A “plea” is a defendant’s formal response to the criminal charges against him.  During arraignment in Massachusetts district court, the clerk will automatically enter a plea of “not guilty” on the defendant’s behalf and the judge will schedule the case for a pretrial hearing.

The defendant may enter a new and different plea at the pretrial hearing with or without the prosecution’s consent.[1]

At the pretrial hearing—or at any time prior to a trial verdict–the defendant may plead guilty, not guilty, or, with the judge’s permission, nolo contendere (i.e., no contest).[2] 

If a defendant pleads not guilty, he may also “admit to sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilty.”[3]  Such an admission is typically made in order to get favorable treatment from the prosecutor.

Along with his plea, a defendant may, with or without the prosecutor’s consent, make a “recommended disposition” to the judge.

Massachusetts statutory law states,

Most pleas request may include any disposition or dispositional terms within the court’s jurisdiction, including…a dispositional request that a guilty finding not be entered, but rather the case be continued without a finding [i.e., CWOF] to a specific date thereupon to be dismissed, such continuance conditioned upon compliance with specific terms and conditions or that the defendant be placed on probation….[4]

Moreover, the District/Municipal Court Rules of Criminal Procedure state that

If the court rejects a tendered plea, admission or other disposition, the judge may indicate to the parties what disposition he or she would impose…and a pretrial disposition may be requested by the defendant on those terms.

Emphasis added.

Any defendant who intends to propose probation as part of a plea should notify the court’s probation office first.  Their approval of the plea and its terms is not necessary.  But the judge may want the probation department to be put on notice before the plea is approved.

Pleas should be submitted using a standardized form: DC-CR 22.

The prosecution has a number of plea-agreement options which are laid out in Rule 12(b) of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure.  These include dropping some or all of the charges, recommending the terms of probation, or recommending the duration of imprisonment.

Generally, statements or admissions made during failed plea negotiations or are inadmissible at trial.  Such statements or admissions are also inadmissible of the plea is entered and later withdrawn.[5]

However, according to Rule 12(f), such statements are admissible

In a criminal proceeding for perjury if the statement[s] [were] made by the defendant under oath, on the record, and in the presence of counsel, if any.

[1] Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1) and District/Municipal Court Rules of Criminal Procedure 4(c).

[2] M.G.L. c. 278, § 18 and Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure 12(a)(2).

[3] Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure 12(a)(1).

[4] M.G.L. c. 278, § 18; See also District/Municipal Court Rules of Criminal Procedure 4(c).

[5] Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure 12(f).