The Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney's Office strives to effectively represent the State's interests and to advance the rule of law in all Cowlitz County criminal cases in the appellate courts in which the State is a party. The office seeks to accommodate the appellate courts' dual role of deciding cases before them and announcing "the law" in a way that becomes binding precedent for the State and its citizens. The office strives not simply to advance a position that best represents the State's interests: the office also must take great care to ensure that it presents its legal arguments in a manner that takes full advantage of the opportunity each case presents to influence the court's law-announcing function.
The appellate work of the deputy prosecutors falls into two primary categories: Direct Appeals and Collateral Attacks.
Defense of Criminal Convictions in Direct Appeals
County prosecuting attorneys are responsible for trial-level prosecution of criminals in Washington District and Superior Courts. Following conviction, felony defendants are entitled to appeal to the Washington State Court of Appeals, with discretionary review by the Washington State Supreme Court (misdemeanor defendants are entitled to appeal to the county's Superior Court with discretionary review by the Washington State Court of Appeals). In these direct appeals, defendants seek to have their convictions reversed or their sentences changed. These cases range from minor misdemeanors to very serious felonies, such as rape, kidnapping, robbery, and homicide cases including murder and aggravated murder. Many appeals involve complex and sensitive constitutional and criminal law questions that affect all aspects of the criminal justice system statewide. The appellate court reviews the record of what happened in the trial court for legal errors. A very small percentage of the office's appellate caseload involves appeals initiated by this office where we seek to have a trial court decision overturned, usually from pretrial orders suppressing evidence or dismissing a case.
Defense of Criminal Convictions in Collateral Attacks
Collateral attacks generally involve challenges by criminal defendants to the validity of criminal judgments or to the legality or conditions of their confinement. Those cases include motions for relief from judgment in the county's Superior Court and personal restraint petitions in the State's appellate courts. Many of the collateral attacks involve claims of a denial of the constitutional right to the assistance of counsel based on allegations that the defendant's lawyer at the criminal trial or on direct appeal performed deficiently.
Further information regarding the State's appellate courts can be found by clicking here.