Perhaps it was the first time you ever broke the law. Maybe it was a fight with your spouse that got out of control. Whatever the case, you deserve a second chance and to not be convicted. In Washington state, a stipulated order of continuance (SOC) might offer exactly that.
In this article, we dive into what a SOC means, when you may be able to get one, if you should enter into one, and when it might not be the best option. For further questions about how an SOC applies to your specific case, contact the defense lawyers at Will & Will.
What Is a Stipulated Order of Continuance?
A SOC agreement is a contract between you and the prosecuting attorney’s office. With an SOC agreement, if you successfully complete certain requirements (depending on the crime and the negotiations between your attorney and the prosecutor), the prosecutor/court will later dismiss the charge(s) filed against you.
For instance, if you are accused of domestic violence, an SOC agreement might require you to complete a domestic violence evaluation and subsequent treatment program. If you succeed at completing the program and any/all other terms of the SOC, at the end of the SOC term (often approx. 24 months, but your experienced attorneys at Will & Will might be able to shorten that term), the case will be dismissed. However, if you fail to meet the conditions, you can have a hearing to determine if the violation was a material one and thereafter, based on the court’s finding, either be given a second chance to complete or be found guilty of the original crime based solely on police evidence.
Each state has its own version of SOC’s which may also be referred to as pre-trial diversion or dispositional continuances, and some have unique SOC laws. In Washington state, assault, domestic violence, and most other misdemeanor charges are eligible for a SOC. Serious felonies are not. In addition, which courthouse your case is in may affect whether an SOC is even an available option. Ultimately, if allowed, the court’s role in your SOC will be to approve or deny it after you have negotiated with the prosecutor. The entire process can take on average, one to two years.
Why You Should Pursue an SOC Agreement
An SOC is not the end-all, be-all solution to all criminal charges. However, it is a fantastic deal for many people who find themselves in legal trouble for one-off offenses. Let’s examine some of the reasons why you should consider agreeing to a stipulated order of continuance.
If you meet all the SOC’s conditions, your case will be dismissed.
While it would be great to get a case dismissed right away, that doesn’t happen often. In those cases, however, where there are circumstances that demonstrate maybe you deserve a second chance, an SOC is an excellent option. It is a path to earning a dismissal and not having a conviction go on your criminal record.
You can avoid a trial or a conviction.
Trials are stressful, time consuming and expensive. Entering into an SOC helps you avoid the risk of going to trial. With an SOC, you are not worrying what a jury will think and whether you’ll be convicted at the end of a trial. If you fulfill the SOC’s conditions, you won’t end up with a conviction.
The incident was a one-time thing and will not happen again.
People make mistakes, and you might find yourself in an unsavory situation where you get charged with a misdemeanor. If this is your case, agreeing to a stipulated order of continuance gives you a chance to press the reset button. In addition, because most SOC agreements will require some type of treatment program as atonement for the alleged crime, you will become even more unlikely to commit the same offense in the future.
When a SOC Agreement Might Not Be Okay
While the merits of agreeing to an SOC are attractive, it’s not always the best route. Here are some situations where a SOC is NOT recommended.
You are innocent.
If you are innocent and believe you can prove it, an SOC might not be the right choice for you. This is because proving your innocence can get your charge dismissed without all the difficulty of the SOC requirements.
You cannot have contact with your family/loved ones.
Sometimes, SOCs will call for family law-related conditions, such as a no-contact order with your significant other, spouse, family member, child, roommate, etc. For many, that is simply unacceptable, no matter how much they want their charge to go away. The risk at trial may not be outweighed by the benefit of the SOC.
The treatment demands are unreasonable.
Under an SOC, you have to agree to waive your right to a jury trial and often need to undergo a treatment plan to satisfy the prosecutor that you will not reoffend. In some situations, what the prosecutor is asking for, in exchange for the benefit of a dismissal, may be more than you’d get even if convicted after a trial. In those cases, you may select the trial route.
Need to get an SOC? Will & Will Can Help
A stipulated order of continuance is considered a privilege. It is a highly sought-after result that requires a lot of work to negotiate, monitor, and enter into. An experienced defense attorney can help obtain an SOC for you, so you can focus on moving on with your life after a stressful event.
The lawyers at Will & Will are experts in obtaining SOC’s and can put our over 35 years of combined experience to work for you. To learn more about your legal options when charged with a crime, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Call 206-209-5585 or reach out online today.