Arraignment in Massachusetts

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Authorities in Massachusetts must bring arrested suspects to court for arraignment during the current session, and if court is out of session, during the next one. (Mass. Rule Crim. Proc. 7(a)(1).) Defendants whom the police haven’t kept in custody will be ordered to appear in court at a later date. (Id.)

Probation Report

On the day that arraignment occurs, the probation department must interview the arrestee and report his or her financial information to the court; that information bears on the court’s bail order and its decision of whether to appoint a publicly funded lawyer. (Rule 7(a)(3).)

Arraignment Basics

At arraignment, the judge, special magistrate, or clerk-magistrate must:

  • read the charges to the defendant (unless the defendant has a lawyer and waives this reading)
  • take the defendant’s plea (see How should I plead at arraignment?)
  • inform the defendant “of all warnings and advisories required by law” and
  • determine any conditions of release. (Mass. Rule Crim. Proc. 7(b)(1).)

If the court finds the defendant indigent and the defendant hasn’t waived the right to counsel, the court will assign the public defender to represent him or her. (Mass. Rule Crim. Proc. 7(b)(2).)

The court must ensure that the prosecution and defense receive a copy of the defendant’s criminal record. It must also allow the parties to move for any order that the custodian of certain evidence related to the case preserve it. (Mass. Rule Crim. Proc. 7(b)(3).)

Probable Cause

When law enforcement has arrested a suspect without a warrant and that suspect is still in custody, the court generally must, within 24 hours, determine whether there was probable cause for the arrest. (Mass. Rule Crim. Proc. 3.1(a).) But as a matter of course, the probable cause determination happens before arraignment.

The police must present the information supporting probable cause to believe the suspect committed the alleged crime(s), but may do so either orally in writing. (Mass. Rule Crim. Proc. 3.1(b).) In turn, the court must issue its determination in writing. (Mass. Rule Crim. Proc. 3.1(d).) If the court doesn’t find probable cause, then it must order the suspect’s release. (Mass. Rule Crim. Proc. 3.1(f).)

Right Without Remedy?

Unfortunately for defendants, delay in arraignment often goes unchecked. A court will excuse delay that’s “reasonable” given the circumstances. Likewise, a violation of the right to a prompt initial appearance won’t result in dismissal of an indictment unless the delay compromised the defense and was due to egregious misconduct. (Com. v. Perito, 417 Mass. 674 (1994).) Further, any statement a suspect makes before arraignment, within six hours of arrest, is presumptively admissible. But unless the defendant waives the right to a prompt arraignment or there are extenuating circumstances, any statement the defendant makes outside that period is inadmissible. (Com. v. Martinez, 458 Mass. 684 (2011).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you’ve been arrested, whether or not you’ve been to court yet, seek the help of a knowledgeable attorney. Only such a lawyer can properly advise you of the applicable law and enforce your rights.

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