Criminal Court Process in Massachusetts
Arrest – If someone is arrested in Massachusetts they are immediately brought to the police station and booked. In most cases as soon as they are booked a clerk or a bail commissioner is called to set an after hours bail. The fee that the after hours bail commissioner charges is set by law at $40. In he cases of Domestic Violence the law requires a cooling off period of 6 hours before a bail commissioner or clerk can set bail. If bail is denied or if the person cannot post the bail the person is held at the police station until the court is usually the next day. When the person is brought to court they are then arraigned before the judge.
Summons- In many cases a summons is sent by the court notifying someone of an arraignment. Summons are just simply mailed to the address the court has on file. It is usually the only notice someone will receive about an up coming court date.
Arraignment – An arraignment is when someone is formally charged with a crime. The charge is read aloud in courtroom and a plea is entered. In the District Court in Massachusetts a plea of Not Guilty is automatically entered by the clerk. The judge then asks if person is planning on hiring their own attorney or seeing if they qualify for a public defender. After a plea is entered the District Attorney can ask for bail or conditions of release. Even if bail has been set and posted at the police station the District Attorney can ask the judge to set an additional bail or impose conditions of release. If the District Attorney requests bail then a hearing is immediately held. The judge must evaluate the case and set bail based on certain factors set forth in MGL 276. After the issue of bail is resolved most cases as scheduled for a pretrial conference.
If the case is relatively minor the person may deal with it themselves. The judge will they sign a form waiving their right to counsel. After waiving counsel they may talk to the District Attorney about resolving the case.
Pretrial Hearing – A pretrial hearing is scheduled at the arraignment. The purpose of of a pretrial hearing is for the attorneys to discuss the case. Many times it is the first time a lawyer appears on the case. Courts typically allow more than a few pretrial conferences. Witnesses, police officers or accusers do not have to be present.
At a pretrial hearing ( also called a pretrial conference) the lawyers are supposed to discuss issues with the case. The parties can also discuss a possible resolution. Where not all cases go to trial many times cases be resolved at the pretrial hearing. Learn about dispositions here.
In addition to resolving the case the lawyers Plea could be entered. Prosecutor and attorney exchange discovery
If the case is not resolved the next court event scheduled.
Compliance and Election – A Compliance and Election date is scheduled when here is an issue of discovery. Compliance and election date may be held in court or outside of the court. Discovery is evidence the either side wants to introduce at trial or is required to be turned over to the other side, i.e. all police report. When discovery is not provided the Judge may limit the introduction of the evidence and may even dismiss the case. Like a pretrial conference date a plea may be entered by the defense of a compliance and election date.
After all of the discovery has been provided the next is selected. At this lint usually only a motion date or a trial date is selected.
Motion – Motions are where one side is asking the Judge to make a legal ruling. Motions can either be evidentiary or non- evidentiary. A evidentiary motion has live witnesses. Examples of evidentiary motions are motions to suppress evidence or a stop. Non evidentiary motions are questions of law. Examples of non evidentiary motions are motions to dismiss for the lack of evidence.
Motions are argued by the defense and the prosecution. Judges conduct the hearing and rule on the motion. After the motion is argued the judge usually researches the issue and issues written findings.
Status dates are usually held when the part are waiting for a judge’s decision on a motion.
Trial – The final date in criminal case is the trial date. In District Court a trial can either be before a judge or a jury. A jury consists of 6 people randomly selected from the community. At the day of trial all witnesses need to be present. If the main accuser fails to appear at a trial date the judge may dismiss the case. If both sides are ready the judge can immediately start the trial. A plea can still be entered on the day of trial. At the end of the trial if the verdict is not guilty the defendant is free to leave. I the verdict is guilty then the judge usually will impose the sentence then and there.
See also Criminal Case Outcomes