Consequences and processes following your arraignment or first appearance in court

Learn more about the criminal court process, including potential sentencing or punishments, charges, what happens if your case isn't resolved, and what to do before leaving court.

What could my punishment be?

Your sentence or punishment could be any one of the following, or some combination of the following:

  • A fine and court costs
  • Probation, and/or a suspended sentence (which means going to jail only if you violate the rules of your probation) and/or community service and/or, if necessary, restitution to the victim
  • An active sentence, which means that you're imprisoned for a specific amount of time based on the sentence imposed by the judge
  • Other consequences that aren't discussed in court and that aren't directly related to a conviction but can impact things such as public housing benefits, driver's license, deportation if you aren't a United States citizen, the ability to obtain student loans, and more.

What happens if I'm charged with a crime but I'm not a United States citizen?

You have the right to be advised of potential immigration consequences resulting from your criminal case by both the judge and your defense lawyer before you plead guilty or go to trial. For more information about this, see the Committee for Public Counsel Services Immigration Impact Unit.

For more information about immigration and criminal convictions, see Mass. law about immigration consequences of state convictions.

What's the difference between civil infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies?

Civil infractions — A civil infraction is a minor violation. Many traffic violations are civil infractions, such as speeding, failure to signal, etc. The punishment for a civil infraction is usually a fine, there is no jail time. Simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a civil infraction.  

Felonies — The following definition applies only in Massachusetts courts, the federal courts may use a different definition. Any crime punishable by confinement in a state prison are felonies — all other crimes are misdemeanors. You can find the punishment for a crime in the Massachusetts' statutes, the laws written by legislature. The law will set forth the maximum punishment that you can receive for a crime, but the law will not list the many alternative or lesser punishments that are often actually imposed. Therefore, if the crime you're charged with allows you to be sent to state prison as a punishment, it's a felony regardless of the actual punishment you receive. Examples of felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Rape
  • Drunk driving (3 or more offenses)
  • Kidnapping  

Misdemeanors —  Crimes that aren't punishable under Massachusetts' statutes by confinement in a state prison are misdemeanors. If the punishment described in the law for a particular crime doesn't include the possibility of state prison time, it's a misdemeanor. Examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Disorderly conduct
  • Fishing and hunting violations
  • First or second drunk driving offenses
  • Most criminal motor vehicle offenses

 To find out whether your charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, look at the charging document and find the statutory cite for the crime. For example, it should include words "General Laws, chapter" or the initials G.L. c. and the word "section" or the symbol for section, §. Use that citation to find the crime in the Master Crime List (see below). The list will include the citation for the crime that you found on your document, the title of the crime, and then a column called “Penalty,” which will tell you if the crime is a misdemeanor or felony. You can also find the law itself online or at the law library, then read the punishment to determine if it's a felony or misdemeanor.

Additional Resources

What happens if my case isn't resolved at arraignment?

The next date usually scheduled is a pre-trial conference date. You must appear in court on that date.

What should I do before I leave court?

Before you leave court after any court date, (arraignment, pre-trial conference, trial, or another date) make sure you understand what happens next.

  • Do you need to come back for another court proceeding?
  • Do you need to prepare anything in writing for the next court appearance?
  • Do you need to take other steps or actions?
  • Will the judge make an order as a result of the hearing? Sometimes orders are written up right away, as you wait, or the judge may write an order later and send it in the mail.

Politely ask questions if you don't understand what will happen next. You should know:

  1. How to contact your lawyer
  2. When to come back
  3. Any conditions of release. The probation department can help you understand the conditions.

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