Massachusetts Criminal Process:The Arraignment

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 trial.

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.

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