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Washington Crimes: Laws & Penalties

First off, it’s important to know that Washington divides crimes into two main categories -misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are the less serious offenses, while felonies are the big ones that can land you in prison for a long time. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Misdemeanors in Washington

Misdemeanors are further divided into two classes:

  1. Simple Misdemeanors – These are the least serious crimes, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Some examples include:
    • Disorderly conduct
    • Shoplifting
    • Trespassing
    • Simple possession of marijuana
  2. Gross Misdemeanors – A step up in severity, gross misdemeanors can get you up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. Common examples are:
    • DUI (first offense)
    • Reckless driving
    • Theft (property valued at $750 or less)
    • Stalking

The exact sentence you face for a misdemeanor depends on the specific crime, the circumstances, and your criminal history. In some cases, the judge may order alternatives to jail time, like probation, community service, or substance abuse treatment.

Felonies in Washington

Now let‘s talk about the heavy hitters. Washington has three classes of felonies, ranging from bad to worst:

  1. Class C Felonies – The least serious felonies, Class C offenses are still major crimes. They carry a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Examples include:
    • Theft (property valued between $750-$5000)
    • Possession of stolen property
    • Assault in the third degree
    • Promoting prostitution
  2. Class B Felonies – These are very serious crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Some Class B felonies are:
    • Residential burglary
    • Theft of a firearm
    • Robbery in the second degree
    • Vehicular homicide
  3. Class A Felonies – The most severe crimes in Washington, Class A felonies can result in life in prison and a $50,000 fine. Murder, rape, kidnapping, and arson in the first degree all fall under this category.

But the class of felony is just one factor in determining the sentence. Washington uses sentencing guidelines that take into account the offense’s “seriousness level” and the offender’s criminal history. There are 16 seriousness levels, each with its own sentencing range. For example, theft of property valued over $5000 but less than $25,000 is a Class B felony with a seriousness level of II. For a first-time offender, the standard sentencing range would be 0-90 days in jail. But with a more extensive criminal history, that same offense could land you in prison for 2-5 years!

The Legal Process for Criminal Cases

Alright, so now you know the difference between misdemeanors and felonies. But what actually happens when someone is accused of a crime in Washington? Well, it goes something like this:

  1. Arrest and Booking – After an arrest, the suspect is taken to jail for booking. This is where they take your fingerprints, mugshot, and enter your information into the system.
  2. Charges Filed – For felonies, the prosecutor has 72 hours after booking to file formal charges. For misdemeanors, charges must be filed within 48 hours or the suspect is released.
  3. Arraignment – This is the suspect’s first appearance in court. The charges are read, and they enter an initial plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). Bail and other pre-trial conditions are also set at this hearing.
  4. Plea Bargaining – In many cases, the defense attorney and prosecutor will negotiate a plea deal. This usually involves the defendant pleading guilty in exchange for reduced charges or a lighter sentence. Over 90% of criminal cases are resolved this way.
  5. Trial – If no plea deal is reached, the case goes to trial. Misdemeanor trials are heard by a judge, while felony trials have a jury. The prosecution must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” for a conviction.
  6. Sentencing – If the defendant is found guilty, the judge will impose a sentence based on the crime’s severity and the offender’s history. For some first-time and non-violent offenses, the judge may choose an alternative like the First Time Offender Waiver or Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative that focuses on rehabilitation over punishment.

Alternatives to Incarceration

Speaking of alternatives, Washington has been a leader in implementing programs aimed at reducing recidivism and promoting positive change. Some options for eligible offenders include:

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
Loveth Okpedo
Loveth Okpedo
Very professional, very transparent, over all a great experience
Bee L
Bee L
Amazing experience with Spodek! Very professional lawyers who take your case seriously. They treated me with respect, were always available, and answered any and all questions. They were able to help me very successfully and removed a huge stress. Highly recommend.
divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  • Work Release – Serving the sentence in a residential facility while holding a job in the community.
  • Electronic Home Monitoring (EHM) – Serving the sentence at home while being monitored by GPS.
  • Community Service – Unpaid work for non-profit or government agencies in lieu of jail time.
  • Substance Abuse Treatment – Court-ordered treatment programs for offenders with drug or alcohol issues.
  • Mental Health Court – Specialized court that provides treatment and supervision for offenders with mental illnesses.

These alternatives aren’t available in every case, but they show a shift in thinking from pure punishment to rehabilitation and reintegration.

Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

Even after you’ve served your time, a criminal conviction can follow you and make life difficult. Some of the ways a criminal record can impact you include:

  • Employment – Many employers ask about criminal history on job applications. While it’s illegal to have a blanket ban on hiring felons, a conviction can still put you at a disadvantage, especially for jobs requiring a professional license or security clearance.
  • Housing – Landlords often run background checks on potential tenants. With a criminal record, finding housing can be a real challenge.
  • Education – If you’re applying to college or for financial aid, you may have to disclose your criminal history. Some schools have policies against admitting students with certain convictions.
  • Civil Rights – Felons lose their right to vote, serve on a jury, and possess firearms, even after completing their sentence. In Washington, voting rights are automatically restored upon release, but gun rights require a separate petition to the court.
  • Immigration – For non-citizens, certain convictions can lead to deportation proceedings, even for green card holders.

The best way to avoid these consequences is, of course, to stay out of trouble in the first place. But if you do find yourself facing charges, it’s crucial to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. They can help you understand your options, negotiate with prosecutors, and fight for the best possible outcome.

Expunging or Sealing Criminal Records in Washington

Now, what if you have an old conviction that‘s still haunting you? In some cases, you may be able to have your record expunged or sealed. Here’s how it works:

  • Expungement – In Washington, this is called “vacating” a conviction. If granted, the conviction is removed from your record and you can legally say you have not been convicted of that crime. However, it doesn’t completely erase the arrest or court records. Eligibility depends on the offense and how much time has passed.
  • Sealing – If a conviction can’t be vacated, you might be able to have the records sealed. This means the public can’t access them, but they still exist and can be seen by law enforcement and the courts. Again, eligibility varies based on the crime and your history.

The process for both usually involves filing a petition with the court and attending a hearing. The judge will consider factors like the seriousness of the offense, your behavior since the conviction, and the potential impact on public safety. It’s a good idea to have an attorney help you with this, as the laws can be complex.Even if you get a conviction vacated or sealed, it’s not a total clean slate. The records may still show up on certain background checks, like those for jobs requiring a government security clearance. And if you‘re ever charged with another crime, the sealed record can still be used against you in court.

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