An Overview of the Massachusetts Criminal Court Process

Being charged with a crime is unnerving. While working with a lawyer is one of the most critical parts of protecting your rights, it’s also key that you have an understanding of the fundamental elements of the criminal justice system and criminal court process. Here is a succinct overview of the basics – for more information, especially as it pertains to your case, reach out a skilled Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer.

The Three Branches of the American Criminal Justice System

Just as the American government has three branches, there are also three components of the American criminal justice system:


  • Law enforcement. Law enforcement officers play the role of investigating crimes, arresting those accused of a crime, gathering evidence, and filing arrest reports. Law enforcement is not responsible for determining someone’s guilt.



  • Adjudication. Most people who are charged with a crime are most concerned with the adjudication element of the criminal justice system, as this is the element of the process that involves the court, a trial, and sentencing.



  • Corrections. Once a person is convicted of a crime and sentenced, “corrections” are enforced. This might mean incarceration, the management of convicted persons released on parole, and even the death penalty (in states other than Massachusetts, as the death penalty has been ruled unconstitutional in Massachusetts).


Some models break these three components down even further into: entry into the system, prosecution and pretrial services, adjudication, sentencing and sanctions, and then corrections.

Adjudication – Understanding What Happens When You’re Arrested for a Crime

Again, adjudication is the part of the process that will typically have the most significant effect on an arrested person’s life. Here’s are some important terms and processes you should know if you are arrested for a crime:


  • Arraignment. After you have been arrested, you will be scheduled for an arraignment hearing. During your arraignment, the charges against you will be read and formally entered into the court record, and you will be asked to enter a plea. You can plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest).



  • Pre-trial. If you plead guilty, then your case won’t go to trial. However, if you plead not guilty at your arraignment, then a pre-trial date will be set. During a pre-trial conference, a case is typically either resolved (the defendant and the prosecution reach a deal) or the case will be prepared for trial.



  • Trial. You have a right to be tried quickly, usually within 12 months of your arraignment date (although this may be extended if you agree to continuances). During a trial, you will have a right to a jury of your peers. You also maintain the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.



  • Verdict and sentencing. At the conclusion of the trial, a jury will return a verdict. If you are found guilty, a judge will determine your sentence. From there, corrections will begin.


Call The Law Office of Paul R. Moraski Today

If you are facing criminal charges, you don’t have to represent yourself – our lawyer is here to support you. To request a free consultation, please call our Massachusetts criminal defense attorney directly today at (978) 397-0011, or send us a message asking for more information. We are here to serve you.