Washington Court Records
Washington Criminal Court Records
A Washington criminal court record consists of any file, exhibit, information, or related materials connected with a criminal court proceeding and which is maintained by the court. Criminal court records could be in the form of dockets, indexes, exhibits, minute entry, written documents, video recordings, photographs, tapes and more.
Understanding the Washington Criminal Court System
The Washington Court System is made up of four levels, namely the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Superior Court, and Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (district and municipal courts). Every county in Washington has a district court, and most of the cities and towns in the state have a municipal court. The Superior courts have courtrooms in each of the county’s courthouses. The three divisions of the Appeal court have their courtrooms at Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane respectively while the Supreme court is located in the Temple of Justice, Olympia.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest in Washington. It reviews decisions made in lower courts, especially when it comes to death penalty sentences. It also reviews cases on duty, assessment, tax legality, municipal fine, the validity of status, and decisions in which the money or property involved is over $200. The court handles original cases that have to do with petitions against state officers. However, the state’s federal district courts have limited jurisdiction over federal crimes committed within their respective judicial districts. It also directly reviews cases from a trial court, but this is under some conditions which are:
- The case involves a state officer
- The statutes or rules of law involved in the case are conflicting
- The trial court opines that a statute or ordinance is unconstitutional
- The issue requires ultimate determination
When deciding or reviewing cases in the court, no live testimonies or exhibits are permitted. Only the use of records, written, and oral arguments. The Washington Supreme Court has nine justices who hear appeal cases and make decisions. They are elected for six years. Records filed at this level are maintained by the Clerk of the Supreme Court. The clerk is also tasked with maintaining dockets and records of the court’s proceedings.
Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals hears most appeal cases from the Superior court. This is done by reviewing the written or video records of the court proceeding tendered by the superior court. The recordings are necessary since the court does not allow live testimonies. Only the recordings and oral arguments from both parties are permitted. The Appellate Court in Washington can choose to overrule the decisions of the lower court upon hearing the appeal case, send the case back (remand), modify, or agree with the ruling. The choice depends on the recordings and arguments.
The Court of Appeals has three divisions, namely:
- Court of Appeals Division I
- Court of Appeals Division II
- Court of Appeals Division III
The divisions are located in different geographical areas. The first division has its headquarters in Seattle at the One Union Square Building. The second division is in Tacoma, while the third division is in Spokane.
The Superior Court, also known as the General Jurisdiction Court, hears a wide range of civil and criminal cases. It also reviews appeal cases from the courts of limited jurisdiction. The court also has a division known as the Juvenile Court, which deals with juvenile offenders or dependents (young people who are abused or neglected). Juveniles in Washington are those under the age of 18. Juveniles who commit offenses are sentenced according to the rule of law in the State. There is a wide range of sentences and conditions for juvenile offenders. Two things considered when sentencing an offender are the seriousness of the offense committed and previous crimes of the juvenile if any. Juvenile cases can be appealed in the Appeal court if the sentence (disposition) is not within the standard range. The court does not allow appeals within the standard range.
Courts of Limited Jurisdiction
The District and Municipal Courts make up the Courts of Limited Jurisdiction. Municipal Courts are found in cities and towns while the District courts serve specific counties. They are known as county courts. Two main cases filed in these courts are traffic violations and misdemeanors. Let’s look at their different responsibilities:
The district courts handle both criminal and civil cases that take place in the various counties. Criminal cases include misdemeanors and gross misdemeanor cases such as fourth-degree assault, driving under the influence (DUI), using a suspended driving license to operate, and reckless driving. The court also handles preliminary hearing of felony cases. Felonies attract severe punishment than gross misdemeanors or misdemeanors. In addition, the court hears civil cases involving contract disputes, injury to individuals, or their personal properties. The damages incurred should be up to $75,000 for the court to handle it. They also issue protection orders for anti-harassment and domestic violence. Defendants of a misdemeanor and gross misdemeanors have the right to a jury trial. The jury in a limited jurisdiction court is made up of six people. The court also has judges who are elected to a four-year term.
The Municipal Court hears cases involving the violation of ordinances in a specific municipal or city. The only cases the court handles are misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and infractions. However, they can also issue protection and no-contact orders for domestic violence.
What’s included in a Washington Criminal Court Record?
Cases that end with a trial conviction will have more content in the record than those that do not. Therefore, the eventual content of a criminal court record typically varies. However, general records may contain:
- Arrest warrant
- Uniform Arrest report
- Orders regarding probation
- Documents that demonstrate the character of the accused—e.g. incarceration information or inmate records.
Obtaining Criminal Court Records
While some courts maintain court records online, most courts process in-person requests. Individuals who wish to access historical records would have to visit the court where the case was heard and obtain the file from the office of the court clerk. There is also the option of requesting it through the court’s mail address. Before going in search of the records, it is necessary to have some information about the case such as:
- Full names of parties involved in the lawsuit
- Location of the court where the case was filed
- Location of the court (for appeals)
- Docket numbers
- Date of case or appeals
- Citation of the original case
- Name of judges
- Name of attorneys involved in the case (if any)
How Do I Access Washington Criminal Court Records in Person?
Individuals will have to pay a visit to the specific court where the case was heard to request for the record from the court’s administration. A court administrator is in charge of maintaining and providing the records for viewing or making copies in a district or municipal court of Washington. In a Superior court, the county clerk will give it. And if it’s in a Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, the clerk of appellate is responsible.
Every court in Washington has its procedure for requesting criminal court records. But generally, anyone can visit the courthouse where the case was heard and request in writing to view the criminal court record. Individuals interested in viewing or obtaining a copy of the record should visit the Washington State Courts’ website to get links to the local court websites for information on how to request these records. And also get the contact details (location and phone numbers) of various courts in the State.
How Do I Find Washington Criminal Court Records by Mail?
Visit the website of the court where the case was heard and get the mailing address to request for the records. Most of these courts will have their request forms which interested persons will have to download, fill, and send to get a response from them. Find the web addresses and contact information of the court of interest from the Washington Court Directory.
How to Find Washington Criminal Court Records Online?
Not all courts in Washington provide online access to their criminal court records or case management information. To find out which provides, visit the local court’s website, which contains links to various courts in Washington. Records can also be obtained via the Judicial Information System (JIS-Link), which provides statewide access to case management records. The administrative office of the court maintains it. Access criminal court records by visiting the page.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Are all Washington Criminal Court Records Public?
All criminal court records in Washington are accessible by the public except for those restricted by court orders and state/federal statutes.
Are Juvenile Criminal Records in Washington Open to the Public?
Juvenile criminal court records are confidential. In some cases, information regarding the juvenile case which is not contained in the file might be released to the public as long as it doesn’t identify the juvenile or relations in any way. Only the victim of the crime and the immediate family has the right to know the identity of the minor.
Upon sealing or expungement of the records, the identifying information of the juvenile is not subject to destruction. They are still open to the public to access. The identifying information includes name, date of birth, address, fingerprints, palm prints, photographs, and other identifying physical characteristics.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by Washington Statute?
Criminal court records in Washington aren’t automatically sealed. Interested persons will have to request a hearing to seal the documents before they become inaccessible to the public.