District of Columbia Criminal Courts
The courts of Washington DC are a separate entity completely from those of surrounding areas. Where you will face the judge depends on where you were arrested and which department took you into custody. If DC Metro Police were involved, you will be facing charges in the District of Columbia courts.
Courts in the District of Columbia weren’t established until 1970. Until that time, things were handled at the federal level or in the city’s local jurisdiction. Now, however, DC operates the Superior Court and DC Court of Appeals, similar to other state criminal courts in the nation.
Knowing how the courts here work can put your mind at ease when you are facing charges. There are two basic routes that your criminal case can take in the District of Columbia courts.
- Community Courts
- Superior Court
The charge you are facing largely determines where your case will be heard.
The D.C Community Courts were created to ease some of the stress on the larger Superior Courts. There are two of such courthouses in the city, the D.C. Misdemeanor and Traffic Community Court and the East of the River Community Court (ERCC). Both are located in the Moultrie Courthouse on Indiana Avenue.
The East of the River Community Court was created in 2002 to handle misdemeanor cases out of Wards 7 and 8, where crime is typically higher. If you are facing minor drug charges, disorderly conduct, or any other misdemeanor charges arising out of this neighborhood that don’t involve domestic violence, your case will likely be heard here.
The D.C. Traffic and Misdemeanor Court was started earlier in 2002 and handles all D.C. traffic violations and many misdemeanors. Many of the cases here are considered drains on the community. They are non violent crimes that is said to have a negative impact on the people of DC.
Both Community Courts involve the cooperation of multiple agencies to ensure that defendants receive a balanced penalty. Cases heard in these courtrooms are often resolved using a combination of punishment and rehabilitation. For instance, if charged with vandalism, you may be required to clean up graffiti as part of your sentence.
One other community court is the Drug Court, more formally known as the Superior Court Drug Intervention Program. This court is designed to give non violent drug offenders the tools they need to stay out of trouble. Organizations with access to drug treatment and similar programs work with the court to help prevent future contacts with law enforcement.
Superior Criminal Court
If you are charged with a felony, your case will likely be heard by the Superior Court of D.C. Like other criminal courts across the nation, this is considered a trial court, where the result is often far more serious than fines and community service.
Your trial, whether at the Community or Superior Court level will often run the same basic route. While each case is different, the steps go something like this:
- Arraignment/ Potential for Bail
- Pretrial Proceedings
It is important to note that the vast majority of criminal cases here and across the country end in a plea agreement. Plea bargains can happen at any stage of the criminal process. They are an agreement between the two sides and may offer you a lower charge or reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
For more information about the charges you face and what kind of penalty you are up against, take a look at my D.C. Criminal Charges and Sentencing page.
Having represented multiple clients in the District of Columbia Community and Superior Courts, I know how the local system works. These are serious charges and you need an attorney that is equally serious about getting you the results you want.
Call Our Attorneys a Free Consultation on any Washigton DC Criminal Offense
Call us at (888) 452-4344 for a no obligation, criminal defense consultation.