Washington’s District Courts are limited jurisdiction courts but serve both criminal and civil cases. Their criminal jurisdiction includes gross misdemeanors, traffic and non-traffic offenses. Some common cases in District Courts are DUIs, driving without a license, reckless driving, and fourth-degree assault. These courts can also process preliminary hearings for felonies and other serious crimes. These courts are authorized to dole out punishments of up to one year in prison and fines of $5,000 for gross misdemeanors. For regular misdemeanors, they can issue 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. District Courts do hold jury trials.
District Courts also handle civil disputes such as personal injury cases, landlord/tenant issues, contract disputes of up to $100,000, and other civil proceedings. They also handle domestic violence and protective orders, name changes, lien foreclosures, and small claims issues of up to $5,000. Some Superior Courts have a special small claims division to handle these cases. Appeals from these courts go to the Court of Appeals and then if necessary, to the Supreme Court.
Judges in District Courts serve four-year terms, and they are elected into office. All limited jurisdiction judges must attend 45 hours of continuing education every three years. The District Courts in Washington are supported by administrative staff and the Court Clerk for the state. The Washington State Courts website has resources for self-represented litigants including guides, all the forms needed for filing a case in Washington and handbooks, publications, court reports, problem-solving courts, legislative summaries, court rules and access to public court records.
District and Municipal Courts total about 2 million cases per year and see more legal issues than any other courts in the state. The bulk of these cases are traffic violations and parking tickets.