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What Are the Stages of a Criminal Case in Massachusetts?

criminal attorney status trial arraignment

The stages of a criminal case in Massachusetts involve many different court dates.  This can vary depending on the court or the charge.

A criminal case has many court settings that serve different roles.  All of them are important, and you need to hire an attorney as soon as possible to help protect your rights in these hearings.

   In most cases, the court dates for a criminal case in Massachusetts courts are as follows:

Felony Cases

  • District Court

    • Arraignment

    • Probable Cause Hearing

  • Grand Jury

  • Superior Court

    • ​Arraignment

    • Pretrial Hearing

    • Motion Hearings

    • Trial

Misdemeanor Cases

What is an Arraignment?

This is the first stage of a criminal case in Massachusetts.

An arraignment is where you are informed of the charges against you and enter a plea.  In almost every case, you will enter a plea of not guilty, no matter what the evidence is.  This is because there is no reason to plead guilty at this stage.

The judge also sets bail.  Even if you were released on bail at the police station, the judge could require further bail.

You need a lawyer at your arraignment to protect your rights.  Hiring an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible can also allow your attorney to investigate your case to help defend you.

stages of a criminal case Massachusetts

What is a Pretrial Conference?

At this stage of the criminal case in Massachusetts, your attorney and the prosecutor figure out what discovery is missing.  Generally, your attorney will request and receive documents from the Commonwealth, and you will set a further court date.

The Commonwealth may also make an offer to resolve the case.  So you should be aware of the evidence against you and the possible penalties before you decide whether to accept or decline the prosecution’s offer.

This is why it’s important to have an attorney at pretrial hearing.  A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can advise you of the potential penalties, your likelihood of success at trial or with motions that may be filed, and thus whether you should accept the prosecution’s offer.

If discovery is not complete at a pretrial hearing, the judge could set a compliance date.  The judge can also set a date for motions.

What is a Trial?

A trial is where a factfinder determines whether you are guilty or not guilty of the offense you’re charged with.  You can choose a jury or to go in front of a judge.  This stage of a criminal case in Massachusetts is where an attorney is most crucial.

After the trial, you have the right to appeal.  You can go to the Appeals Court then the Supreme Judicial Court.  Your attorney should file a notice of appeal as soon as possible.

What is Grand Jury?

In a felony case in Massachusetts, a grand jury decides whether to indict the case.

The Grand Jury is a secret body that determines whether there’s probable cause for a felony to go to Superior Court.  Neither the defendant nor the criminal defense attorney can participate in this stage.  The prosecution presents the case to the Grand Jury and they decide whether the case goes forward.

Depending on the type of case, this process can take anywhere from six months to years.  After that, the case


If you are charged with a crime, no matter how serious, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.  Contact me today, and let’s get started on your defense.  If you need a criminal defense lawyer who will fight for you, call me now and set up a consultation at (617) 295-7500.


Although I am an attorney, I am not your attorney.  Please do not rely on anything on this page as legal advice because any specific advice would depend on your situation.  Any results posted on this page are not guarantees of outcomes in your case.

Boston Attorney

The court system is stressful, whether you’re being charged with a crime, being sued, suing someone, or fighting for your ability to stay and work in this country. You need someone who appreciates this and can dedicate the time not only to represent you effectively in court but to guide you through the process.

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