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Leonardo Angiulo: The Lifecycle of a Criminal Case in District Court

Monday, June 25, 2012

 

The Massachusetts Trial Court has two distinct venues for criminal proceedings: Superior Court and District Court. The distinction is made based mostly on the nature of the crime. For example, the most severe felonies such as murder, rape and arson can only be prosecuted in Superior Court. The more mundane, and frequent, offenses such as shoplifting and suspended license cases will be addressed in the District Court.

Most people who find themselves on the wrong side of the law will be facing their charges in the local District Court. Many people who come into my office have never been through this process before and want a time line for how their case will proceed. Lets say you get arrested in Auburn on a Friday night for drunk driving. You will likely be expected for an Arraignment, bright and early, Monday morning in Worcester District Court.

An arraignment is fundamentally a simple thing. You appear, present yourself as the person accused, enter a plea of not guilty and request a pretrial conference date. One additional concern at Arraignment is the question of bail. To put it plainly, bail is the amount a court decides they are going to hold as collateral for your freedom. You put up the money as an assurance that you will come back to answer on the charges. Now, you might be wondering how you put a price tag on freedom. The answer is that its based on statutory authority. Massachusetts General Laws c. 276, section 58 provides the guidelines by which a court should rule on how much bail is appropriate in a case.

Now, lets say bail wasn't an issue or you posted it, you have yourself an attorney and you're ready for the next step. Thirty to Forty Five days from arraignment you will be back in court for the pretrial conference. This stage is an opportunity for your attorney to speak with the Assistant District Attorney and recover any evidence they have and request additional documents and things such as booking videos and photographs. Ideally, your attorney has had the chance to review the relevant police report and goes in that day knowing what still needs to be discovered.

During a pretrial conference both parties fill out a pretrial conference report and submit that to the judge for review. The report includes a description of what evidence is outstanding, what motions may be filed in the case as well as identifying any affirmative defenses may be raised such as alibi or lack of criminal responsibility. After submitting this report, you wait another thirty to forty five days and come back to court.

The next hearing is called a compliance and election date. The Commonwealth has the obligation to comply with the defendant's requests for evidence and the defendant, after review, elects to file a motion, plead the case, or mark the case for trial. The question of whether a case is ready for Trial, or a motion is necessary, depends on the facts of your case. The attorney handling your matter will inform you of your options.

I would suggest using this article as a guide but not an exact roadmap because every case in District Court is different. There can be multiple pretrial conferences, a couple compliance dates and you might not get reached on your first motion hearing date. The person in the best position to forecast the time line of your case is the attorney representing you. One inescapable truth to this entire process, however, is that it takes time and a great deal of patience. And if its any consolation, everyone has to go through the same process.
 

 

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