Your Boston Criminal Case: The Basics

Several really good movies have been deeply connected to the town you love. You've seen The DepartedThe Town, and even The Boondock Saints, and had a good time with each of these crime movies. But in real life, there's nothing fun about having a criminal case in Beantown or anywhere else. In fact, it's probably best movies aren't true to life, considering the sort of antics police get away with on the big screen.

Thankfully, a criminal case doesn't have to be so dramatic (and trau-matic). FindLaw's guide can help separate the fact from fiction so that you can get back to enjoying your life and the movies like a normal person.

Jail

Arrestees in Boston usually head to the Nashua Street Jail. Officers at the jail handle transportation, booking, and property for inmates. The facility houses pretrial detainees under maximum security. If someone in your life is behind bars awaiting trial, check in with Inmate Legal Services to see if the office can assist your loved one with pretrial release, mental health concerns, or some other legal issue.

Court

In Boston, several courts have jurisdiction over criminal matters. The Boston Municipal Court Department has the authority to hear cases, from start to finish, involving misdemeanors, which are crimes not requiring punishment within a state prison. The Municipal Court may also preside over felony cases, which involve more serious crimes punishable by death or incarceration at a state facility.

Felony trials in Bean Town are only heard by the Suffolk County Superior Court for Criminal Business, which also may hear misdemeanor cases. For more information on Boston courts, see FindLaw's article on Boston courthouses.

Probation Interview and Arraignment

When a person has been arrested, he/she will have an arraignment. This is the court appearance at which the court reads the charges, informs the defendant of his/her rights, and invites the defendant to enter a plea. If a defendant pleas "not guilty," the court will schedule your next court dates, the Pretrial Conference and Pretrial Hearing.

If applicable, the court will also set the conditions for the defendant's release based on information obtained in a Probation Interview. A defendant can expect questions about his/her income and assets, and possibly his/her criminal history. If you have an arraignment, you have the right to an attorney at that proceeding. You may postpone the conclusion of the arraignment until you've had enough time to secure a lawyer or until a lawyer for arraignment or bail purposes only can be found.

Appointment of Counsel

Every criminal defendant has the right to counsel. If you can't afford to hire an attorney, the Committee for Public Counsel Services will provide you with one. The court will rely on your Probation Interview and possibly additional questioning to determine that you are either:

  1. Indigent: receiving public assistance, living near the poverty threshold, living in a qualified treatment center, or housed in custody with no available funds;
  2. Indigent but Able to Contribute: living above the poverty threshold, but not 250% above the threshold; or
  3. Not Indigent: having sufficient assets or income to pay for legal representation

Pretrial Conference and Pretrial Hearing

The court will require -- and possibly supervise -- a pretrial conference. The parties may there discuss the exchanging of evidence and other matters relevant to trial. A criminal defendant has a right to attend. If the parties cannot agree on a matter, each will have to submit arguments in favor of his/her position before the end of the Pretrial Hearing, as specified by the court. Between the time of the conference and hearing, the parties may continue to negotiate and possibly settle the case.

Trial

A criminal defendant has a right to a trial by a jury. A jury will consist of either twelve or six members, depending on the severity of the charges. If you're facing a trial, you can waive your right to a jury and instead have your case decided by a judge. Talk with your attorney about whether this is a good strategy in your particular case. Â If, for some reason, the case does not turn out as you hoped, you can talk to your attorney about your rights to appeal.

Criminal Case Management

If you've been arrested, you're probably wondering: when will this ordeal going to end? The Superior Court offers some guidance for how long it should take to resolve a criminal case. Minor crimes like non-sexual assaults and Operating Under the Influence are placed on "A" track, meaning that a pre-trial hearing must occur within 90 days of arraignment. Tracks "B" and "C" are for more serious crimes and allow up to 180 days to lapse between conference and arraignment unless the parties and the court agree on a different timeline.

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