Pre-Arraignment: What to Expect if You’ve Been Charged With a Crime in Massachusetts

Hire an Experienced Boston Criminal Lawyer Who Understands Each Stage of a Criminal Case

Nearly 250,000 criminal cases are funneled through courtrooms in Massachusetts every year, but there are many mandatory procedures that occur before someone is found guilty. On this website, I often stress that almost every stage of a criminal proceeding presents an opportunity to get your case dismissed.

Even for people who have been charged with a crime in Massachusetts before, the criminal court process can be confusing and difficult to navigate. This guide outlines the basic steps in a criminal proceeding, so you know what to expect and can be prepared for each event in your case.

The Start of a Criminal Case

The majority of criminal cases start when the police allegedly witness a crime and effectuate an arrest. Whenever you are arrested it is important to remember and exercise your fundamental rights including (1) the right to remain silent (anything you say can and will be used against you), (2) the right to have an attorney present during any questioning or interrogation, and (3) the right to be considered for bail (in almost all cases).

You may recognize some of these rights as part of a Miranda Warning. Miranda Warnings are required before any police interrogation, but most police officers do not read these warnings when they initially arrest someone. You do not need to wait to be Mirandized to assert these rights – assert them immediately to avoid police harassment and interrogation.

It is also possible to receive a complaint and notice to appear via mail. This typically occurs when the police or a private third-party files an Application for a Criminal Complaint. As with any court date, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible, present a defense at the Clerk Magistrate Hearing, and arrive at court on the date listed in a timely manner.

Clerk Magistrate Hearing

If you have been accused of committing a misdemeanor and were not arrested, you are likely entitled to a clerk magistrate hearing. At this hearing, a court official will determine if there is probable cause to believe you committed a crime. If you did not receive notice of this hearing, you may request one and have the right to bring witnesses. A “win” at this stage can present the issuance of the complaint against you entirely or may be used to better understand what evidence the Commonwealth has against you.


Cases in the Superior Court begin with an indictment returned by a grand jury. A grand jury is a group of citizens who hear evidence presented by a prosecutor and determine if there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed. If they determine there is probable cause, an indictment will be issued, and the defendant must appear in Superior Court for arraignment.

Generally, the District Court is limited to cases where the maximum penalty is 5 years’ incarceration. Therefore, the majority of cases involving an indictment will be heard in Superior Court, as opposed to District Court.

Hire a Criminal Lawyer Who Can Help You Each Step of the Way

The importance of defending yourself from the very inception of a criminal case cannot be overstated. If you have been charged with a crime, given notice of a Clerk Magistrate Hearing, or even suspect that a criminal complaint may be issued against you, contact an attorney as soon possible.

The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy has twenty-five years of experience defending criminal cases from their start. 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.

If your case has already been arraigned and you want to prepare for what’s next, take a look at this post-arraignment guide to the criminal court process.

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