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26 West Main Street
Dudley, MA 01571
Phone: 508-461-6241
Fax: 508-461-6243
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General Criminal Matters FAQ

 

  1. I just received something in the mail telling me I need to appear in district court for a show-cause hearing. What is a show-cause hearing?
  2. I never got notice of a show-cause hearing. Now I’m being arraigned. Did I miss something?
  3. I just got arrested. What happens next?
  4. What happens in district court?
  5. How long does it take to resolve a case?
  6. Why should I hire an attorney? Why don’t I just represent myself?
  7. If I hire a lawyer will I get a guaranteed result? Do you guarantee a result?
  8. All I want to do is plead this out, get this over with, and get on with my life. I don’t want to go through months of litigation and then a trial. Do I really need an attorney?
  9. What will an attorney cost me? What do you charge for a typical matter?
  10. Speaking of police reports, the report in my case makes everything sound hopeless, and much of it isn’t even accurate. Should I really fight this?
  11. What is a cwof? I’ve heard you can just get a cwof and move on.
  12. What is the worst penalty I’m facing in district court? Will I go to jail?
  13. What about probation? Can’t I just get probation? What is probation?
  14. What happens if I violate my probation conditions?

1. I just received something in the mail telling me I need to appear in district court for a show-cause hearing. What is a show-cause hearing?

At a show-cause hearing, a magistrate decides whether to issue a complaint against you, that is, whether you should be formally charged with a crime. A complaint is a document that tells you what you are being charged with and the penalties you are facing.

The other side will present reasons for issuing the complaint. You will have the opportunity to present reasons for not issuing the complaint. Both sides may bring witnesses. However, show-cause hearings are not trials. The magistrate is only going to decide whether there is probable cause, that is, reasonable ground based on the facts and circumstances, to believe that you committed the offense. A finding of probable cause does not mean that the Commonwealth has proven that you committed the offense. It means that the Commonwealth has enough evidence to proceed against you.

If the magistrate decides not to issue the complaint, the matter stops there. If the magistrate issues the complaint, you will be ushered into the criminal process and given a date for your arraignment. If you fail to appear for your show-cause hearing, the complaint will issue and you will receive a summons for your arraignment.

Show-cause hearings almost always take place in the magistrate’s office, not in the courtroom, and are much less formal than courtroom proceedings. Nevertheless, you should take your show-cause hearing seriously, because it is an opportunity to avoid criminal charges. Although many people represent themselves, it is prudent to have a lawyer represent you because show-cause hearings are recorded and anything you say can be used against you later. Also, experienced criminal defense attorneys are familiar with the standards that must be met for a complaint to issue.

2. I never got notice of a show-cause hearing. Now I’m being arraigned. Did I miss something?

Maybe. You are not entitled to notice of a show cause hearing if:

a) you were arrested on the charges
b) you are considered to pose an imminent threat of bodily injury
c) you are considered to pose an imminent threat of committing another crime
d )you are considered to pose an imminent threat of flight from the Commonwealth
e) you are accused of felonies (although a show-cause hearing may be held for a felony complaint)

If none of the above applies to you, you might be entitled to have the complaint dismissed if you never received notice of a show-cause hearing. However, the Commonwealth would then be entitled to reapply for another complaint.

3. I just got arrested. What happens next?

You have the right to make a phone call to a lawyer or to your family or friends to arrange to bail you out of the police station. You will have an opportunity to bail yourself out of the police station. Bail can run from $40 to a few hundred dollars. If you cannot bail yourself out, the police will keep you in custody and transport you directly to court for your arraignment as soon as the nearest court is in session. If you can bail yourself out, the police will release you and tell you when and where to appear in court for your arraignment.

4. What happens in district court?

Arraignment

Arraignments can be intimidating, particularly if you don’t have any experience with the court system. Do not discuss your case with anyone in the courthouse, and do not to make statements regarding your case when you are before the judge. Anything you say in court is recorded, and can be used against you later. Anyone you speak to in the hallways can be brought into court later and questioned about what you said. The best you can do is say nothing. The court will read the charges against you, enter a not guilty plea on your behalf, and ask if you intend to hire a lawyer. You are entitled to be evaluated as to whether you qualify for a court-appointed attorney. If you do not qualify, you will be given time to hire a lawyer and a date to come back (your pretrial date, see below). In some situations, if the Commonwealth believes that you are a flight risk or a danger to the public, there will be a bail hearing to determine whether you will be released or held in jail. It is often the case that people cannot get an attorney for their arraignment as notice is so short. However, if there is a bail hearing the court will provide an attorney to represent you for that hearing, whether or not you qualify for a court-appointed lawyer. If you don’t qualify you will be on your own after the bail hearing to hire your own attorney. You also have the option of representing yourself.

If you are considering representing yourself, please read this first.

Pretrial

Your first return date after your arraignment is your pretrial conference date. This is usually around 45 days after your arraignment, but if you are held in jail you are entitled to return within 30 days. At this date your attorney submits a written request to the district attorney to produce all the evidence the Commonwealth intends to use against you. The Commonwealth typically has until the next date (compliance) to produce evidence. Your attorney may also file motions and request court orders for the production of specific evidence at this time. From the defendant’s perspective nothing much appears to happen on the pretrial date. You need to be there, but you are not required to say anything. You will be given a date to come back (compliance date).

Compliance

This is the date at which requested evidence is produced. This is usually around 45 days after your pretrial, but if you are held you are entitled to return within 30 days. If there is a lot of evidence your attorney needs time to go over with you (such as a booking video) he or she will ask for an election date. It is not uncommon to have to return for more than one compliance date if all the evidence isn’t available at the first date.

Motion Hearing

This is usually around 45 days after your final compliance date but if you are held you are entitled to return within 30 days.

Depending on the facts of your particular case, there may be grounds to suppress evidence that the Commonwealth intends to use against you. If enough evidence can get thrown out at the motion date it may be possible, depending on the facts of your case, to get a dismissal. Sometimes the case won’t get dismissed, but the Commonwealth will end up having to go forward with less evidence, making it more difficult for them to prove.

Election date

At this date you make a decision, with your attorney’s advice, based on all the evidence, whether to plea or go to trial or set a motion hearing. If you elect to go to trial, the next date is your trial date. Sometimes the election date is the same as the final compliance date.

Trial

You have a right to a jury trial. In district court, a jury consists of 6 people. In superior court it consists of 12. You may also choose to waive your right to be tried in front of a jury and choose to have a trial in which a judge decides whether you violated the law. I will advise you, based on the facts of your individual case, which kind of trial to choose. Sentencing in district court almost always happens immediately after trial.

5. How long does it take to resolve a case?

From arraignment to jury trial it can take between 6 months to a year in district court. If you choose to plea, your case could resolve in as little as two months. But pleading just to get things over with might not be in your long term interest.

6. Why should I hire an attorney? Why don’t I just represent myself?

You have an absolute right to represent yourself in any legal matter, including criminal matters. However, the court is not going to cut you a break or bend the rules of evidence and procedure just because you choose to represent yourself.

Criminal procedure is complex, and attorneys go through several years of graduate school and courtroom experience to learn it. If you fail to raise defenses at particular times you will lose those defenses. If you don’t follow proper procedure for introducing evidence you won’t be able to use that evidence. Convictions often carry severe penalties and lifetime consequences.

Without training and experience in criminal procedure, in how to analyze a police report for potential defenses, in how to obtain and use evidence in court, in what evidence to ask for, in what evidence you are entitled to have suppressed and in how to write and argue a motion to get that evidence suppressed, in how to cross examine witnesses, in how to make effective sentencing arguments, or even in what to ask for should you decide to negotiate a plea agreement with the Commonwealth, you are likely to be severely disadvantaged if you represent yourself.

However, hiring a lawyer does not guarantee a particular result. See next question.

7. If I hire a lawyer will I get a guaranteed result? Do you guarantee a result?

No ethical attorney can guarantee you a result. I can tell you that I get positive results for most of my clients most of the time, whether by plea or trial. I can’t, however, guarantee any particular result in your particular case. Every case is different, and seemingly insignificant facts can result in huge differences between cases. If you opt to meet with me for a free initial consultation I will go over the facts of your case with you and advise you as to your options and the likely outcome of each option.

8. All I want to do is plead this out, get this over with, and get on with my life. I don’t want to go through months of litigation and then a trial. Do I really need an attorney?

Again, the choice is yours. Given the long term consequences that often attach to a conviction on a criminal offense, sometimes the worst decision you can make is pleading out a case early just to “get it over with.” For one thing, you won’t actually “get it over with” because you’ll still be facing lengthy probation periods with fines, strict conditions, and in some cases, jail. Every case is different. An attorney can look at the facts and issues particular to your case, and advise you as to whether you have defenses, could get evidence thrown out, and whether to take your case to trial. Sometimes, however, given the facts, the best decision you can make is to plea. In that case an experienced attorney who knows what to ask for can negotiate the best disposition to which you are entitled.

An attorney can also explain to you the consequences of any plea you enter into, which can include future problems obtaining some kinds of employment, immigration issues, firearms license issues, and other concerns. If you choose to represent yourself, do not expect the assistant district attorney to explain to you the consequences of any deal you enter into, or to look out for your interests. That simply isn’t their job.

9. What will an attorney cost me? What do you charge for a typical matter?

Considering the potential lifetime consequences of a criminal conviction, and the real possibility of serving significant time in jail, perhaps it is better to ask what not hiring an attorney to protect your interests and fight for the best possible outcome in your case will cost you.

I understand that attorney fees are an unexpected expense, and that many people think they can’t afford a lawyer. I keep my overhead low and can therefore afford to keep my rates competitive.

My fee for any particular matter varies with the matter’s complexity and the time-investment necessary to defend that particular case. Some cases that might seem simple have hidden complexities, and some cases that seem hopeless may actually be fairly straightforward. I cannot responsibly quote a fee until I meet with you to discuss your particular circumstances.

If you choose to have a free initial consultation with me, I will go over your matter in detail, and I will tell you upfront what my fee is for your case. No surprises, no extra hidden costs, and no obligation. My usual practice is to ask for an upfront flat fee before beginning work on any matter. I will provide you with a detailed fee agreement so there are no surprises later. I accept all major credit cards.

If, after meeting with me, you think you can do better elsewhere, you are free to keep looking for another attorney.

10. The police report in my case makes everything sound hopeless, and much of it isn’t even accurate. Should I really fight this?

I understand. Everybody sounds guilty in a police report, even people who are totally innocent. Of course it’s disturbing to read what the arresting officer wrote about you, particularly if your recollection of events is totally different. I have a lot of experience reading and analyzing police reports, and I can tell you that I have won cases that initially appeared “hopeless.” I will go over the police report with you, and I will tell you if I think there are ways to refute the officer’s allegations or to raise doubt at trial or if the report is actually as damning as you think it is. I will also tell you if I think your case is truly hopeless. Before you give up, please call me at 508-461-6241 for a free consultation.

11. What is a cwof? I’ve heard you can just get a cwof and move on.

CWOF stands for “continued without a finding.” People with minimal or no previous criminal records are entitled to ask that their case be continued without a finding. However, as with any plea, you won’t simply be able to “move on” as you will still have to deal with a lengthy probationary period and other long-term consequences. That being said, sometimes a cwof is the best option, depending on the specific facts of your case.

How it works: You must go before a judge and admit in open court, on the record, that the police report is true and that you did indeed violate the law. If the judge agrees to continue your case without a finding, you are placed on probation. If you comply with all probation conditions your case gets dismissed at the end of probation. If you fail to comply your cwof turns into a conviction on your record, and the court could impose the statutory penalty, including jail time.

12. What is the worst penalty I’m facing in district court? Will I go to jail?

That depends on what you are being charged with, your record, and myriad other factors. Everybody’s situation is different, which is why it makes sense to consult with a lawyer about your particular circumstances.

Criminal penalties are prescribed by statute and included in the complaint. In district court, you cannot be sentenced to more than 2 ½ years in jail for each offense, or to the maximum jail term provided by the statute, whichever is lower. However, it is possible to be sentenced to more than 2 ½ years in jail if you have multiple charges and the judge imposes from and after sentences. “From and after” means that you serve the time on each conviction consecutively, resulting in a longer jail sentence.

For example, if you are convicted of Crime A (which carries a maximum of 2 ½ years), Crime B (which also carries a maximum of 2 ½ years), and Crime C (which carries a maximum of 6 months), and you receive from and after sentences, you would end up with a jail sentence of 5 years and 6 months.

13. What about probation? Can’t I just get probation? What is probation?

Probation is a period of court supervision. Instead of serving a jail sentence, you are required to comply with court-imposed conditions that may include remaining drug and alcohol free, submitting to random drug and alcohol testing, completing programs and/or treatments for drug, alcohol, or anger problems, wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, meeting regularly with a probation officer, and paying fees, including a monthly probation fee. If you receive a cwof you will almost certainly be placed on probation for a period of time. If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, probation might be an option, depending on your record and a host of other factors. Probation, however, is not a realistic option in every case. An attorney can advise you about your particular situation.

14. What happens if I violate my probation conditions?

You are entitled to have a hearing on whether the probation department can prove that you actually violated your probation conditions. If the probation department proves that you failed to comply with any of your probation conditions, the judge can reprobate you under the same or stricter conditions or revoke your probation and impose a jail sentence.