How has Covid-19 affected court proceedings?
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every part of our lives, and the court system is no exception. During the pendency of the pandemic, much of the way court business is conducted has been modified to ensure the safety of all parties.
If you have been summonsed for arraignment, your case may or may not be heard in person. In person court arraignments are taking place in many courts across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but it is a court by court determination. It is best to call the Clerk Magistrate’s Office prior to your arraignment to determine how to proceed.
Many courts are hearing arraignments and other court proceedings virtually. Some courts are utilizing Zoom videoconferencing to facilitate court matters, and other courts are using a phone teleconference line. It is recommended that you contact the Clerk Magistrate’s Office to determine the best course of action.
In some instances, courts have enabled attorneys to appear on behalf of their clients without them needing to be on Zoom or a phone call. If you have an attorney, you should consult with them about whether the court needs you present on a call.
If it is necessary to be in court, many of the precautions taken in other locations are in place. Court security will ask you a series of questions regarding whether you are an “at-risk” individual. Your temperature will be taken upon entry to the courthouse. Once inside, you will be asked to wear a mask and keep socially distant. There are limited numbers of staff and participants in the court process to keep everyone safe. In addition, plexiglass has been installed in key locations.
If you feel you are unable to attend court because of underlying health conditions you may have, you should communicate this to the court or your attorney. Attorney Collins has been appearing virtually and in-person since the beginning of the pandemic and is happy to consult with you regarding how best to proceed.
I’ve been summonsed for “Arraignment”, what does that mean?
If a person is investigated for a crime or interacts with the police, but is not arrested and taken into custody, they may receive a summons in the mail to appear in court for arraignment. The arraignment is the first stage in the criminal court process.
The arraignment is the first date in which you will appear in court. The charges you face will be read aloud, and you will be asked to enter a plea, traditionally a Not Guilty plea. At your arraignment, you will be provided with several documents:
- The Complaint is the formal document which lists the charges against you, the date on which those offenses are alleged to have taken place, and the maximum punishment for those charges.
- The police report details the investigation undertook by the police agency responsible for filing charges against you, and
- In some cases, you will receive a copy of your criminal record.
In many instances, the prosecution will request certain conditions be met in order for you to be released from the courthouse. Conditions may include:
- That you stay away or refrain from contacting a certain person,
- That you remain drug or alcohol free,
- That you submit to drug or alcohol screening tests, and
- That you post bail in order to avoid being placed in custody pending the outcome of your case.
If the prosecutor asks that you post bail, an attorney may argue for you on your behalf. The Judge will determine if you will be required to post bail, and how much you will be required to post. After the court has determined what conditions will be required for your release from the courthouse, your case will be scheduled for another court date on which your attorney will request evidence and documents pertaining to your case.
There is much work which can be done at arraignment by an experienced attorney. Whether it is advocating for you with respect to required conditions, preventing you from having to post bail, beginning negotiations with the prosecutor regarding your case, or even having your case dismissed, there is no substitute for an attorney who is experienced in criminal cases. If you are facing an upcoming arraignment, Attorney Collins is happy to discuss what you may face, how best to protect your rights, and commence your case in the best possible way.
If you are facing your first time in court, be sure to review Attorney Collins' publication, "5 Reasons Not To Represent Yourself In Criminal Court In Massachusetts"
Will I face jail time as a result of my case?
When someone is arrested for a crime, their entire world is turned upside down. Among the many concerns regarding their case is whether they will have to serve any time in jail. Whether jail time is recommended as part of a person’s sentence requires a consideration of many factors.
It is important to recognize that jail time is only required if someone is found guilty or in violation of their probation from a previous conviction. If the prosecution dismisses the case prior to trial, if a person is found not guilty at a trial, or if they resolve their case short of pleading guilty, jail time is not a factor.
If a person is found guilty of a crime or in violation of their probation, there are multiple factors which contribute to their possibility of facing jail time:
- How old are they? Young, first-time offenders are less likely to face jail.
- Do they have a prior criminal record? Those with no criminal record, or minimal convictions, are less likely to face jail.
- Of what particular crime have they been convicted? Non-violent offenders are less likely to face jail time.
- How many prior convictions do they have for this specific type of crime? Having been convicted of the same crime before may increase a person’s chances of serving jail time.
- Have they served jail time before? Being incarcerated in the past may predispose a person to facing jail time in the future.
It is impossible to advise someone whether they will actually face jail time, but considering these factors is a guide that can help someone navigate the process. If you have been arrested, you should consult an experienced attorney who can review the facts of your case, the charges you face, and your criminal record to provide you with a solid framework from which to face your case. Attorney Collins has practiced criminal law for 15 years and is well-versed in potential sentences individuals charged with a crime may face. He would be happy to consult with you regarding your case.
Do I need to tell my employer I’ve been charged with a crime?
Many people who face criminal charges are concerned about how it may affect their employment. There are numerous vocations, whether medical, military, political, legal, or other where a criminal conviction may disqualify a person from their employment.
- The first order of business is to consult your Human Resources manual. There are a few employers who require self-reporting of a criminal charge. To be clear, simply being charged with a crime should be distinguished from being convicted of a crime. It is critical to determine what exactly you may have to self-report to your employer.
- If you are not employed in a field where you are required to self-report, you should bear in mind the old adage that each person is innocent until proven guilty. The simple fact that you have been charged with a crime does not mean that you will be found guilty. In addition, in Massachusetts there are several ways to resolve your case without being found guilty where you may legally report that you have not been convicted of a crime.
In order to protect your ability to maintain employment, you should consult an attorney who has experience in the many ways cases can be resolved short of a guilty plea. Attorney Collins has worked with countless individuals who face potential termination if they are convicted of a crime and successfully defended their rights. He would be happy to speak with you about your case.
How can I expunge my conviction?
After a criminal conviction, many people are interested in whether at some time in the future they may have their conviction “expunged.” In Massachusetts, the more correct term for this procedure is to have the record “sealed.” If a person’s record is sealed, it will not appear in most criminal record searches. This includes searches by the general public, apartment and condominium complexes, most bank loan departments, and some employers. Federal and state law enforcement agencies, the military, and other government agencies will still be able to view the prior criminal convictions. But if you are not employed by or applying to one of these agencies, you may be eligible to have your record sealed.
The Judge of the court determines whether your record will be sealed with input from the prosecution. There are a number of factors a court will consider in determining if your record should be sealed.
- The first consideration is how long it has been since you were last convicted of a crime. In simple terms, the longer it has been since your last conviction, the better chance you have at sealing your record. A Judge is interested in whether you have rehabilitated yourself, made better choices in life, and are not a risk to re-offend. The longer it has been since your last conviction, the more a Judge may feel that your crime was an anomaly, a mistake, and worthy of removing from public view.
- Next, a Judge will consider what crime you were convicted of. In general terms, the less serious the crime, the more likely your record will be sealed. It is not an automatic disqualifier if your case is more serious, there is just more work to be done to convince the Judge.
- Finally, the Judge will consider what equitable reasons there may be for sealing your record. The most common situation involves a person who sought employment but learned that they were not hired because the employer learned of their criminal conviction. Courts want people to find work, earn a living, and move past their mistakes. They will often seal a person’s record to assist them in this endeavor.
If you are considering filing a motion to seal your criminal record, you should seek an attorney who has argued these motions in court. Attorney Collins has successfully argued several motions to seal criminal records and is happy to consult with you regarding whether you have a chance at success.
I’ve been summonsed for a “Magistrate’s Hearing”, what does that mean?
A Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing, or a “Magistrate’s Hearing”, is a process whereby a Clerk Magistrate (not a judge) listens to the facts of your case and determines whether there is probable cause to issue a criminal complaint.
At your hearing, a representative of the police department that arrested you will read a synopsis of the case. You may have the opportunity to cross-examine a police officer or another witness, present evidence on your behalf, and the Clerk Magistrate may ask you questions.
- The first determination a Clerk Magistrate will make is whether probable cause exists to believe a crime was committed.
- The second determination is what to do about your case if there is probable cause.
- If the Clerk sees fit, they may issue a criminal complaint requiring you to appear in criminal court and defend yourself.
An attorney may be able to prevent the Clerk Magistrate from issuing a complaint and resolve your case short of being arraigned in criminal court.
Having an attorney to guide you through your testimony, prepare questions for the officer or witness, and gather evidence to provide the Clerk may be what prevents criminal charges from being issued in your case. Attorney Collins has represented numerous clients in Magistrate’s Hearings and has prevented criminal charges from being issued in many of them. If you are facing a Magistrate’s Hearing, you should contact Attorney Collins to discuss strategies for your success.
Does it matter that I wasn’t read my Miranda rights by the police?
This is a commonly asked question as Miranda rights and warnings are often misunderstood.
A police officer is not always required to read a suspect his or her Miranda rights (to remain silent, that anything they say can be used against them, their right to an attorney). Those rights are only required to be read if two factors are present in an investigation: 1) the suspect is in "custody", and 2) the suspect is actively being "interrogated."
- What qualifies as being in "custody" is subject to interpretation, but usually it requires that a suspect is either in handcuffs, is in the back of a cruiser, is being booked at the police station, or is in a jail cell. Again, there are fine lines to be drawn, but caselaw in Massachusetts can be applied to each situation individually.
- What qualifies as "interrogation" is also subject to interpretation. If a suspect spontaneously offers a statement that is not in response to a question by a police officer, for example, it is not a statement that was made pursuant to interrogation. Interrogation typically involves a suspect being asked questions at the police station, but again caselaw will be applied to each situation individually.
Attorney Collins is well versed in these issues and can read your police report and give a more detailed opinion regarding Miranda warnings and how the timing of them affects your case.
Do you need professional legal assistance?
Attorney Collins is available 24/7 for a FREE virtual consultation. Please feel free to call him at: (781) 430-8525.