Your First Appearance in Criminal Court

Your First Official Appearance in Criminal Court

Your first appearance in court is called arraignment. It is your first day in criminal court. You have arrived at an arraignment because you were either:

  1. Arrested the night before and brought to court by police
  2. Mailed a summons (notice) to appear on a certain date

The first thing that occurs on an arraignment date is that you meet with a probation officer or representative from the probation office. The purpose of this meeting is simply to take basic financial information from you and some other background data. If you are arrested and are waiting in a jail cell at the courthouse, someone from the probation department will talk to you while you sit in the jail cell. They will ask you questions and leave. If you were not arrested and arrive at court because you received notice in the mail, then you should find the probation department so they can interview you.

Normally, when you receive notice to appear in court for an arraignment, the notice will instruct you to first go to the probation department. However, people often overlook that instruction and simply wait in the courtroom. People frequently forget this step and simply walk into the courtroom and wait for their case to be called. However, if you do not do this first step, the court will not call your case.

Always remember to check with probation. Once you have completed that step, you go to the courtroom and wait for your case to be called before the judge. This process can take hours, so be patient. Once the case is called, you will walk up to a designated place in the court before the judge. Your attorney will be next to you. You are about to begin the arraignment. Again, an arraignment simply means being notified of the charges against you. And sometimes, it is that simple. The court informs you of the charges and you leave and get ready for the next court date.

Now let’s break down the five different scenarios at arraignment:

SCENARIO ONE
District Attorney Does Not Ask for Bail

In this case, the process is straightforward and simple. You walk up to the judge with an attorney and the judge informs you of the charges. A pretrial conference is the next date. That pre-trial date is usually 4-6 weeks after the arraignment.  

SCENARIO TWO
District Attorney Asks for Conditions of Release

Conditions of release could include:

  • Random drug screens
  • Random alcohol screens
  • Daily reporting to probation department
  • Mental health evaluations
  • Stay away orders from witnesses and/or accuser
  • GPS monitoring bracelet

If the court orders any of these conditions, you will immediately sign a contract to agree to these conditions. Upon signing the agreement, you will meet with the probation department, which will oversee the court orders while the case is working its way through the court process. Occasionally, conditions can be modified as the case proceeds, but if not, they remain in effect until the conclusion of the case. These restrictions can be argued to the judge as to why they may not be necessary. It is important to be prepared to whether the conditions should or shouldn’t be imposed since the client will be stuck with them until the case concludes. That is why it is important to meet with an attorney before your arraignment so they can learn about you and your background.


SCENARIO THREE
District Attorney asks for Monetary Bail (CASH)

Monetary bail is a specific amount of money that you pay that the court holds to guarantee that you come back to every court appearance. This means that the court requires you to give them money to hold before you can leave court that day. The court holds your money until the charge is resolved. That means you have to have an amount of cash ready to provide the clerk of the court or you do not leave the court. Your attorney will provide your background and history to the judge and argue that you should not be held on bail.|


SCENARIO FOUR
District Attorney Petitions the Court with a 58A Dangerousness Petition

A 58A is a hearing where the district attorney believes that based on your history, background, and the charges against you that you pose a danger to and there are no conditions of release that can assure the safety of the community. You will be handcuffed, placed in cell, and taken to a local house of correction for a minimum of three days before the hearing can be held. This is the most concerning outcome, because they are taking your liberty and putting you in a cell. This is more common with domestic assault and battery and domestic violence, especially strangulation.

SCENARIO FIVE
Charges Dismissed

Sometimes the judge dismisses the charges. This does not happen often. It depends on the defendant’s record or criminal history. This only occurs with very minor charges, for example: 

  • Drinking in public,
  • Driving without a license
  • Driving with an expired registration
  • Trespassing


But even then, in cases like these, you should proceed with caution before you go without an attorney. Sometimes negotiation and diversion resolves cases before arraignment. Both alternatives are beneficial since they never appear on your criminal record. In Massachusetts, a dismissed case appears on your criminal record. No matter how insignificant, we never want any trace of criminal activity on your record. Lastly, sometimes the pressure of appearing in court on something relatively simple results in accepting something that you would not otherwise have to do. This could include money that you would not otherwise have to pay. It is always better to go into court with an experienced lawyer at your side.

IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE AN UPCOMING ARRAIGNMENT, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.

CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.

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