At Urbelis Law, we successfully represent clients throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in all stages of the criminal justice system. Below is a guide to the criminal process, different court levels, and the courthouses where we regularly appear.What We Do: Criminal Process In The Trial Courts Of Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, the criminal justice system begins at the trial court level. Other than cases initiated by a grand jury indictment in Superior Court or a show-cause hearing in District Court, most charges stem from an arrest. If you are arrested for any charge other than first-degree murder, you will first be arraigned in the District Court (or in one of the Municipal Courts if the offense allegedly took place in Boston). This is the start of the formal criminal process. The charges are formally read to you in open court and you receive the initial paperwork relating to the alleged offense(s). If the court finds you to be “indigent”, and you are charged with a crime that carries a potential jail sentence, you may qualify for a court-appointed lawyer and only have to pay a very small fee while the taxpayers of Massachusetts bear the rest of that cost. If you do not qualify for a court-appointed lawyer, or you do not wish to have a court-appointed lawyer represent you, you can hire your own private criminal defense attorney, such as the lawyers at Urbelis Law. (It is important that you hire an attorney who specializes in criminal defense, rather than your family’s tax attorney who takes on a criminal matter every once in a blue moon. Criminal defense is a highly complicated craft and you’d be doing yourself a major disservice to risk your future and freedom by hiring a lawyer who doesn’t commit 100% of his/ her practice to this area of the law.) After the arraignment, the District Attorney’s office may seek to pursue your case in Superior Court if the charge is a serious felony (see below). In most cases, however, the case will remain in the District or Municipal Court. After the arraignment, it is our job to gather all available information about the case. This includes a full analysis of all police reports, requesting any other information from the District Attorney’s office that may be relevant and necessary to defend the case, and having meaningful discussions with you to determine whether there is any other information to pursue from our side of the case. When the charges are more serious, and the facts and evidence become more complex, it may take several court dates to ensure that we have ALL the information necessary to eventually reach the best possible outcome for you. If we determine that the police obtained certain information illegally, then we will file motions to exclude that evidence. If we find that the charges were brought improperly, or if the District Attorney’s office commits serious violations in turning over information to the defense, we will file motions to dismiss the entire case. The process by which the prosecution and defense gather and exchange information is known as “discovery.” Through this process, the strengths and weaknesses of the case become much more evident. Once we have all of the relevant and necessary information about the case, we can then advise you on your options of how to proceed. These options may range from trying to have the case dismissed, or taking the case all the way to trial. If you choose to fight the case, there are two different trial options. The first option is to put your faith in a jury of your peers, where members of the community determine whether the prosecution has proven beyond all reasonable doubt you committed the crime. The second option is to “waive” a jury and opt for a “bench trial," where a single judge hears the evidence and makes that same determination instead of a jury. At Urbelis Law we will explain the pros and cons to each type of trial and provide guidance on which type might be best in your particular case, but ultimately the decision whether to have a jury or bench trial is completely yours. Of course, there are certain cases where the prospects of a “not guilty” verdict appear very slim, and we can provide you with a full analysis to decide whether or not you still want to have a trial. We can also advise you as to the various options short of trial, and if you ask us to work out a deal so you can move forward with your life, we will fight to obtain the very best possible outcome allowed by the laws of Massachusetts.Massachusetts Trial Courts: District, Municipal, and Superior Courts
WHAT ARE THE DISTRICT AND MUNICIPAL COURTS OF MASSACHUSETTS?
In the District and Municipal Courts, criminal jurisdiction extends to all misdemeanors and also many major felonies. The maximum sentence that can be imposed by a district or municipal court judge is 2 ½ years in the house of corrections. For charges that carry a mandatory state prison sentence, the district or municipal court conducts probable cause hearings to determine if a defendant should be bound over to the Superior Court, where sentences range up to life in prison. Clerk Magistrates in the district and municipal courts conduct “show cause” hearings to determine whether to issue criminal complaints on a variety of misdemeanor offenses, and to determine whether there is probable cause to detain persons arrested without a warrant.
WHAT ARE THE SUPERIOR COURTS OF MASSACHUSETTS?
The Superior Courts in Massachusetts have exclusive original jurisdiction over first-degree murder cases, and original jurisdiction over all other crimes. While they have jurisdiction over all felony matters, they share jurisdiction with the lower (district and municipal) courts on felonies that do not mandate a state prison sentence. The Superior Courts also have jurisdiction over certain appeals from the lower court proceedings, such as the review of a defendant’s bail status or ruling on a motion.