Facing any criminal charges is a frightening experience. No matter how serious the charge, if this is your first time before a judge you are likely very intimidated.Criminal Charge in Massachusetts? Call Attorney Russell Matson at (781) 817-6332.
You don’t know what to expect, and what could happen to you. This is why you need an aggressive and confident attorney fighting on your side, doing what’s necessary to ensure you get the best results possible when you’re in court.
Knowing what kind of penalty you are facing when you are faced with criminal charges can help you focus in on what needs to be done. Different states classify criminal offenses in different manners. So even if you faced a possession charge in Massachusetts, the penalty you face for the same offense here can be vastly different.
The most basic crime classification we have is that of misdemeanors and felonies.
Massachusetts Criminal Offenses – Misdemeanors vs. Felonies
Misdemeanors are defined as offenses that do not carry a potential prison sentence. They can, however, carry a jail sentence, typically up to one year, although jail time is relatively rare for most typical misdemeanor sentences.
Misdemeanor charges are heard in district courts.
Felonies are those criminal offenses that are punishable by a period of incarceration in prison or by the death penalty. Felony offenses may be heard in the district courts or in superior courts.
Ref: MGL §274-1
Beyond the classification of misdemeanors and felonies, the statute that governs each criminal offense dictates the penalty you will face.
Misdemeanor Criminal Offenses
The following are some of the more common misdemeanor charges I defend:
- Disorderly Conduct
- Domestic Assault
- Drug Possession
- Failure to Appear in Court
- Hit and Run (Leaving the Scene of an Accident)
- Impersonating a Police Officer
- Larceny (Shoplifting)
- Malicious Damage
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol
- Operating Under the Influence (OUI/DUI/Drunk Driving)
- Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle
- Solicitation of Prostitution / Sex for a Fee
- Resisting Arrest
- and others
If you are arrested for a misdemeanor offense, your first court date will be a criminal arraignment.
Or if the misdemeanor charge was not witnessed by a police officer, you may get a criminal summons to appear at a clerk magistrate’s hearing. The clerk’s hearing is to “show cause” that there is sufficient evidence to go forward with a criminal complaint against you. If the officer witnessed the charge and arrested you, that witnessing is essentially sufficient cause to move forward, so you don’t get a clerk’s hearing and are formally arraigned.
I represent clients at lots of Clerk Magistrate’s hearings, and it is often the very best opportunity to win the case, and get the charges to go away as if they never happened. I wrote a book on winning these hearings.
Sentencing After Conviction
If you decide to plead guilty, or to a CWOF (Continuation without a Finding), we will know what penalties we are facing before we agree to the deal.
If we fight a case at trial and lose, it can be a little more complicated. In misdemeanor cases, we may not be risking that much
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor criminal charge in Massachusetts, in most cases, the judge will take up sentencing immediately after you are found guilty. There may be some consultation, and your attorney can make a sentencing argument on the spot, but generally there is not a lot of investigation into the process.
With a felony sentencing, a judge will take far more than your crime classification into consideration when determining how to sentence you. It has been said that the sentencing of offenders is, by far, the most difficult thing a judge has to do.
While the law may state that a felony offense can carry up to 10 years in prison, for example, the judge has the power to sentence you anywhere within that range—and that is a great deal of power.
Felony Presentence Investigation/Report
A presentencing report is typical in more serious felony cases. In a felony case, the presentence investigation and resulting report can be one of the biggest tools a judge will use in determining your penalty for a crime. The presentence investigation is typically done by a probation officer. During this investigation, you, family members, and employers may be interviewed.
The presentence report is essentially a breakdown of all of the crucial information a judge would want to know about you when deciding your fate. The report can include any of the following information:
- Residential status
- Criminal history
- Mental health history
- Financial records
- Employment status and history
- Ties to the community (family, etc)
- Drug and alcohol evaluation
- Officer’s recommendation
While the judge doesn’t have to follow the recommendation of the reporting officer, they will likely give that recommendation some weight in their decision-making process.
In evaluating the presentence report, judges are often trying to consider if you may be a good candidate for probation. A probation officer would have reliable input in that area helping the judge to decide if you would be successful in the community or if a period of incarceration is more appropriate.
If you are sentenced to serve probation, you will likely hear the judge say he/she is suspending your sentence. This simply means that you are sentenced to prison time, but that time is suspended while you serve your probation.
For minor misdemeanor offenses, you may be given unsupervised probation. An unsupervised probation is typically little more than mailing in a card to your probation officer, checking in with what you have been doing, and noting that you have met the terms of probation set.
With a supervised probation, you will have to meet with your probation officer, at least monthly. You may also be subject to more stringent monitoring of behavior, alcohol or drug consumption and testing, and other questions.
The terms of probation vary according to the charge and the circumstance. Probation requirements often restrict travel out of state, and may require compliance with alcohol or drug testing and completion of education programs on substance abuse or anger management classes.
If successful, you will be discharged from probation at the completion of your term. But if you violate the terms of your probation, you can be brought back to court and that suspended sentence can be activated, requiring you to serve the original sentence.
Diversion Programs and Sentencing Alternatives
In some cases, you may be able to sidestep the criminal process by being eligible for a diversion program. Pretrial diversion is reserved for nonviolent, first time offenders.
These programs feature a probationary period that, when completed satisfactorily, the charges against you are dropped. For young people between 17-21 years old, there is a pretrial diversion program, which can result in no criminal record after a short time if the program is completed successfully.
There are also drug dependent diversion programs for people with addictions who can successfully complete a rehab program.
Another possible outcome to a diversion program is something called a pretrial probation. For relatively minor offenses, this can be a great option when we can get it. There are no requirements to complete any program. It essentially means if you stay out of trouble for a period of time, the charges just disappear.
Not all charges and not all defendants are eligible for these types of program, but they can be an excellent option to avoid a criminal record, and the consequences that can go along with that. Contact me today to see if you might qualify.
When you are up against criminal charges, you shouldn’t have to worry about what the legal terminology is or how to best handle your case—the right defense lawyer can do that for you. If you are facing criminal charges in Massachusetts, call me for a consultation on your case and some free legal advice.
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