Steps in a Criminal Case


The police investigate, take statements and examine evidence. If they feel there is probable cause, they will arrest and cite the defendant. They write a report, attach the written witness statements and forward the case package to the Prosecutor.

Filing of Criminal Charges

A criminal case begins when a charging document - either a complaint or citation - is filed with the Oak Harbor Municipal Court against the defendant. The document sets forth the crime(s) that the defendant is charged with. The Prosecutor or Police files the charges, not the victim of the crime.

A crime is a misdemeanor if the possible punishment does not exceed 90 days in jail, $1,000 fine or both such jail and fine. A crime is designated a gross misdemeanor if the possible punishment does not exceed 364 days in jail, $5,000 fine or both such jail and fine. Misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors committed within the Oak Harbor city limits are filed in the Oak Harbor Municipal Court.

A crime is a felony if the possible punishment may exceed one year in prison. Felonies include, but are not limited to, possession of cocaine, burglary, robbery and murder. Prosecution of felonies which occur in Oak Harbor are handled by the Island County Prosecutor's Office 360-679-7363. These cases are filed in the Island County Superior Court.

Juvenile case referrals go through Juvenile Court Services located in Coupeville 360-679-7325. Check with Juvenile Court Services prior to contacting the Island County Prosecutor's Office.


The citation sets a date when the defendant is to appear in court for arraignment, where he/she pleads either guilty or not guilty. Many defendants plead not guilty at arraignment. The Court Clerk then sets pretrial, readiness hearing and trial dates.

Pretrial Hearing

If the defendant pleads not guilty, the next hearing is the pretrial hearing. At this hearing, parties may file pretrial motions and address any pretrial issues that they might have. In addition, this is the opportunity to make sure that discovery has been exchanged by both parties. Discovery is any information that is necessary for each party to prepare the case (police report, lab reports, witness statements).


If the defendant notifies the judge at the pretrial that he/she is going to represent himself/herself at trial, defendant may request discovery by notifying the Prosecutor in court or by completing a Discovery Request form. The Discovery Request form may be given to the Prosecutor in court or the defendant may mail/drop it off at the City Attorney's Office at:
City Hall
865 SE Barrington Drive
Oak Harbor, WA 98277

A discovery letter with attachments will be prepared and mailed to the defendant or will be available for pick-up, whichever the defendant requests. If the defendant obtains an attorney, discovery will be provided to their attorney upon our office receiving their Notice of Appearance. Discovery will be provided only once.


Motion hearings are to ascertain what evidence will be presented to the trier of fact at trial. Both parties may present testimony and/or argument regarding the motion and the judge will decide on the admissibility of the evidence. Typical motions include, but are not limited to, probable cause to arrest and suppression of statements.

Readiness Hearings

This hearing is scheduled the Tuesday before trial to determine whether both parties are ready to proceed.


Subpoenas will be issued instructing witnesses to come to court on the day of the scheduled trial. If you have received a subpoena, please call our office the day prior to trial to check and see that the matter is actually proceeding. If the case is going to trial, bring the subpoena to court with you. If you have a disability and are in need of assistance in complying with a subpoena, please contact our office at 360-279-4540 before court.

The length of a criminal trial can vary depending upon the nature of the charges, the number of witnesses, and numerous other factors. Since the prosecution has the burden of proof, the prosecution presents its evidence first. The defendant then may decide to present evidence but is under no obligation to do so. After closing arguments by the attorneys, the jury begins deliberations which continue until a verdict is reached. If the case is heard in front of a judge rather than a jury, then the judge will decide the verdict.

The jury is made up of six persons. In a criminal case, the jury must be unanimous in reaching a verdict.


In Oak Harbor Municipal Court, if the defendant is convicted, the judge may sentence the defendant immediately or, more typically, schedule a date for the defendant to return to be sentenced.

Before imposing sentence, the judge will hear from the prosecution, the victim or representative of the victim, the defense attorney and the defendant.


After sentencing, a defendant may appeal a conviction and sentence. Appeals of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor convictions are initially filed in the Island County Superior Court.