Criminal Defense Process: Part Two

Once the charges have been filed, arraignment, bail trial and appeals follow:

Arraignment

Following the first appearance following a complaint, an arraignment occurs.  Generally, the arraignment occur twenty-fours following an arrest.  During an arraignment, pleas to a given charge are entered by defendants, which may include:

  • "Mute" plea: A person may "stand mute" instead of making a plea.  The court will then enter a plea of not guilty.
  • No contest plea: A "no contest" or "nolo contendere" may be entered with the permission of the court.  This is essentially the same as a guilty plea, with the exception that, unlike guilty plea, a "nolo contendere" plea usually cannot later be used against the person in a civil lawsuit.  A sentence is imposed.
  • Guilty plea: This is a full admission to the facts of the crime and the fact that the person pleading is the one who committed that crime.  Following a guilty plea, the judges imposes sentence.
  • Not guilty plea: This states that the person did not commit the crime as accused.  After a not guilty plea, a pre-trial date will be set.

At the time of the arraignment, the courts will also set the amount of bail, refuse bail to the defendant, or release an individual on their own recognizance. 

Bail

In the course of criminal trials, bail is the amount of money, property, or other collateral utilized to insure the person accused will arrive at later at criminal court proceedings.  Bail may be paid via cash or the commitment of property, if allowed by the courts.

Speedy Trial

Under laws provided for by the United States Constitution and the Sixth Amendment, every individual has a right to a speedy trial.  Generally, these rights require that a trial be held within a reasonable period of time following being charged with a crime.  In many instances, individuals may waive this right, in order to more adequately prepare for a case defense.

Pre-Trial Conference and Hearing

The pre-trial conference and hearing are generally the first time, following the arraignment, which an individual must appear in court again.  During this court date, a criminal defense attorney and prosecutors will discuss whether or not a case can possibly be disposed without trial, through an agreement.  The accused individual must attend these proceedings, although no testimony or formal proceedings actually take place.  During the pre-trial conference, prosecutors may offer a plea bargain, or attempt to avoid trial by offering pleas for lesser crimes in exchange for responsibility in some aspect of a given charge or crime.  During the conference, both entities will discuss details of a trial, including estimations on length and other items.

Following the pre-trial conference, the pre-trial conference occurs.  The pre-trial conference is generally the next court date appearance, and in this event, a judge will attempt to resolve the case without trial, including offering plea bargains.  During this time period, as well, specific motions may be scheduled or heard by both sides.

Trial

Following a criminal arrest, individuals have a right to trial by jury.  The jury, which consists of six or twelve members, must unanimously deliver a verdict of guilty or not guilty.  Individual may, however, waive their right to trial by jury through pleading guilty or electing to undergo a bench trial, which is a trial in front of a judge, exclusively. In capital cases, a jury must try a defendant, regardless.

Appeals

Persons found guilty by a judge or jury are allowed to appeal the verdict.  Depending on the crimes, the process is different, however, there are always time limitations during which an appeal must be filed.  Generally, defendants have thirty (30) days following a verdict to appeal the decision, and the appeal must be under some grounds.  Grounds for appealing a case, aside from an unfavorable verdict, can be made under the statement of legal error.  Legal errors may include:

  • Errors in the judge’s instructions to the jury
  • Insufficient evidence supporting a guilty verdict
  • Inadmissible evidence being allowed into the courtroom, including evidence obtained as a violation of Constitutional rights
  • Juror misconduct
  • Appearance of new evidence surrounding the case

Sealing of Records

For certain crimes and individuals, criminal records may be sealed.  In essence, sealing a criminal record prevents records from being obtained, except in limited circumstances, such as during future criminal cases against a given individual.  Individuals may prove eligible to have their records sealed if:

  • A pardon has been issued
  • A record is a juvenile record, at least three (3) years old
  • Ten (10) to Fifteen (15) years have elapsed since conviction, which is dependent on the crime
  • Charges were dismissed or individual was found not guilty

If eligible, individuals may file written requests to have their records sealed.  In certain circumstances, hearings before a judge might be necessary.

Arrest in the State of Massachusetts

Following an arrest in the state of Massachusetts, most individuals realize they are facing serious consequences under Massachusetts law.  Speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney, who deals almost exclusively in MA criminal law issues, is the only real resource for helping you deal with the complexities of your case.  Generally, the following are the steps for most criminal legal cases in the state of Massachusetts:

  1. Clerk’s Hearing: The clerk’s hearing, which is also known as the Show Cause hearing, entails a Clerk Magistrate hearing before or after the arraignment.  During the hearing, the Commonwealth will show evidence supporting the charges against you with enough support to continue with criminal proceedings.  At this time, your lawyer can have the entire case dismissed during this phase in some instances.
  2. Arraignment: Generally, the arraignment is an individual’s first appearance in court following an arrest.  Officially, all charges against you will be read, and you will be informed of certain rights.  In the event you are bailed out, an arraignment date is set within a few days, however, if you are still in police custody, the arraignment will occur the next business day.
  3. Pre-trial Conference: Several weeks after the arraignment, individuals and their attorney will meet with the District Attorney, who may offer a plea bargain if one pleads guilty.  At this time, the offer may be accepted or rejected.
  4. Suppression/Motion Hearing: During this court hearing, motions are filed dependant on the circumstances.  Additionally, requests to suppress evidence that has been illegally obtained, among other things, may be made.
  5. Trial: The majority of criminal trials take place in District Court.  Here, individuals have the right to a bench trial or trial by a jury of their peers. 
  6. Sentencing:  In the sentencing phase, judges will issues a sentence following a guilty conviction or plea.  Sentences widely vary, however, may include jail time, community service, probation periods, fines, or any combination of these items.

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