Post-Arraignment: What to Expect if You’ve Been Charged With a Crime in Massachusetts
Navigating through the Massachusetts criminal court process can be tricky, even for people who have been charged with a crime before. If your case was just arraigned and you’re wondering what happens next, take a look at this guide to the criminal court process so you can be prepared for each and every court date.
If your case has yet to be arraigned, take a look at Part I of this guide.Arraignment
Arraignment is typically a defendant’s first appearance in court and is an opportunity to make a good first impression. Once you arrive at the proper courtroom and your case is called, a court officer will tell you where to stand, typically at a microphone behind the bar. The charges will be read aloud, and you may be asked how you wish to plead. You can plead (1) not guilty, (2) guilty, or (3) nolo contendere (no contest).
Even if you ultimately intend to plead the case out, it is typically not recommended to plead “guilty” at this stage. Generally, pleading “not guilty” will you give you more time, opportunity, and bargaining power in plea negotiations with the prosecutor. If you cannot afford a lawyer and the offense of which you have been accused carries potential jail time, the court will appoint you a lawyer either before or after arraignment. You should receive copies of the complaint and indictment (if there is one), as well as a date for a pre-trial conference.Bail or Dangerousness Hearing
The bail hearing usually occurs during the arraignment. Based on information, such as your Court Activity Record Information (“CARI”), the judge will determine if a bail hearing will be held. If you are unrepresented, a duty lawyer can advise and represent you at this hearing.
If a bail hearing occurs, either a bail amount will be set, or you will be released on your personal recognizance (a promise to return to court). The judge may also place other conditions on your pre-trial release, such as an order to stay away from a certain person or location. It is crucial you abide by these orders to maintain your freedom during the pre-trial period.
In rare instances, a prosecutor may request a dangerous hearing, where a judge will determine if you post a danger upon release. If the judge determines you pose a risk, you could be detained until your following court date.Pre-Trial Conference
In most cases, a pre-trial conference date (“PTC”) is the next scheduled court date. The case is either resolved (often through a plea agreement or dismissal) or prepared for trial. The PTC is an opportunity to settle any outstanding issues before the case is forced to trial. The parties are often required to complete a PTC report, containing any stipulations or agreements between the defense and the Commonwealth. The PTC may also include discovery and other pre-trail motions, compliance, and trial assignment information.Compliance & Election Date
The compliance hearing is an opportunity to determine if the PTC report is complete and if the prosecutor has fulfilled their mandatory discovery obligations by handing all evidence over to the defendant. The judge may impose sanctions for non-compliance. Once these requirements have been met, the Court can obtain the defendant’s decision on waiver of the right to a jury trial and schedule a trial date or trial assignment date.Motion Hearing
Depending on the case, there will often been a hearing scheduled to argue various motions. Common motions include a Motion to Dismiss or a Motion to Suppress. The outcome of these hearings can affect the nature of the criminal charges against you. For instance, in a drug case, winning a motion to suppress can significantly improve your plea-bargaining power, and can result in the outright dismissal the case.Trial
A defendant constitutionally must be tried within 12 months of the return day (typically, the date of arraignment). You may have a jury trial, where your guilt will be determined by a group of 6 to 12 members of the community, or a bench trial, where your guilt will be determined by a judge. The criminal defendant is the sole authority on whether to elect for a bench or jury trial, but it is beneficial to discuss the pros and cons of both with an attorney before making this important decision. If you are found guilty, the judge will either sentence you immediately, or for more-serious offenses, may schedule a later sentencing date.Hire a Criminal Lawyer Who Can Help You Each Step of the Way
The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy has twenty-five years of experience defending criminal cases all across Massachusetts. If you want to discuss any aspect of your criminal case, Boston attorney Murphy provides a free and confidential telephone call or office visit to discuss the facts of your situation. Attorney Murphy offers reasonable rates for clerk magistrate hearings and you can reach him now at (617) 367-0450 or by completing the online contact form on our website.