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Generally, a court officer will direct you to a microphone or place where the defendant stands. Walk to that spot and remain standing when your case is called. You can expect the following 3 things to happen at an arraignment, but not necessarily in this order.
In some cases, a fourth event may occur during the arraignment. There may be a bail hearing or a dangerousness hearing. If the information before the judge suggests that you may not return to court, a bail hearing will be held. Regardless of your financial status, the "duty lawyer" for the day will speak to you privately about what will occur at the bail hearing and represent you at that hearing if you wish. If bail is set, you will be held until that amount is deposited in the clerk's office. The judge may place other conditions on your pre-trial release. You must follow the conditions in order to stay out of jail. If you do not follow the conditions, then you may be held in jail. You have the right to appeal the amount of bail to a judge in the superior court, and the appeal can sometimes be heard the same day.
In a few instances, a dangerousness hearing may be held if the prosecutor informs the judge that you may pose a danger upon release. If the judge agrees, a hearing will be held to determine if you should be held in jail until your next court date. Learn more about bail.
It varies from court to court, but the first opportunity to talk to your court-appointed lawyer is usually immediately before or immediately after your arraignment. That lawyer is usually in the courthouse and likely in the courtroom. You may talk briefly during a recess or outside the courtroom and can arrange for a mutually convenient time for a more in-depth conversation.
Sometimes you can. You may be able to resolve your case at arraignment, especially with less serious charges, and eliminate the need to return to court. Speaking with a lawyer before you do so may be important to determine whether there are any additional consequences that aren't directly part of the criminal case but that could affect you after you plead guilty.
The procedure for resolving a case at arraignment varies slightly at each court, but in general the process will include the following:
If, after waiving counsel, you and the prosecutor talk and agree on how the case should be handled, you and the prosecutor will fill out a form called Tender of Plea or Admission & Waiver of Rights (see below) that includes the agreed-upon disposition. If you and the prosecutor don't agree, you may each write your separate recommendation on the form. The form must be signed by both you and the prosecutor and given to the clerk in the courtroom.
Please note that there may be consequences from pleading guilty that are not listed on this form but that may be important to you. For example, if you aren't a United States citizen, you could be deported, public housing benefits could be taken away, and/or you may no longer be eligible for student loans, to list only a few possible consequences. Please consult an attorney to determine what specific consequences could apply to your case.
If you decide to proceed, once the form is turned in, your case will be called again. The judge will tell you whether he or she will accept your recommendation. If the judge in the district court doesn't accept your recommendation, you may agree to any other disposition the judge proposes. Or, if the judge doesn't accept your recommendation at arraignment (or at a pre-trial conference), you have a right to withdraw your plea and have a trial on another date. Because the judge can't impose a sentence greater than the one you recommend, without your agreement, your plea at this point is "defendant capped." If you don't accept the judge’s alternate recommendation, you'll be given a date to come back for either a pre-trial conference or for trial. If the next court date is for trial, (not a pre-trial conference), you may not be able to offer a "defendant capped" plea on a trial date.
For more information on guilty plea procedure, see the District /Municipal Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 4(c) and Mass. Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 12(c).
If your case is scheduled for a court date, but you find you need additional time to discuss your case with your attorney or to bring enough money for costs and fines or to bring witnesses to the court on your behalf, you may ask for a continuance. In other words, you may ask the court to delay your court date to another day. A request should be made before the scheduled court date by contacting the clerk's office. A request made on the day of the event is less likely to be allowed, but a reasonable request for a continuance even on the trial date may be possible, but can't be guaranteed.