Our staff understands that receiving a citation for a criminal matter may be a confusing and frightening experience. We hope this brochure will be of help in guiding you through the process and taking some of the mystery out of the procedures. We have tried to anticipate and answer the more frequently asked questions, please ask any of our staff members to help you. Our office hours are from 8:00am to 4:30pm weekdays, except legal holidays. Please remember, our staff is prohibited by law from giving legal advice.
What do I do first?
The officer who issued the citation has given you an appearance date on the front of your citation, or you’ve received a date either by posting bail or by summons through the mail. This date is your arraignment. At the arraignment, you will be informed of the charges against you and your legal rights, and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. When you come to the courthouse, check in with District Court. Court docket scrollers or staff will direct you to the correct court room. Before you enter your plea, you will be asked if you would like to complete a financial screening to determine if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney. You will also be given the option to discuss your case with the prosecutor. After you enter your plea, the clerk will set your next court appearance if one is necessary.
What if I don't come to court?
If you fail to appear, or fail to have an attorney appear for you, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
Do I need a lawyer?
Discussing your rights with an attorney will assist you in understanding the charges, your rights, and the legal process. If you are financially unable to hire a lawyer, tell the judge, and you will be referred to the District Court Administrative office for financial screening. The financial screening will be used to determine your eligibility to a court appointed attorney.
What happens if I plead not guilty?
A plea of not guilty denies the charge and none of your constitutional rights are waived unless you expressly wish to do so. You are presumed innocent and the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial. Your next hearing will be a pretrial conference, where the prosecutor will be present to discuss all facets of your case and exchange information with you or your attorney, if you have one. If you are unable to come to an agreement with the prosecutor, your case will proceed to a pretrial hearing, where future dates, including the trial date, will be set. The future readiness hearing, scheduled shortly before the trial, confirms that both parties are ready to proceed to trial.
If I plead guilty, what will happen?
If you plead guilty, it means you admit the charge and the elements to prove the charge, and in most cases, you will be sentenced right then. However, you may speak on your behalf at sentencing. The judge will review the case, your criminal history record, and then sentence you. The judge may refer you to a probation officer for a pre-sentence investigation. If so, the sentencing will be postponed until the report is ready.
What is a suspended sentence?
The judge may suspend a portion or all of a jail sentence or fine, on the condition you comply with various conditions within a time limit. If the conditions are violated, you will be required to return to court to show good cause why the suspended part of the sentence should not be imposed.
Will I have time to pay the fine?
Generally you will have 30 days to pay your fine. If you wish to set up a time payment agreement, please obtain the forms for Signal Management before the due date. You may pick up the forms at the District Court office between the hours of 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday. Failure to follow the agreement can result in late fees, a suspension of your driving privileges, and assignment to a collection agency. Also, if your check is returned by the bank for any reason, a $25 returned check fee will be added, and no further personal checks will be accepted from you.
What should I wear to court?
You should try to look your best for court. No halter tops, tank tops, shorts, or hats are to be worn in the courtroom. It is in your best interest to be properly dressed.
How should I act in court?
When the judge or clerk calls your name, come forward. Be polite, courteous and remain standing until instructed otherwise by the judge. Talking is allowed only by the judge, court staff, and those whose case is being heard. Smoking is not allowed anywhere in the courthouse. Chewing gum, food, or beverages are not allowed in courtrooms. No talking on cell phones or texting is allowed in court, as cell phones should be turned off. It is a violation of law to bring a weapon into a courtroom. Children may come to court, but if they disturb the proceedings, you will be asked to remove them. Child care is not provided. If you bring your children, and the judge sentences you to jail, Child Protective Services will be called if no one is present to take your children for you.
Clark County District Court
1200 Franklin Street
PO Box 9806
Vancouver, WA 98666-8806
Phone: (564) 397-2424
Monday through Friday 8:00am-4:30pm