Certain misdemeanors and most by-law or municipal ordinance violations can be converted from criminal offenses to civil infractions under M.G.L. c. 277, § 70C.
Either the prosecutor or the defendant may ask the court to convert the criminal matter to a civil case at arraignment or pretrial conference. No written motion is necessary. A verbal request, made on the record, will be sufficient.
Additionally, the judge may, on his own initiative, convert a case from criminal to civil status. If this happens, the prosecutor may object to the conversion and submit a written argument to the court stating the reasons why the matter should continue as a criminal offense.
Regardless, if the case is converted to a civil matter any threat of imprisonment is gone and the defendant will lose his right (if any) to court-appointed legal counsel for the duration of the proceedings.
Should the judge find the defendant liable for the civil infraction, he will enter an “adjudication or responsibility” against him. A fine may be imposed, according to the terms of the original statute, ordinance, or by-law that was violated. If the violated law does contain a penalty, the judge may impose a fine on the defendant up to $5,000. He may also order the defendant, when appropriate, to pay restitution to anyone economically harmed by the violation.
The list of misdemeanors excluded from conversion is extensive. They include numerous traffic offenses (M.G.L. c. 90), offenses involving mistreatment of children and failure to pay child support (M.G.L. c. 119 and 119A), orders concerning domestic relations (M.G.L. c. 209A), crimes against the person (M.G.L. c. 265), larceny (M.G.L. c. 266), and numerous crimes involving public justice, peace, and decency (M.G.L. c. 268, 269, and 272).
The exact list of excluded criminal offenses, as stated in the statute, is as follows:
This section shall not apply to the offenses in sections 22F, 24, 24D, 24G, 24L and 24N of chapter 90, sections 8, 8A and 8B of chapter 90B, sections 34, 36, 39, 51A, 51E, 51F, 55, 63 and 63A of chapter 119, chapter 119A, chapter 209, chapter 209A, chapter 265, section 25 of chapter 266, sections 1, 2, 3, 6, 6A, 6B, 8B, 13, 13A, 13B, 13C, 14, 14B, 15, 15A, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 28, 31 and 36 of chapter 268, chapter 268A, sections 10, 10A, 10C, 10D, 10E, 11B, 11C, 11E, 12, 12A, 12B, 12D and 12E of chapter 269 and sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A, 4B, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 16, 28, 29A and 29B of chapter 272.