Arraignment in Massachusetts

I Received a Notice to Appear for Arraignment in the Massachusetts Trial Court

What can I expect at my arraignment? What can a criminal defense lawyer do to help me?

Arraignments in Massachusetts courts are preliminary hearings in which defendants appear before a judge when accused of a Massachusetts criminal offense. Massachusetts arraignments occur in the Boston Municipal Courts, Massachusetts District Courts and Massachusetts Superior Courts. Boston’s Serpa Law Office has a deep experience in representing clients at arraignment for your best experience and optimal outcome. The potential outcomes at arraignment vary broadly as discussed below.

Arraignments are the formal beginning of a criminal case in a public trial court. The United States and Massachusetts Constitutions require arraignments as a public hearing to notify a defendant of the charges against them and for the defendant to enter a preliminary plea (always not guilty at this point).

Most Massachusetts criminal cases do not end at arraignment. Instead, courts schedule a succession of later dates for defendants and the District Attorney’s Office work through the case with plea negotiations, the exchange of evidence and an eventual trial.

Arraignments are much more than a formality. They are important procedural and substantive events that can affect your future and the outcome of your Massachusetts criminal case. They occur in all criminal cases that have moved beyond the clerk magistrate’s or indictment stage, whether in the Massachusetts District Court, the Boston Municipal Court or the Massachusetts Superior Court. A skilled criminal defense lawyer must explore many options for you before and during your arraignment date.

Avoiding a Criminal Record at Arraignment with Dismissal or Pretrial Diversion

In the Massachusetts District Court or Boston Municipal Court, you will receive your notice to appear for arraignment in the mail after you have attended your clerk magistrate’s hearing. This occurs only if the magistrate has chosen to issue a criminal complaint against you. In many cases, a clerk will issue a complaint and schedule an arraignment in your absence, either because the law didn’t require a clerk magistrate’s hearing or because you did not attend the hearing.

Arraignments are also critical to your Massachusetts criminal record. Your CORI, or criminal record, is generated only if your arraignment takes place.

However, a criminal record is not inevitable simply because you must appear for arraignment. A skilled criminal defense lawyer will always advocate for alternatives to arraignment when you arrive in court that morning. This must happen before your case is called and the clerk utters the magic words (“a not guilty plea is enter on your behalf”). Your Massachusetts criminal lawyer must approach the clerk and the district attorney’s office early and ask for some time to explore a pre-arraignment outcome. Sometimes, arraignment is re-scheduled to another day. Other times, a decision on arraignment occurs that day.

Massachusetts General Laws’ diversion programs, whether for veterans (“Brave Act”) or non-veterans (“pretrial diversion”), are important opportunities to avoid a criminal record altogether.

Separate from pretrial diversion, every Massachusetts district attorney’s office has its own diversion procedures and guidelines. Your lawyer should always explore alternatives to arraignment both using the General Laws and the individual policies of the DA’s Office.

Pre-arraignment dismissal is the best outcome at your arraignment date. An experienced and respected lawyer should always discuss this possibility to avoid the life consequences of a Massachusetts criminal record.

Arraignment to Outcome: A Massachusetts Criminal Case in a Nutshell.

Procedurally, arraignment is the formal beginning of a Massachusetts criminal prosecution. The hearing protects important rights you have as an accused defendant. You will appear as one of several people scheduled for court that day. Cases are called one at a time. When your case is called, you will stand before a judge for your arraignment, ideally with a lawyer who will produce the best outcome for you.

A clerk or assistant clerk will read the charges to you, unless you waive (give up) that reading. Then you as the accused person will enter a plea of not guilty, and the case will proceed to a later date for other pretrial events and eventually trial, dismissal, pretrial probation, a continuance without a finding (“CWOF”) or a change of plea to guilty.

Thanks for the Lesson on Procedure. What Can Happen in Substance at my Arraignment?

Personal Recognizance, Bail and Pretrial Detention (sections 58, 58A and 58B)

The first question at your arraignment will be whether you will remain free while your case is pending. Personal recognizance is the best outcome. It means you will be at liberty until your case is over.

A judge can also order bail in your case. Bail is a deposit a defendant pays the court to guarantee their return to court while the case is pending. A judge will order bail if there is a risk that a defendant will not return to court to see the case through. Many factors influence a judge’s bail decision, such as the seriousness of the charges, a defendant’s ties to Massachusetts, and one’s work history and criminal history. A talented an experienced criminal lawyer should always try to avoid bail, even if a defendant has the ability to pay.

Pretrial Detention (Bail revocation under section 58 or 58B or “dangerousness” under section 58A) is a serious judicial decision ordering a defendant to stay in jail for much of the time that a Massachusetts criminal case is pending. Violating conditions of release, or being rearrested while a case is pending, can lead to bail revocation and detention.

A 58A finding of dangerousness entitles a judge to order a defendant held in jail without bail for a significant portion of the case (up to 120 days initially, with extensions available). This is also a grave deprivation of liberty that should be a rare exception to our sacred presumption of innocence.

Massachusetts criminal law permits you a brief postponement (up to seven days) of your final hearing on either bail revocation of dangerousness to prepare your case with your criminal defense lawyer. Unfortunately, you are likely to be held in jail pending your final hearing.

Always demand an appeal to the Superior Court if you are dissatisfied with your bail or pretrial detention order.

Pretrial detention should be rare. Imprisoning a person for a crime not yet proven is a grave decision that should be made by a careful judge with all available evidence. You need a skilled lawyer to assist you with these grave hearings.

Conditions of Release

“Conditions or release” are important orders a judge will make at your arraignment. These conditions affect your liberty, right to travel, and other obligations you will have while your case is pending. In some cases, you can be ordered to have no contact with certain people or to stay away from certain places. In others, a judge can order you to refrain from drinking alcohol, driving a car, or using social media or digital devices. It is important to have a skilled criminal defense lawyer assisting you at your Massachusetts arraignment to minimize the impact on your liberty.

Conditions of release in Massachusetts cases alleging domestic violence, like assault and battery on a family household member, can make life difficult for an accused person. You can be ordered to leave your own home, to avoid contact with your spouse or children or to submit to random drug or alcohol testing. Again, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney to get you the best decision on conditions of release.

You Need a Skilled Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer at Arraignment

Every Massachusetts criminal case is unique. Your life circumstances, the alleged facts and the particular court, clerk, judge and assistant district attorney all play a critical role in what can happen at your Massachusetts arraignment. A skilled attorney will begin work on your arraignment date well before it occurs. Boston’s Serpa Law Office will explore the best outcome, whether it is a pre-arraignment dismissal, diversion, or, in more serious cases, preserving your liberty while your case is resolved.

Boston criminal defense attorney Joe Serpa has advocated optimal outcomes at arraignment in every conceivable situation. He has secured countless pre-arraignment dismissals for clients, sparing them a Massachusetts criminal record. In more serious felony cases, he has preserved the liberty of his clients so that could remain free for what would eventually be a dismissal or a not guilty verdict in cases as serious as first-degree murder, rape or domestic violence.

Do not assume your arraignment is a formality or a foregone conclusion. Call Mr. Serpa for advice on your Massachusetts arraignment.

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