Massachusetts Criminal Process:The
You have a right to be arraigned without unnecessary delay - usually
within two court days - after being arrested. You will appear before a
municipal or a justice court judge who will tell you officially of the
charges against you at your first arraignment. At the arraignment, an attorney
may be appointed for you if you cannot afford one, and bail can be raised
or lowered. You also can ask to be released on your own recognizance, even
if bail was previously set.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you can plead guilty or not guilty
at the arraignment. Or, if the court approves, you can plead nolo contendere,
meaning that you will not contest to the charges. Legally this is the same
as a guilty plea, but it cannot be used against you in a non-criminal case,
unless the charge can be punished as a felony.
Before pleading guilty to some first-time offenses, such as drug use
or possession in small amounts for personal use, you should find out if
you are eligible for any drug programs. Under these programs, instead of
fining you or sending you to jail, the court may order you to get counseling
which can result in dismissal of the charges if you complete the counseling.
If misdemeanor charges are not dropped, a trial will be held later in
municipal court. If you are charged with a felony, however, and the charges
are not dropped, the next step is a preliminary hearing.
What Happens at the Preliminary Hearing?
During the preliminary hearing, the district attorney's office must
present evidence showing a reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed
and that you did it to convince the judge that you should be brought to
You may have a second arraignment. If the felony charges are not dropped
at the preliminary hearing, you will be arraigned in superior court where
your trial later will be held.