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  • Matthew W. Peterson

What Are the Stages of a Criminal Case?

Updated: Mar 13

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

  • Pre-Trial Hearings

  • Grand Jury

  • Superior Court

  • ​Arraignment

  • Motion Hearings

  • Trial

Misdemeanor Cases

  • District Court

  • ​Arraignment

  • Compliance and Election

  • Motions

  • Trial

What is an Arraignment?

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, as the prosecution has typically not made an offer and you don't know what evidence the prosecution has.

You must also enter special pleas, such as not guilty by reason of mental defect, and file special motions, such as a motion to dismiss for double jeopardy or the insufficiency of the complaint/indictment. Typically, you may request additional time to file these motions.

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.

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. A trial can be either in front of a judge or a jury. In district court, this is a 6-person jury, while Superior Court has a 12-person jury.

If you lose your trial, you can appeal. The appeals court reviews only whether the judge made proper decisions according to the law.

What is Grand Jury?

The Grand Jury is a secret body that determines whether there's probable cause for a felony to go to Circuit 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.

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. My office is located in Boston, Massachusetts, but I practice criminal law in all Massachusetts courts. Call me today at 617-356-8217 if you need a criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts.