What Happens at a Police Station in Massachusetts
Once you arrive at the police station, you will be booked, photographed and fingerprinted. During the booking, you will be asked some questions concerning basic information about yourself such as name, date of birth, address and phone number. You can answer these basic informational questions, but still should not answer any questions about the charges and the incident that led to your arrest.
You may make a phone call to whoever you’d like — usually to a friend or family member.
If it is early enough in the day, you will go straight to the courthouse after booking for the arraignment.
If it is too late to get to court you will probably spend at least a couple of hours (sometimes much more) waiting for a bail commissioner to arrive to determine whether to set a bail on you and, if so how much. Most of the time, there is just a one-time non-refundable fee of $40. Then you should be able to leave. If there is a bail and it is too high for you to make at that time, you will be brought into court for the arraignment and to argue a lower bail at the very next business day. (More on bail below) That should be the very next day. So, for example, if you are arrested on a Tuesday night, you will go to court Wednesday morning. However, if it is a weekend, since courts are closed on Saturday and Sunday, you will have to wait until the next business day which would be Monday. In the worst case situation, if you are arrested at the beginning of a three-day holiday weekend with the courts closed for the Monday holiday, you could wind up sitting for several days until Tuesday morning.
If you are released from the police station, you will be required to show up at the local courthouse the very next business day. You must show up or else the court will issue a default warrant for your arrest. Be there on time and it is best to dress appropriately. There is no specific dress code so a male doesn’t have to wear a jacket and tie and a female does not have to wear a business suit, but there are judges who will expect you to dress in a way that shows respect for the court. So it is inadvisable to show up wearing such things as flip-flops, tank tops, sweat pants or cut-off shorts.
When you arrive at the courthouse, report to probation to check-in. Again, they will just be asking you for basic information about yourself such as name, date of birth, address and phone number. If you are claiming indigency, cannot afford a lawyer and wish to receive a court-appointed bar advocate attorney, they will ask you a number of questions about your finances to see if you qualify and you will have to sign a financial affidavit.
Then you will go into the courtroom and wait for your name to be called. Everyone is given the same arrival time of 9:00 am, so you will have to wait your turn to be called in what could be a crowded courthouse.
When you are called, your charges will be formally read to you. This is what makes us different than many other countries where people are arrested and not told for months what the accusations against them are and for what charge they were arrested.
A not guilty plea is usually entered at that time. The police report giving the police version of the story against you is available that morning. Then you are given a date to come back to court usually between a month or two months from then. The court will warn you that if you get arrested while this current case is ongoing, you might be held in custody. The judge might also set conditions for you to abide by during the pendency of the case including such things as staying away from a particular location or person or an order forbidding use of alcohol and drugs.
In all likelihood, you will be out of the courthouse on the day of your arraignment some time that morning. In rare instances, one is stuck there all day until the court session closes around 4:30.
For some, though, where there is a question of bail, the arraignment is also where bail is determined. If bail was set by the bail commissioner earlier back at the police station, and the particular accused person cannot afford it, they and their attorney can argue before the judge for a lower bail or no bail at the arraignment.
Or, even if no bail was requested from them at the time of the arrest or they paid a bail back at the police station, there is a chance that bail could still be set against them at the arraignment.
Bail is generally determined by whether the judge believes that the accused defendant might pose a risk of flight and not return on future court dates. At a bail hearing, the judge will consider a number of factors to determine this including:
- Whether the defendant has a previous criminal history;
- And, if so, did they have a number of defaults in the past where they did not show up to court dates;
- The nature of the charges whether they are for very serious offenses;
- The potential penalty for the accused crime. For example, if there is a chance of lengthy incarceration that might be an incentive for the accused person to flee and not return to court;
- Whether the person was on probation or parole for an earlier offense when they got arrested for this new crime;
- The defendant’s ties to the community. It is assumed by the court that someone with many family members in the area, who always lived in the general area, and is employed there and very involved in the community will be less inclined to want to become a fugitive and leave his family and familiar home. This, as opposed to someone who is just passing through the area of the arrest and has no ties to the community or family, jobs or roots.
- Whether the accused person has a history of serious alcohol or drug abuse.
Although being held on bail is generally determined by the risk of flight a defendant poses, if there is concern for the potential safety of an individual or the community caused by the defendant, the prosecutor can move for a dangerousness hearing where it will be argued whether the defendant will be held without bail.
Counsel at Arraignment
It is best to have an attorney at every step of the process and, if possible, to show up at the arraignment with you the day after the arrest. Most criminal defense attorneys charge a flat fee for the entire case and do not charge extra to do an arraignment.
However, if you are unable to hire an attorney to be there at the beginning of your case for the arraignment within hours of your arrest, you don’t need to panic. If there is an attempt to hold you on bail and you are not indigent, the court will still likely appoint you an attorney for that first day even if it will only be for that one day.
An attorney can be crucial at the very beginning. Perhaps you would be eligible for some kind of diversion program that could ultimately result in a complete dismissal of your case, but that you must notify the court of just prior to or during the arraignment. There are a number of such diversion programs usually for the more minor offenses that are available to young people, veterans and those who commit certain relatively minor crimes. Without proper guidance from counsel, you might not be aware of these programs and have to risk fighting the charge the entire way.
Or a first rate experienced attorney might give you the best chance of avoiding being held on bail or being found to be dangerous and therefore held incarcerated without any bail.
It is true that you can’t be forced to be represented by an attorney and everyone in the United States has the right to be their own counsel even if charged with the most serious charge which is murder. But legal cases can be complex and, if one wants to represent themselves they might be at a disadvantage of not knowing the law and legal procedures such as certain evidentiary and non-evidentiary motions and rules such as the complicated rules of evidence. While no guarantees as to the results of a case can ever be made, an experienced attorney will give will give you your best opportunity of getting the finest result if you go through the unfortunate experience of being arrested.