Adult Criminal Cases

Information about the Adult criminal process and the Court’s expectations

The Superior Court handles all criminal cases where a felony is charged and has jurisdiction to handle misdemeanors. 

In 2023 and 2024 the National Center for State Courts did an assessment of our criminal case flow and made several recommendations aimed at helping the court process cases more efficiently and enhancing justice.  The Court has worked closely with the Prosecuting Attorney, the Office of Public Defense, the private bar, the Clerk’s Office, Offender Services, and the Jail and is changing the way we process criminal cases through the Superior Court.   The court is committed to the fair and timely disposition of all cases that come before us and we are committed to avoiding unnecessary delay.  Long term success depends upon leadership from the court and cooperation between all participants.

If you are an attorney handling a criminal case, please familiarize yourself with local rules, local criminal forms, and the court’s expectations.  

FIRST COURT APPEARANCE

Every day of the work week at 1:00 p.m., the court has a first appearance docket where persons arrested in the past twenty-four hours appear before the court.  At this hearing, the Judge reads a sworn statement provided by law enforcement and decides if there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.   If the court makes that finding the court will inform the accused (the terms accused, and defendant are used interchangeably) of their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney.  In most cases the Court will appoint an attorney.  Because the court cannot be involved in the selection of which attorney is appointed, the court appoints an attorney who has been assigned by the Cowlitz County Office of Public Defense.  And in every case the person has an opportunity to be represented by an OPD staff attorney during the first appearance hearing. 

The Court then addresses whether to release the person on their own recognizance, or set conditions of release, or set bail.  By court rule it is presumed an accused person will be released on their own recognizance; however, the court may establish conditions of release, and/or bail if the State makes a showing that the person is likely not to appear at future hearings, or the person will pose a danger to the community.  The court may also enter no contact orders. 

The judge will inform the defendant of their responsibility to meet with their attorney.    The court will provide the accused with a document that informs them of their potential jeopardy, their rights in a criminal case, and three options that many accused persons have: the opportunity to apply for one of the therapeutic courts, drug court or mental health court, or to apply for the prosecutor’s diversion program.  The accused will be told that they are expected to speak with their attorney before their arraignment, discuss their rights, and the decisions that the court requires accused persons to make early in the process.


 

ARRAIGNMENT (held within 14 days of the first appearance)

Arraignment is where charges are read to the accused in open court and the accused enters a plea of not guilty or a plea of guilty.   While defendants have a right to plead guilty at this hearing, most people plead not guilty.   If that occurs, the court will tell the defendant that they must meet with their attorney to determine if they are going to apply for a therapeutic court or the prosecutor’s diversion program and that they must submit such applications before the trial assignment hearing.  The court will ask the Prosecution if an offer has been extended to the accused and the date the offer expires.  If there is an offer and a deadline, the court will address this with the accused.

TRIAL ASSIGNMENT (held within 14 days of arraignment for clients in custody and within 28 days for client who are out of custody)

The trial assignment hearing is an important hearing for many reasons.  The court is making early efforts to better identify the cases that will more likely go to trial and identify the cases that will be handled in another manner.   That is one reason for this hearing serving as the deadline to have filed an application for drug court, mental health court, or the Prosecutor’s diversion program.  This date may also be a deadline for an accused person to accept an offer from the State to resolve the case. 

If the accused has applied for a therapeutic court or diversion, instead of setting the case for trial, the court will accept a waiver of speedy trial and set a review date.  The court will inform the accused that they must stay in touch with their lawyer, and that the accused must take the steps that those programs require before the accused is formally accepted into a therapeutic court or diversion.  The defendant is told that their progress will be reviewed at the next hearing, the expectation is that they will take the steps required of them, and that if they failure to make satisfactory progress they could lose the opportunity to participate in a therapeutic court or diversion. 

If the accused accepts an offer, the court will take the plea from the accused at the hearing.   If the accused chooses to exercise their right to a jury trial, the court will enter a scheduling order, set a date for omnibus hearing, readiness review, and jury trial.  This order places responsibilities and deadline on the lawyers and on the defendant.

In setting a realistic trial date, the court recognizes that some cases necessarily take more time for both sides to prepare than the Washington speedy trial rule allows.  The court will inquire of the parties how much time is necessary to prepare the case for trial, and in cases where more time is needed to prepare for trial, the court will accept a speedy trial waiver so that a realistic trial date can be set, and unnecessary hearings can be avoided.   The court is committed to avoiding both unnecessary hearings and unnecessary delays.   

Omnibus hearings

Omnibus hearings exist to assure that both parties are complying with discovery and that the case is progressing in a manner consistent with the court’s expectations.  Discovery is a legal process that involves the exchange of information needed to try the case.   Necessary information generally includes the exchange of witnesses, reports, any legal defense being raised.   In cases where discovery is not complete, the court can enter orders requiring compliance by a deadline.

At this hearing the court will enter a pretrial management order.  This order will require the parties to report on the completeness of discovery, disclose their witnesses, and inform the court how much time is needed for trial   The court will set hearing dates for any motion that must be decided prior to trial.

If the parties agree ahead of time to a pre-trial management order, they can propose an agreed order to the court prior to the hearing.  The manner of providing a proposed order to the court is set out in the scheduling order.  If the court signs the order, the hearing will be stricken. 

In the event a party has filed and served the other side with a written motion to continue the trial date, the court will consider that request. 

READINESS HEARING

8:30 A.M.  Readiness pre-docket meeting- All cases set for trial will be reviewed on Tuesday the week prior to trial, at 8:30 am.  Every attorney with a matter on readiness calendar must attend this meeting.  Attendance at the meeting can occur via Zoom.  The court will also inquire of the parties which criminal motions set before the next readiness hearing are on track to be heard as scheduled.   

9:00 A.M Readiness Docket - All defendants and their attorneys scheduled for trial the following week must appear, so the court can determine when their case will be heard the following week.

In the event a party has filed and served the other side with a written motion to continue the trial date, the court will consider that request. 

All motions in limine and pleadings related to CrR 3.5 shall be filed and served by the readiness hearing. 

JURY TRIAL

Jury trials are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at start at 8:30 a.m.  On the first day of the trial, jurors are selected during a process called voir dire.   During each day of trial, the court takes a break in the morning, for lunch, and mid-afternoon, and generally recesses for the day by 4:30 p.m. 

MISCELLANEOUS

Location of hearings

All criminal dockets are held at the Cowlitz County Jail Courtroom, 1935 1st Avenue, Longview, WA 98632.

Superior Court Administration can be reached at 360 577 3085 and via email at superiorcourtadministration@cowlitzwa.gov.

Private and out of town attorneys may schedule hearings during any of the six dockets assigned to a defense group; motions must be set on one of the two motion calendars.  The schedule of Criminal Dockets can be found here: LINK.


 

Criminal Motions

No later than 14 days before the day the matter is set for hearing, criminal motions, already set by the court, must be filed, and served with a docket notice that sets the hearing on a criminal motion docket.  Responsive pleadings must be filed and served no later than 7 days before the hearing date.   All motions shall be scheduled before the scheduled trial date.  Any motion that is filed with insufficient time to comply with these requirements must be accompanied by a motion for an order shortening time and a proposed order that allows the matter to be set prior to the trial date.

Motions must be confirmed with Superior Court Administration no later than five (5) court days prior to the scheduled hearing.

Interpreter Matters 

If a case requires an interpreter, the attorney needing an interpreter for their client or a witness in their case must alert Superior Court Administration of your need well before each hearing.  See CCLAR 11.   The procedures and deadlines for doing so are set out on our interpreter’s page. https://www.cowlitzsuperiorcourt.us/interpreters   

There is also a flowchart setting out the Court’s expectations that can be accessed here: LINK.

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TELEPHONE: (360) 577-3085
TTY (800) 883-6388 OR 7115
Superior Court Administration Hours: 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM
312 SW FIRST AVENUE, SUITE 250
KELSO, WA 98626
 
Building Hours - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM