Arraignment is the first court event for persons charged with a crime in Massachusetts District Court.
On the day of arraignment, the clerk will call the defendant to stand before the judge.
The judge will first ask the defendant whether he has an attorney. If the defendant does not have an attorney, the judge will ask if the defendant wishes to have a court-appointed lawyer.
Before a lawyer can be appointed by the court, the judge must first determine that the defendant is indigent.
To make this determination, the judge will review the defendant’s pre-arraignment intake form which contains information about the defendant’s financial status. This form is provided to the court from the probation officer assigned to the case.
If the judge concludes that the defendant is indeed indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to the case on the spot.
Once the issue of legal representation is resolved, the court will next read the charges against the defendant and enter a plea of not guilty on the defendant’s behalf.
Next the court will consider bail, if it is requested by the prosecutor. (Bail is often the biggest issue dealt with at arraignment. To keep this post to a reasonable length, I won’t go into the details of bail here; though I intend to write a separate post on the subject in the coming weeks.)
The judge will make a pre-trial discovery order pursuant to Rule 14 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure and consider any motions filed by the prosecution prior to arraignment.
The judge will also set a pretrial hearing for the case and order to the prosecutor and defense attorney to engage in a pretrial conference.
Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 276, § 35, the next court date must take place within 30 days of arraignment unless the defendant expressly waives this requirement.
If bail is set, the judge will inform the defendant that he has a right to appeal the terms of his bail to Superior Court.
The judge will advise the defendant that if he is charged with any new crimes after the arraignment, his bail can be revoked.
In most cases, this should conclude the arraignment proceedings.
However, it’s not uncommon for a number of other issues to arise on arraignment day. These include:
- Restraining order hearings;
- Probation surrenders;
- Bail revocation;
- 58A “Dangerousness” hearings;
- Section 35 hearings for alcohol or substance abuse.
Defendants charged with drug offenses also have the right to ask for an evaluation to determine whether the he is drug-dependent. According to M.G.L. c. 111E, § 10, this evaluation stays the criminal proceedings against the defendant and may ultimately lead to the case being dismissed.