Massachusetts law about criminal law and procedure

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources on criminal law and procedure law. See Related pages, below, for information on specific criminal law topics.

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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

Massachusetts criminal laws are primarily in MGL chapters 263-274:

A crime punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison is a felony. All other crimes are misdemeanors.

Massachusetts criminal procedure laws are primarily in MGL chapters 275-280:

  • MGL c.275 Proceedings to prevent crimes
  • MGL c.276 Search warrants, rewards, fugitives from justice, arrest, examination, commitment and bail, probation officers and Board of Probation
  • MGL c.276A District Court pretrial diversion of selected offenders
  • MGL c.276B Restorative justice
  • MGL c.277 Indictments and proceedings before trial. See also, amended c.277, § 70C
  • MGL c.277B Statewide grand jury (repealed effective December 31, 2026)
  • MGL c.278 Trials and proceedings before judgment
  • MGL c.278A Post conviction access to forensic and scientific analysis
  • MGL c.279 Judgment and execution
  • MGL c.280 Fines and forfeitures

Glossary of court terms

Glossary of court terms
From the Mass. Trial Court's "Handbook of legal terms for judicial branch personnel", and adapted for the web by the Trial Court Law Libraries.

Court rules and standards


Selected case law: court procedure

Brangan v. Commonwealth, 477 Mass. 691 (2017)
The court must consider a criminal defendant's ability to pay when setting bail, but is not required to set affordable bail.  Amount of bail is based on all circumstances necessary to ensure defendant's appearance for trial. See also Walsh v. Commonwealth, 485 Mass. 567 (2020).

Com. v. Bruneau, 472 Mass. 510 (2015)
Defendant can appeal a finding of not guilty by reason of mental illness pursuant to MGL c. 278, § 28.

Com. v. DiGiambattista, 442 Mass. 423 (2004) Jury instructions when interrogations are not recorded
“A defendant whose interrogation has not been reliably preserved by means of a complete electronic recording should be entitled, on request, to a cautionary instruction concerning the use of such evidence.”

Com. v. Dixon, 458 Mass. 446 (2010)
“John Doe” Indictment that described the defendant as John Doe with a certain DNA profile was sufficiently particular, and tolled the statute of limitations until the defendant could be identified and prosecuted.

Com. v. Gomes, 459 Mass. 194 (2011) Judge must attend view

Com. v. Gomez, 480 Mass. 240 (2018) Conditional guilty plea permitted
Defendant can condition his guilty plea on right to appeal denial of a pretrial motion. See also Mass.R.Crim.Proc. Rule 12 (b)(6).

Com. v. Guzman, 446 Mass. 344, 845 NE2d 270 (2006) Accord and Satisfaction
Trial Court may discharge defendant from indictment or complaint upon victim's acknowledgment of satisfaction for injury pursuant to MGL c. 276, § 55.

Com. v. Hernandez, 481 Mass. 582 (2019) When defendant dies during appeal
Instead of vacating a criminal conviction and dismissing the indictment after a defendant dies while his direct appeal pends (applying the doctrine of abatement ab initio), the trial court will record that the defendant's conviction removed the defendant's presumption of innocence as to that charge, but that the conviction was appealed from and was neither affirmed nor reversed because the defendant died while the appeal was pending and the appeal was dismissed.

Com. v. Lewis, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 354 (2019), rev. denied 484 Mass. 1106 (2020) Guilty pleas are divisible
A court can vacate one guilty plea and leave others in place, even when the pleas were made at the same time in the same proceeding unless the plea colloquy expressed the intent that the pleas were indivisible.

Com. v. Martinez, 480 Mass. 777 (2018)
Describes refund of court costs, fees, and restitution after defendant's conviction is vacated and the charge is dismissed with prejudice.

Com. v. Newberry, 483 Mass. 186 (2019) Arraignment before pretrial diversion
On the state's motion, a judge must arraign a defendant before they can take advantage of a pretrial diversion program pursuant to MGL c. 276A, § 3. Also, a judge has the authority to impose conditions of release, including monitoring by probation, on a criminal defendant prior to arraignment.

Com. v. Norman, 484 Mass. 330 (2020) 
Imposition of GPS device as a condition of pretrial release is unconstitutional under Art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

Com. v. Portillo, 462 Mass. 324 (2012) English-language transcript of recorded foreign-language interview
"[W]here the Commonwealth intends in its case-in-chief to offer at trial statements made by a defendant in a foreign language in a tape-recorded interview, it is within a judge's discretion to require the Commonwealth to provide defense counsel in advance of trial with an English-language transcript of the interview, and to exclude the statements where the Commonwealth declines to do so."

Com. v. Rodriguez, 461 Mass. 256 (2012) Judge can reduce sentence below agreed recommendation in plea deal
When “a judge acts on his own timely motion to revise or revoke a sentence, the judge has the authority to reduce a sentence where 'it appears that justice may not have been done' regardless of whether a plea agreement includes an agreed sentence recommendation."

Com. v. Yasin, 483 Mass. 343 (2019)
A " judge may not reserve decision on a motion for a required finding of not guilty under Mass. R. Crim. P. 25 (a) that is filed at the close of the Commonwealth's case.  Nor may a judge allow such a motion,  nunc pro tunc, after the jury have rendered their verdict."

District Attorney for the Northern District v. Superior Court Dept., 482 Mass. 336 (2019)
Outlines the standard for the retention or transfer of nondocumentary exhibits posttrial.

In re: McDonough, 457 Mass. 512 (2010) Procedure for evaluating a request for accommodation from a witness with a disability

Selected case law: elements or definitions of crimes

Com. v. Adams, 482 Mass. 514 (2019) Interference with a police officer
Interference with the lawful duties of a police officer is a common-law crime in Massachusetts. Decision looks to history to explain the elements of the crime, and concludes that merely being difficult and argumentative is not sufficient.

Com. v. Brown, 477 Mass. 805 (2017)
Liability for common law felony-murder narrowed to require that a defendant may not be convicted of murder without proof of one of the three prongs of malice. 

Com. v. Carrillo, 483 Mass. 269 (2019)
Evidence of heroin distribution alone is not enough to support a conviction of involuntary manslaughter where the heroin caused a tragic death.

Com. v. Montoya, 457 Mass. 102 (2010)
Fleeing from police during an arrest is resisting arrest when circumstances of flight create “a substantial risk of injury to police.”

Com. v. Rivera, 482 Mass. 145 (2019) Accessory after the fact
“The refusal to answer a police officer's questions or provide requested information alone cannot constitute 'aid' or 'assistance' under G.L. c. 274, § 4, because, unless a person is subpoenaed or ordered by a court to testify, no one has a legal obligation to answer a police officer’s questions or to provide information in a criminal investigation.”

Com. v. Vick, 454 Mass. 418 (2009) Duplicative offenses
Offenses arising out of the same course of conduct are not duplicative if each crime requires proof of an element that the other does not.

Jury instructions

Web sources

Appeals Court frequent appellate process questions, Mass. Appeals Court.
Provides essential information in a question and answer format on how to file an appeal in both civil and criminal cases. Covers everything from the notice of appeal to how long to expect to wait for a decision. Great resource!

The bail process, Mass. Court System.
Explains the law and process of bail in Massachusetts.

District Court complaint manual, Mass. District Court.
Outlines offense codes, charging language, and sentence range for more than 5,000 offenses described in the General Laws, regulations, and municipal laws.

Featured practice tips from the Superior Court bench, MCLE.
A "series of short 10-minute video briefings offering practical and sage advice from more than forty active and alumni members of the Massachusetts Superior Court."

Frequently asked questions about inquests, Mass. Court System.
Explains how a death investigation works.

Massachusetts criminal practice, 4th ed., by Blumenson, Eric D.
Full-text available via Suffolk University Law School. C 2012.

Massachusetts Department of Correction
Find an inmate or a prison, and many other actions and services.

Massachusetts high risk sex offenders
Search for sex offenders, and other actions and services.

Master crime list, Mass. Sentencing Commission.
Lists crimes by MGL reference, and offense title. Describes whether the crime is a felony or misdemeanor, and provides the sentence range.

Print sources

Criminal defense motions, 5th ed. (Mass. Practice v. 42), West, 2019 with supplement. 

Criminal law, 3rd ed. (Mass. Practice v. 32) West, 2001 with supplement.

The criminal law handbook : know your rights, survive the system by Paul Bergman, Nolo, 2020.

Do no wrong: ethics for prosecutors and defenders, American Bar Association, 2009.

Massachusetts criminal law: a District Court prosecutor's guide, by Richard G. Stearns, loose-leaf.

Suppression matters under Massachusetts law, LexisNexis, annual editions.


Last updated: March 10, 2023

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