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Leonardo Angiulo: What Happens After an Arraignment

Monday, September 17, 2012


Leonardo Angiulo, GoLocalWorcester Legal Expert

An arraignment for a criminal case is like the first step of a marathon. At the beginning of a marathon, you are expected to stay on course and behave in a certain way and head towards the finish line. Similarly, during an arraignment, a defendant will learn what their conditions of release will be and what they have to do, or not do, until trial. The difference is that in a marathon, if you don't follow the rules you might get disqualified. In a criminal case, if you violate your pretrial terms of release you will get arrested and put in jail.

Just about everyone who appears before the court for arraingment will be read, what is commonly referred to as, their bail warnings. What this means is that prior to leaving the courtroom for the first time a person is told that if they fail to abide by their conditions of release or incur new criminal charges they can be held up to 60 days prior to trial without bail. I imagine most readers understand that catching another case with one outstanding is not the best way to go. What they might not see as clearly is what conditions of release are and why they matter.

Conditions for Release

A review of Massachusetts General Laws chapter 276 sections 58, 58A and 58B, available here, lay out the authority of the court to set conditions of release and enforce those conditions. While some people might be concerned about this being like a finding of guilt without trial, such fear is unwarranted. These conditions will not be evidence at trial nor will they stand in the way of justice for defendants. If anything, they are an example of how our system balances the need to keep communities safe with an individual's right to due process.

One fairly common condition is whats called a stay away / no contact order. This is the type of condition imposed when there is an alleged victim of a crime. A defendant will be subject to a court order to stay away from and have no contact with that alleged victim. While this may sound simple, the reality is that the term "contact" is very broad. This could mean a telephone call, text or letter. In addition, there is a concept known as third party contact which is also a violation of a no contact order. This is when a message is passed by you through somone else. Whether you do it yourself, or have someone do it for you, contact is contact and is ill advised.

Staying "Substance Free"

Another condition of release seen on occasion is a substance free order. Ordinarily, this means refraining from all substances, legal or not, with the additional requirement that a person appears randomly to provide urine screens. While a person's prescriptions may still be taken during this period of time, "self medicating" will be considered a violation. For example, marijuana is not yet a legally prescribed substance in Massachusetts. It follows, therefore, that testing postive for cannabis will be a violation even though possession of less than an ounce is not a criminal offense in and of itself.

In particularly inflammatory cases, people's mobility can be strictly limited. For example, courts can enforce house arrest orders by requiring the use of electronic monitors. The acronym ELMO refers for the system that requires a person to wear a sensor around their ankle and remain in close proximity to the receiver that works in conjunction with a telephone line. Another way to limit freedom, short of incarceration, is the use of a GPS monitoring system. This is a more expensive option but it provides windows for things like work and other necessities while also continuously reporting on a defendant's location. This tracking component also permits enforcement of exclusionary conditions, like a stay away order, by reporting if a person enters a proximity to a home or business they are prohibited from visiting.

Conditions of release are typically made extremely clear at the time of arraignment. What is not always as easy to understand is what those conditions mean and what the consequences are for failing to meet them. Part of an attorney's role is helping a client understand their obligations and challenging any claim of violation of pretrial terms of release. It is also true, however, that if you know there is something you need to do, or not do, to stay out of jail you should probably do everything in your power to meet that obligation.


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