneled out of the system before ever going to trial. Even those that eventually do make it to trial are sometimes settled with a plea agreement before the trial is over.

A plea agreement is an agreement between the prosecution and you, the defendant. It is seen as a compromise of sorts and may involve you getting a reduced charge or the promise of a lenient sentence.

The trade-off for the prosecution is that you plead guilty to at least a portion of the charges against you. In other words, you don’t get off completely scot free and are held accountable without having to go through a trial.

No matter where you are from or what you do for a living, the criminal court system can be confusing and frustrating unless you are a defense attorney yourself. If you are facing criminal charges in Washington D.C., call me today for a free consultation.

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