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What are a defendant's rights during a criminal trial?

In many instances, a person in Washington charged with a crime does not go to trial. He or she may reach a favorable plea negotiation, usually with the help of a criminal defense attorney, or the charges can be dropped. For some types of criminal charges, often drug charges, a diversion program may be available that results in an outcome beneficial to the individual and avoids a criminal conviction.

However, in some cases a criminal trial is a necessary part of the criminal justice process. Still, as with many aspects of the criminal justice system, a person's rights can be diminished, overlooked or even trampled-upon as they feel powerless against the state. It is important to remember that Washington State residents charged with a crime do have key rights after an arrest and leading up to -- and during -- a criminal trial.

One of the most notable rights is the right to a trial itself. At times the state may urge defendants to enter into a plea deal, but that may not always be in the defendant's best interests. A defendant may lawfully waive his or her rights to a trial by pleading guilty, but the court must inform a defendant of which rights they are giving up by entering into such a plea. If a defendant goes to trial, that person has the right to a trial by jury, the right to confront witnesses against them and the right to present witnesses supporting one's case. A defendant also has the right to be informed of the maximum possible sentence that may be imposed against them, as well as of any mandatory minimum sentences which may apply.

When a defendant first appears in court, he or she also has the right to be informed of the nature of one's charges. If the defendant is convicted at trial, he or she has the right to appeal that conviction. A defendant also has the right to a criminal defense attorney's representation at trial. According to the Washington State Bar Association, if a defendant does decide to utilize a defense attorney, it is often wise to do so before making any decisions regarding the case.

Source: Washington State Bar Association, "Criminal Law," accessed April 30, 2016

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