Before your arraignment

Learn about preparing for the criminal court process.

Learn about your rights, police custody, arraignments and hearings, what to do before going to court, and more.

What happens if I'm arrested?

When you're arrested, the police usually bring you to the police station for booking. If you need to be taken to a hospital, you will be brought there first, before you're taken to the police station. At the station, police will write down your general information on a form, and a picture is usually taken along with fingerprints. You'll be given an opportunity to use the telephone.

What are my rights?

Anyone charged with a crime has certain legal rights.

  • You have the right to remain silent when questioned. You do not have to say anything about the facts of your case. If you do, your statements can be used against you in a court of law, including during your trial.
  • You have the right to the presence of an attorney during any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Practically speaking, the appointment of lawyer for a defendant who cannot afford an attorney usually does not occur until the first court appearance.
  • You have the right to be considered for bail except in murder cases.

Can I be released after I'm booked at the police station?

When booking is complete, you'll be brought to court or if court is closed, the police can contact the magistrate to determine if you can be released. If you have a history of not appearing in court, the magistrate may set a bail amount that must be paid before you can be released. Otherwise, the magistrate can release you without bail (on personal recognizance). To finalize your release, a nonrefundable fee, not to exceed $50.00, must be paid to the magistrate. Any bail amount is in addition to this nonrefundable fee.

If you are released from police custody, you'll be given paperwork outlining the charges and you must be in court at the time indicated on the release order. If you aren't released by the magistrate, or cannot post the required bail, you'll be held in jail until the next court session. You'll be escorted to court by a uniformed law officer on the appropriate date.

What happens if I receive a complaint and notice of criminal charges and a date to appear in court in the mail but I'm not arrested?

You should go to court on that date. It's important to make sure you arrive on time. The information listed below applies when you have been summonsed to court, as well as to those who have been arrested (except an arrestee is not entitled to a show cause hearing).

What is a show cause hearing?

If you're accused of committing a misdemeanor crime and you aren't arrested, you're generally entitled to a show cause hearing. The hearing is held before a district court clerk magistrate to determine if there is probable cause to believe you committed a crime. You may also request a show cause hearing within 4 days of receiving a motor vehicle citation that charges only misdemeanor offenses. The hearing is generally not open to the public, but you may bring witnesses. The magistrate will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to issue the complaint. When you arrive at the court building, you should go to the district court criminal clerk's office and ask where your show cause hearing will be held. See the Standards of Judicial Practice: The Complaint Procedure below for more information.

If the magistrate finds probable cause a complaint will be issued and you'll be given a date to appear for your arraignment. This information may be provided by mail. If you don't receive the information shortly, you should go to the clerk's office and ask if there has been a decision.  

You are not entitled to a show cause hearing if:

  • You were arrested on the charges
  • The charges include a felony
  •  The magistrate determines that you appear dangerous, likely to injure someone, or likely to commit another crime.

Additional Resources

What's the difference between criminal charges in superior court and criminal charges in district court?

Criminal cases in district court begin with an application for a complaint that's filed by the police, a private individual, or other organization, in the district court clerk's office. In superior court, cases begin with an indictment (a document listing the charges) that has been returned by a grand jury. The grand jury is a group of citizens who hear evidence presented by the prosecutor. If the grand jury decides there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, they issue an indictment and the individual is then notified of the indictment and must appear in superior court on the arraignment date, the first court date. This charge does not mean that the person has committed the crime. Guilt must be determined later by a judge or jury.     

Most crimes begin in district court, and the more serious crimes are then brought to the grand jury. If the grand jury issues an indictment, the district court complaint will be dismissed and the case will be handled in superior court. The district court is generally limited to deciding cases for which the maximum authorized penalty for a crime is not more than 5 years' imprisonment, although there are a few additional crimes set out in the statutes that a district court may also decide. G.L. c. 218, section 26; G.L. c. 274. section 7. The Offenses Within District Court Criminal Jurisdiction below, provides a list of crimes that can be resolved in the district court (district court has jurisdiction).

All of the crimes on this list can also be handled in the superior court because superior court can hear all criminal cases. If a crime does not appear on this list, it can only be resolved in superior court (although it the case may begin in district court).  

Additional Resources

What is an arraignment date?

The arraignment date is the first time a criminal defendant appears in court. The arraignment is for the purpose of reading the charges and determining what the defendant would like to do with his or her case. The case can't be disposed of on this date unless the criminal defendant agrees to do so. If another court date is set, it likely to be for a pre-trial conference.

What should I do before I go to court?

Generally speaking, you should plan on staying at least 3 hours for your arraignment. In crowded courts, you may be required to stay all day, until approximately 4:30 pm. The courtroom is likely to be crowded and it may be a while before the judge gets to your case. Be early so that you will have enough time to find out where to go and to make sure you don't miss your case being called.  

If you have an attorney before your arraignment date, talk with your attorney in advance. The more your attorney understands about your case, the more he or she can help you.

It's helpful to bring all of the papers you have about your case to court. Bring a pencil and paper to court with you or an item or device you can record information on. You may need to take notes about your case or write down court dates. It's your responsibility to know when to return to court if your case is continued or postponed until another date.

You aren't required to bring cash to court, but having cash available to pay fines or court costs may be helpful to avoid returning to court on another date to make such payments. Although each case is unique, a reasonable estimate to cover court costs or fines is $250.00.

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