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(Applicable to cases initiated after September 7, 2004)
These rules may be known and cited as the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Mass.R.Crim.P.)
These rules govern the procedure in all criminal proceedings in the District Court, in all criminal proceedings in the Superior Court, in all delinquency and youthful offender proceedings in the Juvenile Court, District Court and Superior Court consistent with the General Laws, and in proceedings for post-conviction relief.
(2004) Rule 1 is drawn from and combines Fed. R. Crim. P. 60 and 1. The substance of the rule defines the scope and applicability of the remainder of the rules.
These rules are applicable to the criminal process in those courts having general criminal jurisdiction. This code represents an attempt to consolidate into a single document rules of procedure to apply with the fewest possible exceptions to the appropriate departments of the Trial Court of the Commonwealth. Those exceptions are delineated in each rule where different procedures must prevail. There is, of course, a limitation inherent in any comprehensive set of procedural rules. That is, a variety of special procedures or factual situations exist where the mechanical application of the rules would work an unnecessary hardship or an injustice. In those limited circumstances, sound judicial discretion will require a construction of the rules so as to secure simplicity in procedure, fairness in the administration of the criminal justice system, and the elimination of unnecessary expense and delay as required by Rule 2(a).
In order to be of broad application to criminal practice, it was necessary for the rules to prescribe general procedures suitable for all courts within their scope. It is necessary that the rules be general and flexible, prescribing only basic essentials, rather than rigid and detailed. It is also necessary that the Rules be reviewed periodically to assess their operation and to take account of changes in both law and society over time. Such a comprehensive review was undertaken beginning in 1995, resulting in subsequent amendments to several of the rules, including a set of major revisions promulgated in 2004.
While these rules are intended to constitute a comprehensive code of criminal procedure for cases in the enumerated courts, nevertheless there are areas of criminal practice which were left unregulated. Among these matters are pretrial diversion, search- and arrest-warrant procedures, wire-tapping procedures, and other similar matters. As to some of these practices, it was determined that the state of the law, especially regarding constitutional issues, was so fluid as to defy codification. These matters were necessarily left to an ad hoc determination on specific facts by the courts. In other areas it was recognized that local practice in individual courts -- whether by accepted usage or court rules -- could give the criminal justice system some flexibility as required by special conditions not susceptible to general regulation.
These rules are not intended to pre-empt the adoption of rules by the several departments of the Trial Court to address specific problems which are inevitably encountered in those courts and which are not dealt with by these rules.
Nor are these rules intended to be a comprehensive guide or statement with respect to the procedures used by the clerks of court. It is expected that those offices will continue to develop efficient methods to assist in the expeditious disposal of criminal matters consistent with the letter and spirit of these rules.
By a 2004 amendment, Rule 1 was revised to explicitly state that the Rules of Criminal Procedure govern "all delinquency and youthful offender proceedings in the Juvenile Court." Thus the same rules apply to juvenile court proceedings that apply to delinquency and criminal proceedings in the other trial courts. This accords with M.G.L. c. 218, sec. 59 , which provides that "Except as otherwise provided by law, the divisions of the juvenile court department shall have and exercise, within their respective jurisdictions, the same powers, duties, and procedure as the divisions of the district court department; and all laws relating to district courts or municipal courts in their respective counties or officials thereof or proceedings therein, shall, so far as applicable, apply to said divisions of the juvenile court department ..." The application of the Rules of Criminal Procedure to juvenile proceedings does not, however, imply that they are identical to adult criminal cases in all other respects. Special procedures for the hearing of juvenile offenses have been established under G.L. c. 119 and are designed to treat juveniles as children in need of aid, encouragement and guidance, rather than as criminals. Metcalf v. Commonwealth, 338 Mass. 648 , 156 N.E.2d 649 (1959). G.L. c. 119, § 53 directs that proceedings against juveniles under G.L. c. 119 shall not be deemed criminal proceedings, but such matters must still be governed by constitutional due process standards. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967). Therefore, these rules are intended to be construed liberally so as to comply with the goals and purposes of G.L. c. 119 , while G.L. c. 119, § 53 is not to operate to deny the procedural safeguards contained within these rules.