Pro Se Litigants
Pro Se Litigants | Representing Yourself
You have a right to represent yourself (this is called appearing “pro se” – pronounced “pro SAY”) in your legal case. It is your decision whether to represent yourself. You may apply for a public defender or hire private counsel at any time during your case.
Court staff is not allowed to give you legal advice, even though they can and will answer certain kinds of questions about forms, rules, or procedures.
- Laws are found in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW)
- Washington Court Rules
- Washington Court Forms
- Self-Help Guide
Arraignments (CrRLJ 4.1)
- Your first court appearance is called an arraignment. At an arraignment, the judge will read the charges filed against you. You will be asked to enter a plea.•The court will inform you of your right to legal counsel, and explain that if you cannot afford legal counsel, that counsel may be appointed to you by the court.
- If you chose to proceed without legal counsel, the court will acknowledge on record that you have chosen to waive this right. The court will make a thorough inquiry into your understanding of the consequences of this choice.
- You will be asked to state your name on record.
- The charges against you will be read, unless you have chosen to waive your right to a reading of the charges. A copy of the charges will be given to you.
After these steps have been completed, you will have the opportunity to respond to the charges issued against you by entering a plea. A plea is your official response to the charges against you.
Pleas (CrRLJ 4.2)
There are four types of pleas that you may enter in response to charges brought against you, and there are various reasons for entering each type. The following will explain what each plea means, and the reasons a defendant may choose to enter such a plea.
- Not guilty -- A plea of not guilty expresses your intention to refute the charges brought against you. If you plead not guilty, the judge may set the case for trial, and schedule a trial date.
- Guilty -- A plea of guilty is entered when you wish to admit guilt for the charges brought against you. Upon the acceptance by the judge of a guilty plea, the judge will sentence you, and you will have no further opportunity to seek legal counsel.
- Alford Plea -- An Alford plea can be entered by you, who although maintaining your innocence, choose to plead guilty due to your belief that if the case were to go to trial, the jury would find you guilty. In terms of sentencing, an Alford plea has the exact same effects as a conviction. A defendant who enters an Alford plea accepts the sentence imposed upon him/her by the judge.
- Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity -- A plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity is entered by a defendant who admits to having committed the act for which he/she is being charged, but who claims that at the time the act was committed the defendant was mentally disturbed to a degree that the defendant lacked the capacity to have intended to commit a crime.
Often, cases are able to be resolved without the need for a trial, by you coming to an agreement with the prosecution. A plea bargain usually involves an agreement to plead guilty to a lesser charge, amended charge, or to one of several charges. A plea bargain can be beneficial to both parties, as it allows each side to avoid the uncertainty of trial, as well as saving time and money that would have been spent preparing for a trial. If you are represented by an attorney the prosecutor is prohibited by law from speaking with you directly about your case.
Acceptance of Guilty Plea
Upon your entry of a guilty plea, the judge considers whether to accept the plea. In considering the plea, the judge will ask you if your plea is being entered voluntarily, not due to force or threats made to you. The judge will also ask you if you have been made any promises other than those agreements made between you and prosecutor that have been disclosed to the court. If the judge determines that the plea has been made voluntarily, that you are sufficiently competent to make such a plea, and that a factual basis for the plea exists, the judge will accept the plea.
Failure to Enter a Plea
If you choose not to enter a plea, the court will enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf.
Pretrial Hearing (CrRLJ 4.5)
If you enter a plea of not guilty, you will be scheduled to reappear in court at a later date for a pretrial hearing. Prior to, and during a pretrial hearing, you may dialogue with the prosecutor in an attempt to resolve the case without proceeding to trial. This resolution may come in the form of a Pretrial Diversion Agreement, amended charges, etc. However, if no resolution can be reached, the case will proceed to trial.
A readiness hearing is your last mandatory court appearance before the date of the trial. At the readiness hearing, matters involving plea negotiations, exchange of witness lists, and any discovery not previously completed will be concluded. Both parties will also have the opportunity to make motions on legal issues arising subsequent to the pretrial hearing or on issues arising due to new evidence.
Discovery (CrRLJ 4.7)
Before trial begins, there is a period of time in which both parties exchange information about the facts of the case. This is called discovery. The prosecuting authority is obliged to disclose evidence, upon written demand by you or your attorney. Information that is not disclosed to the other party during discovery may not be allowed in at trial, unless the parties learned about it much later. Proper discovery requires a close reading of the state's rules of procedure.