The Massachusetts Felony Process
The Massachusetts felony process can be divided into two phases: pre-trial and trial. During the pre-trial phase, police officers conduct their investigation and make an arrest. The alleged felon is then arraigned in court and enters a plea. Next, the court sets bail. After that, the trial process begins, and the alleged felons case is heard by a jury of his or her peers.
If you have been accused of a felony, you will want to educate yourself about Massachusetts criminal laws and the Massachusetts felony process. In addition, you will want to exercise your right to hire a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney to represent you throughout the process.
The Massachusetts Felony Process: The Investigation
Before making an arrest, police officers need what is referred to as probable cause. Probable cause means that the officers have a compelling reason to believe you committed a crime. Probable cause is obtained by conducting an investigation and gathering evidence.
In order to search your property (such as your home) for evidence, a police officer will need a search warrant. Investigators can obtain a search warrant from a judge. Once they have the warrant, they may search the property specified in the warrant.
There are certain occasions in which a warrant may not be needed, including:
- You have been arrested and the officer searches your person
- You have been arrested in a vehicle and the officer searches your vehicle
- The officer has reason to believe evidence is at risk of being destroyed
- You consent to a search
The Massachusetts Felony Process: The Arrest and Your Rights
Once probable cause is established, the officer will make an arrest. You will be taken into custody and possibly questioned about the crime. At the point of arrest, you have several rights that you may exercise.
These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to have an attorney appointed if you cant afford one. The right to remain silent exists so that you do not incriminate yourself. The right to an attorney allows you to have an attorney present while being questioned. The right to have an attorney, known as a public defender, appointed is to ensure you can have legal representation available.
The Massachusetts Felony Process: The Arraignment
Shortly after your arrest, you will enter the next stage of the Massachusetts felony process-the arraignment.
At the arraignment, you will provide your plea in open court. You can plead guilty, not guilty, no contest, or mute. Not guilty and guilty are fairly self explanatory, but no contest and mute are less obvious.
Specifically, no contest means that you do not admit guilt but you also do not dispute the facts of the case. Mute means you do not enter a plea. Instead, the court enters a not guilty plea for you, and the implication is that you do not condone the Massachusetts felony investigation process up to that point. This gives you the opportunity to challenge the process at trial.
The Massachusetts Felony Process: The Trial
Your trial will begin within a year of your arrest. You have the right to a jury trial; however, you may waive this right by either pleading guilty or by asking for a bench trial, which is a trial with only a judge and no jury.
You might wonder why someone would plead guilty and forego his opportunity to defend himself or herself. The reason is because the accused may have struck a plea bargain. A plea bargain is when you, your attorney, and the prosecution (the party in charge of proving your guilt) come together and strike a deal. Usually, as part of this deal, you will plead guilty to a lesser crime in exchange for a lighter sentence.
If you do not enter into a plea bargain, you will go through the trial process. The prosecution and your attorney may both present evidence and witnesses to the court. In the end, the jury makes a decision. If the jury finds you guilty, you will have 30 days to file an appeal.