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The criminal justice process - Negotiations and early resolutions

Not all cases go to trial, learn about negotiations and early resolutions in the criminal justice process.

At any point prior to the beginning of trial, the defendant may choose to plead guilty. It’s not uncommon for the prosecution and the defense to negotiate a resolution that avoids trial and addresses accountability for the crime committed. Not all cases resolve in a plea. Some cases may be set for trial and some cases may result in charges being dismissed.

Work behind the scenes

During the pretrial phase, there is a lot of work happening behind the scenes.

  • The prosecutor will review all the investigation materials and looks for any new or additional information that may be needed.
  • The defense attorney does the same, and has conversations with their client, discussing the evidence that may be brought against them at trial, the consequences associated with the current charge, and what their options may be regarding a negotiated resolution.


During negotiations, the prosecutor and the defense attorney discuss what a possible resolution or plea would look like. They consider input from both the victim and the defendant.

Washington sentencing guidelines

Any negotiation must consider the sentencing guidelines established by the Washington State Legislature. Any possible sentence must fall within those guidelines, which is influenced by:

  • The seriousness level of the crime, and
  • The criminal history of the defendant.

In some cases, a reduced or changed (amended) charge may be appropriate.

Sentencing conditions

Any negotiated resolution or plea avoids the need to go to trial, or the right to appeal. A negotiated resolution may include the ability to:

  • Request treatment.
  • Order protection orders.
  • Order evaluations, or
  • Other case-specific options.

Sometimes a negotiated resolution is not possible. Both sides may be too far apart to find that middle ground that satisfies both parties involved. At that point, the parties may decide that the case needs to be set for trial.

Crime Victims

As a victim or survivor, you may provide your thoughts about the proposed resolution. The prosecutor is the representative of the State of Washington and makes the ultimate decision regarding what resolutions to offer. However, input from victims may be welcomed. Ultimately, any agreed recommendation is presented to the judge who makes the final decision to accept the proposed resolution and states the individual sentence for the defendant. At the sentencing hearing, victims have a right to:

  • Provide a victim impact statement.
  • Share their support or concerns regarding any proposed resolution to the judge for final