Glossary

Arraignment


An arraignment is a hearing, usually the first appearance, in which a person accused of committing a crime is told of the charge and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

Bail


Bail is money or other security (bail bond) given to the court to allow a person's release from jail and to assure their appearance in court at a hearing. The accused may forfeit (lose) the money by not appearing for the hearing.

Civil Case


A civil case is an action to protect private rights, whether for personal injury, damage to property or contract disputes. District Court hears civil cases where the amount in controversy is not greater than $100,000. Civil cases must be filed with the court prior to service on the defendant. Individuals may represent themselves in civil proceedings or they may retain an attorney.

Contested Hearing


A contested hearing is a hearing to argue that you did not commit a traffic infraction. You may request that the officer or other witnesses be present, but this must be done at least 15 days before the scheduled hearing date and it is your responsibility to serve the officer and file a Return of Service with the court.  As a result of the contested hearing, the penalty may stay the same, be reduced, or the charges may be dismissed. 

Criminal Case


A criminal case is an action where an individual is accused of committing a crime. The State of Washington commences the action. District Court hears criminal cases involving misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases. These cases have penalties respectively, of no more than 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine and one year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

Defendant


In a civil lawsuit, the person being sued is called the defendant, in other civil matters, the defendant may be called a respondent. In a criminal case, the person accused of the crime is called the defendant.

Harassment


Washington state law (RCW Chapter 10.14) defines unlawful harassment as a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, harasses or is detrimental to such person, and serves no legitimate or lawful purpose. The course of conduct could cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotion distress or cause a reasonable parent to fear for the well-being of their child.

Impound / Vehicle Impound


If you have received a notice of vehicle impound and want to contest the actual tow or the fees charged by the tow company, you must request a hearing within 10 days from the date you attempted to retrieve or did retrieve the vehicle. To request a hearing you must complete an Impound Petition and Notice of Hearing Form. You will need the badge number, name of law enforcement agency and the officer's name who authorized the impoundment or the company name, address and name of the party who authorized the impoundment and a copy of the tow bill. If the vehicle has been sold, contact the Pierce County Auditor's Office at (253) 798-7427.

Infraction


Infractions are citations (tickets) received from local law enforcement agencies for offenses such as speeding, failing to yield, failure to have liability insurance, expired vehicle license (tabs), distracted driving,  defective equipment and parking in a disabled parking zone. The District Court may impose a penalty, but may not commit the defendant to jail.  A defendant has 15 days from the violation date, to either pay the infraction or request a hearing. A defendant may request an infraction hearing (Mitigation or Contested Hearing) online, by phone, or by mail. 
If the defendant fails to respond, a late penalty may be issued and the Department of Licensing (DOL) will be notified.  After 45 days of no response, the DOL may suspend the driver's license and fines may be referred to a collection agency. 

Limited Jurisdiction


Limited jurisdiction refers to courts that are limited in the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear. District Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. It handles misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor criminal cases and small claims actions and civil matters where the amount in controversy is no more than $75,000.

Mediation


Mediation is an alternative form of dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party, who helps them agree on a settlement.  Mediation is mandatory for small claims cases unless there is a No Contact or Anti-Harassment Order in place.

Mitigation Hearing


A mitigation hearing is a traffic hearing where a person admits that he/she committed the violation, but wishes to explain the circumstances of the infraction in order to request a reduction in the fine/penalty. The Department of Licensing will be notified that he/she committed the infraction and the infraction will appear on their driving record.

Name Change


To change your name or the name of your minor child, you must complete the Petition for Change of Name form and apply at the District Court in the county where you reside. You may complete the interview process for a name change petition online. Please review the additional information available on the Forms page.

Petition


A Petition is a formal written request to a court to issue a specific order in a pending case or lawsuit. Petitions includes orders to show cause, modifications of prior orders, continuances, dismissal of a case, reduction of bail in criminal cases and xxxxxx.

Petitioner


The moving party, usually the person filing the petition that asks for a court ruling, is called the Petitioner.

Small Claims


A small claims case can be filed without the assistance of an attorney for the recovery of money damages only (up to a maximum of $10,000 when filed by a person and $5,000 when filed by a business).

Subpoena


A notice to a witness that they must appear in court to present testimony in an action.

Summons


Summons is a notice to a defendant that he or she has been sued or charged with a crime and is required to appear in court. A criminal defendant who fails to appear in court will have a warrant issued for their arrest.

Warrant


A warrant of arrest may be issued for failure to appear at a hearing or failure to comply with court ordered requirements. You must appear in person to request a hearing to quash (cancel) the warrant.