Jennifer Witt

Jennifer Witt

If you were arrested for a crime involving drugs or alcohol, your attorney may request that you seek a drug or alcohol assessment that could be used for the purpose of negotiation. Additionally, there are circumstances in which the Court may require you to have an evaluation. A conviction for the following crimes may trigger a mandatory evaluation:

 

•  DUI/DWI—Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs

•  MIP—Minor in possession

•  Public intoxication

•  Disorderly conduct

•  Conviction for possession of drugs

•  Physical control

•  And, by discretion, any case where the crime involved drugs or alcohol

 

What You Will Need For Your Evaluation

 

Before you attend your evaluation, you will need to make sure that you or your attorney have provided the treatment agency with certain required documents. Those documents are: (1) the criminal complaint, (2) the arrest report with police narrative, (3) your criminal history, and (4) your driving abstract, which is usually provided in discovery but you may need to get it from the Department of Licensing.

You May Be Drug Tested 

 

In nearly all cases, the evaluation will include a urinalysis to detect the presence of drugs or alcohol in your system at the time of the evaluation. If this will be a problem, you may want to discuss this with your attorney prior to making your appointment. Depending on your location, it may take a week to a month to get an appointment for the evaluation so consider this if you have strict timelines. Additionally, the report may not be ready and provided to your attorney or probation for another week or two. Be sure to ask your attorney who should receive a copy of the final report. You may want to see the recommendations before a copy is provided to the Court or Probation.

 The Interview

 

The entire interview with questionnaires and UA should take approximately 90 minutes. A summary of your answers, the UA result, and the court documents will all be referenced in the final report. It will also include a determination as to whether you have a problem with drugs or alcohol and the recommendations that are appropriate. These recommendations may range from an 8 hour ADIS class (Alcohol Drug Information School) to something as intense as in-patient treatment for an extended period of time. Other common requirements that may be ordered by the Court or recommendations by the evaluator are: AA meetings, substance abuse education classes, counseling, group support sessions, and random drug or alcohol testing.

 Questions?

 

If you have any other questions or concerns about an upcoming drug and alcohol assessment, it is important to talk with your lawyer. If the Court ordered you to have an evaluation, there are strict guidelines as to who can administer this evaluation. Not all agencies are approved by the Court and you don't want to waste your money. So, when in doubt, seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. At Witt Law Group, we offer free consultations 24/7 and can handle almost all matters over the phone, email, or zoom.

 

From an outward appearance, courts seem to have relaxed in their pretrial conditions of release, and certainly on how quickly they are requiring people to come back to court. Some people are misinterpreting this and believe that other timelines are relaxed as well. One example of this is the timeline to request a DOL hearing following your DUI arrest. In our jurisdiction, that timeline is 7 days. If you wait longer than 7 days, you forever give up your ability to challenge DOL's suspension of your driver's license. We know the days bleed together at this point but don’t forget this important deadline!

 

Another problem could arise for those of you who appeared in court (whether in person, telephonically, or via Zoom) and a condition to contact probation was required by the Court. This is a bit confusing since probation is not technically “open” but they are still working. Make sure you always comply with the Prosecutor or Judge’s order. If you have 24 hours to “make contact with probation,” make sure you email or phone probation your contact information, your case number, and anything else you have been instructed to provide. Don’t put yourself in jeopardy by treating any legal matter as though you will “get a pass” if you fail to comply. That is a recipe for a much bigger problem when the courthouse finally opens.

 

While it is true that there are many changes to how courts are running during the COVID-19 pandemic, most aspects of our practice are moving along in a normal fashion. It took a few weeks to get all the “players” in place and learning to practice law from home but, for the most part, we have all settled into our new normal. For this reason, the short answer to this questions is—don’t count on that kind of miracle.

Criminal Cases Continue To Be Charged

 

In fact, most prosecutors we have spoken with have indicated that, during their time away from the courtroom, they are spending more time charging cases. This means they are reviewing police reports that may have been filed with their office in the past year and deciding whether to charge a person with a crime. If they charge you, the case is sent over to the District Court Clerk’s office and they will send a Summons to your last known address with Department of Licensing. This is a good reason to make sure your mailing address is up to date! So, be prepared that charging is increasing and Summons are already being received in the mail. To us, that means prosecutors are moving full steam ahead during the pandemic.

Is There A Silver Lining? 

 

One potential positive outcome due to the COVID-19 court changes might be the willingness of the prosecutor’s office to extend better offers to defendants. This could be happening to avoid the upcoming backlog of cases that we know will soon be clogging the court calendars. The “better offers” might look like a pretrial diversion agreement with less restrictive conditions than in a normal circumstance. However, we do not expect to see any straight dismissal of charges unless there was already a legitimate legal challenge to the charge. The best way to know if you are a candidate for a “pandemic deal” is to keep in touch with your lawyer and let them know if you have taken any proactive steps during the court date rescheduling period. The more seriously you take your criminal charge and the more proactive steps you have taken during the break, the greater likelihood of negotiating a good deal should you choose not to go to trial.

 

Witt Law Group is a criminal defense law firm based in Bremerton, Kitsap County, State of Washington. 

 

One of the new options under the umbrella of Therapeutic Court is called THRIVE. This new program stands for Teaching, Healing, Resilience, Independence, Voice, and Empowerment. This new program is available to a person who has been exploited or trafficked in their life. This can mean anything from survival sex, sex for drugs, having a pimp, labor exploitation, or other behaviors that indicate exploitation. Most importantly, there is not a requirement that you testify against your pimp or trafficker but you will be required to comply with subpoenas. If this is something you are concerned about (you know that the Prosecution will need your testimony in a trial) you should address this with your defense attorney.

Does my charge have a nexus to my current or past abuse?

 

The key to qualifying for THRIVE is that the applicant’s exploitation must, in some way, be connected to the current offense. For this reason, the THRIVE team has to look at eligibility on a case-by-case basis to review the facts around the applicants pending criminal charge. However, there are some criminal charges that will automatically make you ineligible such as sex offenses, serious violent offenses (as defined by statute), or where the accused appears to be more of a trafficker than the one being exploited.

How do I apply?

 

The Prosecutor’s office has a therapeutic court form which must be submitted before the team will conduct a needs assessment and substance abuse disorder evaluation. The team will review your application and determine if the necessary nexus exits in your case. If you are approved, you will meet with the team every other Friday morning.

 

What is required of a THRIVE participant?

 

The program is 18 months long, which includes three 6 month phases. Some participants will need inpatient treatment first and then the participant will begin outpatient treatment and mental health treatment. Unlike other therapeutic court programs, the participants in THRIVE do have the option to participate in out of county therapeutic programs. Additionally, another unusual component is that the team may allow you to appear via video rather than in-person for every court appearance. With such intense treatment, this option of video appearance makes compliance with treatment requirements quite a bit easier.

As we were reviewing upcoming court hearings, we touched base with Pierce County District Court and learned they are handling things a bit differently. Unlike Kitsap County, which is already moving court dates to June and July, Pierce is taking a “pause” on court hearings. It was explained by a Clerk that “paused” means no one appears on the current date set (in April, for example) and, when the Courts return to a normal schedule, they will reschedule a hearing date and send out notice.

Make Sure Your Address Is Correct!

 

The only issue with this process is that, if you are “waiting” for a new date, it is possible that your summons might not reach you. Theoretically, if your address is up to date with Department of Licensing, you should receive the mailing of your new date. However, in the past, mistakes have been made. To avoid any risk of missing your new court date, make sure you check in with your lawyer. You can also check with the Clerk’s office to make sure they have an accurate address for you.

How To Check Your Date Online

 

If you want to check on any pending rescheduling, we have provided a video on how you can look up your court date under our Videos tab. It does NOT work for any Superior Court. Again, if you do not see your new date, it is best practice to check in with your attorney or the Clerk’s office. Once you click on the video (below), make sure to scroll down. 

 

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO ON HOW TO FIND YOUR DATE

 

 

One of the frustrations for criminal defense attorneys is helping clients understand that criminal justice is not always just. It is not uncommon that two defendants who have been arrested for DUI will have very different outcomes depending on the county they were arrested. The primary factors that influence your defense outcome are: 1) the intensity of law enforcement in the area, 2) the workload of the prosecutors, 3) the size of the court system 4) the “culture” of the prosecutor’s office and 5) the amount of contact defense attorneys can have with the prosecutor. To illustrate, there are frequently very different outcomes in the counties that are within 30 miles of each other.

Mason County

In Mason County, the two best adjectives to describe their court system are archaic and inflexible. Not much has changed in that county for the nearly 20 years we have practiced. While surrounding counties have added computerized systems and creative types of resolution options to keep the courts more efficient, Mason has clung to their old ways. It is nearly impossible to have a phone conversation or get a response email from a prosecutor. For that reason, defense attorneys generally dislike practicing in Mason County. It takes a lot of driving out to Mason only to appear at a hearing and get nowhere in the negotiation process. Additionally, their fines are frequently very high. In our opinion, they seem inconsistent with the established law directing courts to take into account the defendant’s actual ability to pay.

Pierce County

Pierce County has moved to a more rehabilitative model and has several new paths for negotiating criminal resolutions. For example, if you qualify, there is a possibility that they will reduce the severity of a charge for a negotiated plea. The new methods of resolving cases with a more rehabilitate consideration is generally better for everyone—including the taxpayers. Often, the defendant really needs mental health care or treatment for addiction. When the defendant gets the treatment (usually on their on dime), the tax payers wins in terms of law enforcement avoiding repeat arrests, the prosecutor can hand the case over to probation rather than tie up jurors and a judge in a trial, and, with reduce repeat arrests, the public defenders can keep people off their caseload who simply just need treatment rather than jail time.

The challenge with Pierce is that the system of communication is very rigid. As a former prosecutor in Pierce County, Ryan is very familiar with the DPAs heavy caseloads. They are also tied to a very strict protocol that each deputy prosecutor must adhere to—creating very little flexibility in negotiating. For example, if the defense attorney points out a valid 3.6 Motion that could be a big issue for the prosecutor at trial, this does not mean the lower level prosecutor (often not many years out of law school) will have the authority to negotiate the case to a lower charge or a diversion-type of resolution, which is more appropriate. In our opinion, this is likely due in part to the size of the Pierce County criminal justice “machine” and the fact that, with so many deputy prosecutors, the elected Prosecutor is trying to keep uniformity in handling criminal cases. The downside is that, no matter what your unique circumstances or great legal defenses, the prosecutor likely has no authority to be creative in the resolution. If you have a great defense, you probably have to go to trial. That is always the least efficient and most costly option for everyone involved but, occasionally, it just needs to be done. Unfortunately, that means subpoenaing officers and keeping a prosecutor in trial for a day or two on a case that was “resolvable”—which is frustrating for everyone.

Kitsap County

Kitsap is moving in a much more rehabilitative model than surrounding counties. There have been quite a few additions to their Therapeutic Court. To increase the odds that recidivism will decrease, Kitsap tries to consider why the defendant is facing legal trouble. If it’s a untreated mental health issue or addiction, the prosecutor will likely consider an alternative resolution. There are facts in the criminal charging that can preclude a person from qualifying for the programs but, generally, a prosecutor will give defense counsel time to “pitch” a client’s case. This is, in part, due to the fact that Kitsap prosecutors have more autonomy in their position. In most cases, an individual deputy prosecutor is trusted to know how to resolve their case load in the most efficient and judicious manner. If an issue arises in which a defendant has a very unique set of circumstances, Kitsap prosecutors tend to be open to discussing a deviation from the “normal course” with a more senior prosecutor, if the facts warrant a unique resolution. For that reason, Kitsap is our favorite place to practice criminal defense.

There are many municipalities surrounding these counties that are also doing a good job at moving toward the various rehabilitative models. Whenever possible, the deputy prosecutors are trying to review the criminal case in a holistic manner and determine how to best reduce the chance for re-offense. This does not mean ignoring victims’ concerns but the goal is to see an efficient resolution that also increases the odds that the defendant will stay out of the criminal justice system in the future. They don’t all use the same methods of resolution but cities such as Port Orchard, Bremerton, and Poulsbo all share the goal of reducing recidivism through proper treatment.

If you are tuned into current events, you recently heard mention of efforts to require more transparency in healthcare costs. One of the challenges that consumers face is not understanding how medical facilities code their services for billing. Additionally, there is very little consistency in the coding—even within the same facility.

Why Are There Multipe ER Bills?

 

For starters, a visit to your local emergency room will typically produce two or three bills. The first bill will be a facility bill. This bill will list a charge of level I up to level V based on the complexity of your visit. Level V is the most complex and, therefore, the most expensive. Most often, another bill will be sent to you for the emergency room physician’s services. In our experience, these collection services tend to be the most aggressive and the least flexible. Finally, if you had any X-rays or a CT scan done while at the hospital, you will likely receive a separate imaging bill. Any lab work performed can also be billed separately but, depending on the facility, might be included in your facility bill as a separate line item. That’s a lot of billing!

Of the bills generated by an Emergency Department, the one most ripe for review is your facility bill. The reason is that there are no exact standards for assessing the complexity of your visit. Basically, there is a lot of gray area in facility coding. For example, if two individuals seek care for chest pains, one emergency department patient might be billed level III and the other at level IV or V. One of the patients might be older and the symptoms might look like a potential heart attack so many more resources and testing is necessary. A young healthy patient might have a history of heartburn and the doctor provides a prescription level medication for the discomfort without performing an EKG or labs.

How Are My Bills Coded? And What Does That Mean?

 

While there are no hard and fast rules about coding your visit, there are some general rules that the provider uses to properly bill you for services. First, there is a valuation of resources. This means the provider is looking at how a patient with your symptoms or presentation uses resources such as nursing, staff, ER room, and even the cost to create a medical record and bill you. Second, the number of diagnostic tests used to determine your diagnosis or rule out more serious concerns is a factor in cost. Finally, the level of complexity of your presentation is a big factor in determining the proper level of coding. For example, if you are brought to the ER unconscious with no guidance on how or why you are unconscious, there will be many doctors, nurses, lab technicians and specialists trying to quickly determine whether you are in a life or death situation. Your presentation to the facility has pulled so many resources for only one patient that the bill will reflect that “draw” on resources.

Can You Really Afford To Go To The Emergency Room?

 

The problem for the average consumer is that, when you have to use the emergency department because the urgent care is closed, how can you decide whether you can afford to treat your strep throat tonight or whether you should manage until tomorrow? Honestly, the bill might kill you so it’s worth thinking about! The difference in receiving antibiotics via pills versus intravenous treatment can cause the facility bill to go from level II to level IV, which can be a difference of more than a thousand dollars. There are many factors to consider when your medical issue is not really an emergency. If you are paying the balance, it is important to know what you could be charged.

To illustrate, we randomly pulled 5 personal injury files and reviewed the billing for emergency department visits.

The first four clients were treated at facilities on the Kitsap Peninsula:

1) ER level IV bill = $2,773.00
ER physician’s bill = $953.00

2) ER level III = $1,793.00
ER physician’s bill = $1,057.00

3) ER level IV = $2,641.00
ER physician’s bill = $1,407.00

4) ER level IV = $2,773.00
ER physician’s bill = $603.00

Client treated on the Olympic Peninsula:

5) ER level IV = $727.50
ER physician’s bill = $169.50

 

As you can see, the difference of a level IV facility bill on the two peninsulas was a difference of nearly two thousand dollars!

Can An Urgent Care Handle Your Needs?

 

If you know that an urgent care can handle your needs, it is important to consider that your out of pocket expenses are likely to be far lower. Additionally, if you do not have insurance, there is no “allowed amount” reduction as is done for those who have private insurance or Medicare. In fact, CMS has greatly reduced allowed amounts so the patient will never be forced to pay $2,700.00 for a facility charge. Additionally, the Center for Medicare Services has been reviewing these charges with more scrutiny and refusing to pay bills where hospitals are “upcoding” a patient’s visit. This is good news for those using Medicare or Medicaid. However, for the rest of consumers, there is more to be done to avoid a financially devastating bill.

Hopefully, the medical transparency bill will lead to better outcomes. Part of the equation to improving outcomes means taking some responsibility as the patient. If you are not in a life-threatening situation, you might consider driving to a less convenient location for a greatly reduced bill. A high level trauma center, with the high cost of running such a facility, might not be the hospital you want to visit. The facility bill for a level I trauma center is likely to be five or ten times higher than an urgent care. Without transparency in the billing by these facilities, it becomes impossible for the patient to make informed and cost-saving decisions.

Why Do We Care About Your Billing?

 

So why would a personal injury firm care about all of this billing? After all, won’t the insurance companies pick up the tab? Yes and no.

The explanation regarding subrogation could cover 10 blogs but, in a nutshell, if you “over spend” when treating a soft tissue injury (whiplash) your “pay back” to your medical insurance provider could mean there is nothing left in your pocket for pain and suffering. For example, our clients with straight forward “whiplash” cases often visit the emergency room immediately following the accident, follow up with a primary care doctor, and seek chiropractic treatment or physical therapy. If the hospital visit included a CT scan and other X-rays, you can assume that the imaging bill will be somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, a level IV facility bill of nearly $2,000, an ER doctor bill of approximately $1,000 in addition to the $3,000-$5,000 for chiropractic or physical therapy. If none of those bills are reduced, the injured person who has no medical insurance or poor coverage is looking at a potentially terrible situation.

Despite the “injury calculators” all over the internet (the ones that say you will get 5x medical expenses), soft tissue cases have a ceiling. The insurance companies know what juries will award in every jurisdiction and they aren’t about to hand out extra money in settlements because the injured person is stuck with a massive ER bill. The insurance adjuster is considering whether the care is reasonable and related to the accident but the patient or her attorney has to keep in mind that the cost of the treatment should also be reasonable and fall within an average settlement award for those injuries.

Speak With An Auto Accident Lawyer As Soon As Possible!

 

If you have been injured in an accident, it is important to talk with a lawyer as soon as possible. Occasionally, we have been able to help clients qualify for insurance that has retroactively covered an emergency visit. Knowing how to handle accident cases and get the best outcome for an injured person often means having an advocate immediately following your injury. A delay in legal advice can mean the difference in getting stuck with your medical bills due to someone else’s negligence or actually being able to treat your injuries and also receive compensation for your pain.

If you have been injured and have questions about your case, we offer free consultations. You can visit one of our offices in Gig Harbor, Bremerton, or Poulsbo. However, if it is more convenient, we can also handle everything over the phone.

For some of you, this may seem like a silly question. However, there are a lot of people who have never stepped foot in a courthouse or are young and have never heard of “business casual.” Never feel too embarrassed to ask your lawyer about courtroom protocol because putting your best foot forward can only help your case. Being appropriately dressed and groomed is helpful but there are a few other suggestions we would like to make:

 

1.  Confirm with your lawyer that you know the date, time, and courtroom where you are required to be. Do NOT do this an hour before court. If you have an experienced criminal defense attorney, it is likely that she has been in three courtrooms before you have even parked your car. The attorney is rarely able to answer phone calls on the morning of court. Call the office the week before your court date. Make sure to provide a good phone number (one that you will answer on the morning of your expected court date). If plans change, the attorney or office can reach you to give you updates.


2.  Always plan to arrive to court 15 minutes early. Depending on the court location, parking can be a hassle. For example, you might need to walk a fairly long distance in Pierce County.


3.  Be prepared for security. If you carry a lot of “trinkets” in your purse or pockets that might set off the scanner, it is probably best to leave those at home. Go into the courthouse with the bare minimum so you can get through security quickly.


4.  TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. This should probably be #1 on the list. It looks incredibly rude to have your phone go off in court. Some judges will make that mistake a VERY memorable occasion for you. Trust us on this one!


5.  Remember any paperwork that you may need.


6.  If asked to address the Court, the correct response to the judge is “Your Honor.”


7.  As far as appearance, wear clothes that are appropriate for a job interview. If you don’t have slacks, a button up shirt, or a simple dress, then wear something that does not draw attention. For example, no funny t-shirts, no beer/weed references, or inappropriate language. Not everyone owns “fancy” clothes and that is understandable. However, if that is your situation, do your best to have clean, neatly pressed, non-torn up clothing. Remember, your appearance says something to the Prosecutor. Does it say that you are taking this situation seriously?

 

As a side note, try not to panic. Often, the stress of mentally and physically preparing for court can cause unintended side-effects. Your demeanor may change in a negative way and it might appear that you are being disrespectful or dismissive. If you have never been to court before, let your attorney know so that you have a basic understanding of what will be happening. For an Arraignment, people often think something “big” is happening. Generally, that is not the case. In fact, an Arraignment is quite uneventful and, unless you are waiting for in-custody defendants, you will be in and out of court fairly quickly.

 

While knowing what to wear is important, the best thing you can do for yourself is be prepared mentally. Most clients want the process to “hurry up and go away” so life can get back to normal. Unfortunately, it is rarely a quick process.

 

Keep an open dialogue with your lawyer about your concerns but also trust that he or she is working behind the scenes to find defenses and negotiate a positive outcome in your case. Nearly all of the work a defense attorney does on your behalf is done outside of the courtroom. Your court appearance is simply a formality and the negotiation happens over the phone, by email, and even in the courthouse hallways as defense attorneys try to catch busy prosecutors racing from one courtroom to the next.

 

The criminal justice system is somewhat like controlled chaos. That is hard for most people to understand. It is messy but things are happening in the “order” they should. Follow the suggestions above and you will help your defense attorney by being present, on time, and respectful of the process.