A Brief Survey of Considerations If Charged with a Crime in Massachusetts

by Matthew James Kidd on Aug. 16, 2018

Criminal 

Summary: This is a brief survey of considerations if you are charged with a crime in Massachusetts

1.     Keep Calm & Use Your Head

I know this is a stressful time, but try to relax and use your head, you will need to be calm and clear-headed to get through this process. 

If you are super stressed out, it could be taken by others as a sign you are guilty or were involved in the incident when you are just nervous about the process.

2.     You are not Guilty; You have only been charged, Don't Beat Yourself Up

You are not guilty of anything, you are simply accused. You are innocent until you are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a Jury or by a Judge if you waive your jury right. So many things happen on the way to trial to keep you out of the guilty column. Your case could get dismissed by your Attorney's motion because the Complaint does not show probable cause or because the police used illegal procedures to arrest you and/or seize your property. The District Attorney could "null prosequi" (decide not to prosecute your case) because he or she knows they cannot win at trial and do not want to waste time. You and your lawyer could work out a pre-trial disposition plea, which means if you do not get in trouble for the agree upon time, your case will be dismissed and will not affect your record.

3.     Do not talk about Your Case to Anyone Except Your Lawyer and Professionals Hired by Your Lawyer

Do not talk to anyone about your case to anyone except your lawyer. Do not talk to friends, co-workers, police, investigators (unless hired by your lawyer), and especially co-defendants. The court process will determine what happened, you do not need to accelerate that process by providing additional witnesses or informants. Do not help prosecute yourself. If you are ever held in jail be polite to everyone, but do not tell the guards or inmates anything but your first name; they have no duty to keep your statements confidential and they will use that information against you in every way imaginable.

4.      Cooperate with Your Lawyer, Tell the Whole Story

Cooperate with your lawyer and tell him or her everything he or she needs to know. If you tell your lawyer one thing and change that story in the court process under examination, you will lose all credibility and move yourself a step closer to guilty. The more good information your lawyer has about you, the better he or she can plan how to get you the best possible result. 

Read the police reports and complaint and point out incorrect facts so that your lawyer can develop a defense strategy. If there are incriminating facts or potentially damaging witnesses, tell your lawyer right up front so he or she is not caught off guard half way through a trial or motion. 

Tell your lawyer your whole background, education, work experience, veteran status, drug addiction, medical, and mental history. Every piece of information about your background has some value to the lawyer and could be part of the key to getting your case dismissed, a plea, or winning at trial.

5.      Start off Strong at Arraignment, Bring Family or Friends for Support if Possible

Arraignment is the first event in the case. At arraignment the court will read the charges against you and enter a not guilty plea on your behalf. Your lawyer and the Assistant District Attorney will argue your bail requirements before the judge. The court wants to ensure that you will return for the next court date. In most cases, the default (by law) is to give the Defendant personal recognizance, (to let the Defendant return to court without posting any bail, just the promise to return to court and the court's warning that if the Defendant picks up any new criminal charges before the next court date, he or she could be held in jail for up to 90 days). If you have a long criminal record or the charges are violent or dangerous, there is a chance the judge could ask you to post bail or in even be held without the possibility of bail (but that extreme and rare). If possible, have some family members or friends in the courtroom to show the judge you have strong connections to the community and are not a flight risk.

6.      You are the Boss, the Lawyer works for You, Use Common Sense, You Know Your Case and Yourself

Lawyers are just people who went to a few years of school after college and passed an exam. They are not all-knowing beings. Your lawyer knows the law and the best way to get the result you want, but only you can decide what result you want and is best for you. Obviously, you and your lawyer want your case to be dismissed or you to be found not guilty at trial. However, what if a trial will take 18 months and your chances of being found guilty are 50 percent? What if your lawyer could plea the case now and all you have to do is keep out of trouble for 6 months, do 5 hours of community service, and the case will be dismissed (with an 80% chance of success? You must decide how much risk you are willing to take and what the best outcome is for you. If your lawyer is not doing his or her job, is not listening to you, or you are not communicating well with them, fire them. Get a new lawyer rather than jeopardizing your case. You do not have to be confrontational, just explain that you have vastly different opinions about the case and you cannot effectively communicate with them anymore. The lawyer will bring a motion to withdraw from the case and you can hire a new lawyer or the court will appoint you a new lawyer if you are indigent.

7.      Learn the Law About Your Charges and Use that knowledge to Help your Lawyer Plan for Trial

Ask your lawyer or go online yourself and print out a copy of the Jury Instructions for the charges against you. The jury instructions are the elements of the crime of which you were charged. If you bring your case to trial, the Prosecution must prove to a jury or judge (if jury waived) that you committed or were responsible for every element of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt to be found guilty. If you know the elements of the crime, you can help your lawyer prove to the judge or jury that one of more of the elements cannot be proven and therefore you must be found innocent. For example, the elements of an OUI charge are the following: 1. You were operating a motor vehicle; 2. You operated on a public way; and 3. You operated while under the influence of intoxicating alcohol. If one of those elements is missing or cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (the highest standard of proof a judge will ask for), you must be found not guilty. It's simple, but at trial, the burden is all on the Commonwealth to prove the Defendant is guilty, and a good attorney who uses the case law, statutes, rules of evidence, some salesmanship, some theatre, some comedy, and criminal procedure can make it difficult or even impossible for the prosecution to meet their burden of proof to find you guilty.

8.      Nobody in the Court is Personally Against You, it is their Job, You're Stressed but they Are Too

Trust me, I know it is hard to realize this when you are a Defendant in court, but 99.99 percent of the time, nobody who works in law enforcement, the court, or related departments have any personal hard feelings about your or your case. Everyone is just doing their job just like you do yours every day. 

The Judge and ADA may seem cranky sometimes, but it has nothing to do with you. They have 1000 cases on their plates and their job is to move these cases through the court quickly because if they do not, there are 10,000 lawyers who are as qualified or more qualified ready to take over. They hear everyone's worst problems and nightmares 8 hours per day, five days per week, and they must resolve them. A Judge/ADA will give a Defendant the benefit of the doubt and let them go with little or no punishment one day, only to see that same Defendant return the next day with the same or worse crime. Do you think the Judges, Assistant District Attorneys, Probation Officers, Court Officers, and Clerk Magistrates might be stressed and tired? Absolutely, but they are so used to the stress they do not show it, they keep it inside and occasionally it may come out in a show of anger. They are human-beings, just like you.

Do not ever show that you are upset or frustrated with a judge, ADA, or anyone in the court. Trust me, it will get you nowhere.

9.      Be on Time, Well Dressed, Well Groomed, Polite, and Respectful to Everyone in the Process

Finally, show up on time, dress well, be well-groomed, speak only when asked to, and be polite and respectful to everyone you encounter in this process from the police, the lawyer, the judge, probation, court officers, the janitor, to the guy who works in the court convenient store. Being polite and respectful will always put you ahead of 40 percent of the other defendants in the court, as sad as. If you are not polite and respectful the court will not be inclined to give you anything more that is required by law and statute.

10. Good Luck. You Will Get Through this. Learn from This, Drop the Bad Friends and Bad Habits

Good luck. You will be fine. You will get through this with a good attorney. Learn from this. If you are associating with people who are always in legal trouble, get rid of those people; it is not worth it. If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol do all you can to beat it. 60 to 70 percent of the people in criminal court are there because of addiction or related to addiction. (This is not a real statistic, but just based on my experience being in court 4 days per week as a Criminal Defense Lawyer). After you spend a few days in court, you will be determined that you will never return there unless you are there to work in one of the capacities named in #9 above. Whitey Bulger (convicted gangster) said "crime doesn't pay unless you go to law school"....

Additional resources provided by the author

https://www.mass.gov/understanding-the-criminal-court-process 
https://www.mass.gov/guides/massachusetts-law-about-criminal-law-and-procedure 
http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/courts-and-judges/courts/district-court/jury-instructions-criminal/criminal-model-jury-instructions.pdf

 

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