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. 

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. 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Visit the Washington Courts website for more information on CrRLJ 4.1.

Plea Bargaining

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.

Readiness Hearing

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.