What if I just want to plead Guilty?

What if I just want to plead guilty?

If you wish to plead guilty, a defense lawyer can help ensure that you are treated fairly and reasonably. The penalties for many offenses are unexpectedly harsh, and the government is not always inclined to graciously accept your plea and agree to leniency.

In fact, in some instances you may be able to take responsibility for the offense without suffering the ramifications of a guilty finding on your record.

You do not have to just submit yourself to the system. Importantly, there are often consequences of a guilty finding beyond the court’s sentence that the court and prosecutor will not tell you about, such as:

  • Loss of driver’s license;
  • Loss of student loan eligibility;
  • Insurance premium increases;
  • Loss of housing eligibility;
  • Loss of the right to attend and participate in your child’s school events;
  • Suspension or loss of professional licences;
  • Significant costs and requirements for probation;
  • Suspension or other punishments at school;
  • Loss of employment.

The judge and prosecutor are not required to determine which, if any, so-called “collateral consequences” apply to you, and they are not required to notify you about them.  If you do not know ahead of time what the hidden ramifications of a guilty finding are, you will only find out about them when they happen to you.

In short, you should never simply count on the mercy of the court or prosecutor. You will seldom find it. If you intend to admit to an offense, you need a lawyer who will take the time to learn who you are, where you come from, and where you wish to go.  As simple as your situation may seem, it is likely that there are collateral effects you will want to know about before you plead the case out.

What if I am under investigation but haven’t been charged?

“Do I need a lawyer if I am under investigation and no charges have been filed against me?”

Yes, your need for effective defense is just as great during the course of the police investigation. It is important to know that police and prosecutors usually do not give people the benefit of doubt before they file charges. They often make mistakes, and they are not always thorough. Don’t assume that the police will fairly decide whether you should be charged.

Any evidence in your favor needs to be investigated and preserved by your lawyer as early as possible. In some cases he is able to bring evidence to the attention of the police and prosecutors before charges are filed and persuade them not to file charges against you. It is often easier to convince police and prosecutors not to file charges in the first place than to persuade them to dismiss charges once filed.

It is often easier to preserve witness statements, documents, and and other evidence before a charge has been filed than it is to go back and get them afterward.  And it is ALWAYS better to have the advice of a competent lawyer when the police or regulators are investigating so that you do not do or say anything that will cause you problems later.

Can I fix a Mistake on My Criminal Record?

What kinds of mistakes can show up on my CORI?

Mistakes may include:

  • Misspelled or wrong names, wrong birthdays, wrong place where you were born, a wrong Social Security number;
  • Or there may be aliases that are not yours;
  • Information about what happened in your cases may be wrong;
  • A case that is closed may be listed as still open;
  • A case where you were found not guilty may be listed as dismissed; or,
  • There may be cases on the CORI that are not yours.

How do I fix mistakes on my CORI?

At the court where your case was heard, you can ask a probation officer to fix some mistakes. If a case on your CORI is listed as open, but it is really closed, you can ask a probation officer to fix the mistake. Probation officers can fix misspellings and clerical errors. They may be able to fix other small mistakes also.

You also can call:

  • the Office of the Commissioner of Probation at 617-727-5300 to fix mistakes on your CORI;
  • the DCJIS CORI Unit:(617) 660-4640 and ask for help.

More serious mistakes may require you to file a motion in court.

Errors with warrants.

Sometimes a case is listed as open because the court thinks you did not pay a fine or court costs or you did not show up for a hearing. If a case is listed as open, check your CORI to see if there is a “W” in the status column on the right of the page. “W” stands for warrant. If you think there may be a warrant, seek help from an attorney immediately. If there is a warrant, you can be arrested by the police and might be held in jail if you appear in court.

If there is a warrant for your arrest, you should contact a lawyer immediately so he can help get it cleared.  You will most likely have to appear in court to resolve it, even if it is an error.

Removing someone else’s cases from your CORI and correcting court errors.

Sometimes, another person’s criminal case shows up on your CORI. This can happen when people have similar names or the same birthdays, or if a person gave a fake name when arrested. The police or court staff also may have typed the wrong information into the computer or made other errors.

If this happened to you, get a copy of your own CORI. After you get your CORI, mark which cases are not yours. There are several things you can do to fix your record:

If the probation office does not fix the mistake, it is likely you will need to file a motion in the court where the case comes from to correct the mistake.

It may be easier to show that the case does not belong to you if you look at the court file. A police report in the court file may have a mug shot or a description of the defendant. The police who made the arrest may be able to give you more information. The police may take your fingerprints and compare them to those in the police file for the case. If the police have a photo of the person they arrested, you can use the photo to show probation that you are not the same person. If the police have fingerprints for the person they arrested, you can have your own fingerprints taken to prove they made a mistake in listing you as the defendant.

Right to access to your own CORI.

CORI subjects have a right to inspect and obtain a copy of their own records.  You have a right to request a free “self-audit” every 90 days to learn who accessed your records, when, and for what purpose.

Unauthorized access to someone’s CORI is a criminal offense subject to imprisonment and fines.

What if I am innocent?

“What if I didn’t do it?”

Even if you have done nothing wrong, you don’t want to go it alone in the criminal justice system.

  • If the police have contacted you and want to ask you some questions;
  • If you got a summons in the mail telling you to show up in court for a hearing or an arraignment on a criminal charge; or
  • If you have already been to court and arraigned, but believe that once you explain the situation, you will be exonerated;

You still need a lawyer.

It is not unusual for an innocent person to be convicted, or to find himself on probation or with other serious consequences of a criminal charge. It can happen almost by accident, because of a lack of information and knowledge about the system, or it can happen by coercion. And it can happen easily when someone who is unfamiliar with the system finds himself in its grip.

If you haven’t been charged yet but the police have contacted you.

If you have been contacted by the police and they want to speak with you about a matter, you should always speak with a lawyer first.  You may think you can just explain that you weren’t involved or that you didn’t do anything wrong.

The problem is that you will not know what the police already know, or think they know, or have been told by someone else.  You may not even know what they are really investigating.  You have no way of knowing what information is important to them.  And once you start talking with them, they are trained to keep you talking, and to lead you where they want you to go.  So you may start out talking about what you think is the main reason they contacted you, and wind up making statements that you think are innocuous but will be used against you later.

If you at least consult a criminal defense lawyer first, he will assess the situation and the risks that you face.  He may be able to speak with the police first and find out what exactly they are investigating, what their suspicions are, and whether you should answer any questions for them.  And he may be able to answer those questions on your behalf.

If you have been arrested or charged already for something you didn’t do.

Sometimes people who are innocent are nevertheless accused and charged with crimes. It happens.  But if you are charged, your innocence does not at all mean you don’t need a lawyer.

The reality is, if you have been charged with a crime, you are assumed by many to be guilty. The prosecutor, the public, some judges, and, at the outset, the jury, will likely believe you are probably guilty. We like to think that truth and justice prevail, but it is not always so. People are found guilty of crimes they did not commit. It happens every day.

Once you are charged, the only person interested in your innocence will be your lawyer.

  • The police will not continue to investigate; once someone is charged, they see their job as done.
  • The prosecutor might offer you a “deal”, but it will involve admitting guilt.
  • Your protestations of innocence will most likely be met with skepticism.
  • When you explain your innocence, you will be assumed to be lying.
  • No one else will be investigating, or listening to your evidence or arguments.
  • If you try to explain to the judge that you are innocent, he will likely say “then go to trial.”

The system is not set up to deal fairly with innocent people.

Innocent people need a lawyer most of all.

Your lawyer will investigate the case.  He will go beyond where the police ended their “investigation”. He will send an investigator to interview witnesses. He will challenge the “facts” in the police report.  He will challenge the evidence the prosecutor thinks points to your guilt.  He knows how to convince the judge to exclude evidence, and how to get important witnesses and other evidence into court.

The only way to ensure that your rights are defended and that you have someone fighting for you is to hire a lawyer. Make no mistake: The system is set up to convict people, not to achieve justice or discover the truth.

Warrants and What to Do About Them

Bench Warrants, Arrest Warrants, and how to deal with them.

There several types of warrants that you should be aware of in Massachusetts. One of the most common is what is known as a bench warrant. This is warrant ordered by a judge against you in a criminal or civil case. Such a warrant may be issued by a judge for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common are for failing to show up for a scheduled court date.

In the case of a more serious criminal case, failing to appear in court may lead to what is known as an arrest warrant. This type of warrant leads to immediate efforts to find and jail the defendant. But in the case of a bench warrant, in most cases the police will not actively search you out and arrest you.

Rather, for a bench warrant, your name goes into a database that services all of the law enforcement community. When your name is in that database, if you have any dealings with the police, you can be taken into custody on that outstanding bench warrant. This could include if you are a victim in a traffic accident, even if you were not at fault. The issuance of a bench warrant will also result in the suspension of your driver’s license.

When the court issues a warrant, a notice and copy of the warrant is mailed to the last address the court has for you.

In some cases, you may not have been aware that you had a warrant issued for your arrest because you have changed addresses. But note that even if you changed addresses and did not receive the court papers, you still are responsible to show up in court.

Release upon arrest on a warrant.

A bench warrant can be:

  • “Bailable”, which means that a bail clerk can set bail and release you to go to court if you are arrested on the warrant;
  • “Bailable for a specific amount”, which means the court that issued the warrant sets a bail amount which you must pay to be released if you are arrested on the warrant; or
  • “No bail”, which means that if you are arrested on the warrant, you will be held in custody until you are eventually brought to the court that issued the warrant.

If you are arrested on a warrant and you post bail, you will be given a “recognizance” form that says you must appear in the court that issued the warrant on a certain day at a certain time. This allows you to go free until you must show up in court on that day.

If you cannot post bail, or if the warrant is “no bail,” It can sometimes take several days for you to be brought to the court that issued the warrant if you are arrested in another court’s jurisdiction.

What to do if you learn there is a bench warrant for you.

If you are aware there is a bench warrant out for you, you can contact the clerk of court or the police department. Make arrangements to come in and pay bail so that the warrant is canceled. It is a good idea to learn how to pay the bail, because usually a personal check will not be enough, and not all localities take credit cards yet. A lawyer can help you with the process.

If you posted bail and then you missed the court date, that money has probably been forfeited. But, if you had a good reason for not being in court, you may in some cases be able to persuade the judge to reinstate that bail. Or, you might be able to have it credited towards your costs and fines. The best lawyers can sometimes have a bench warrant removed for you without you even appearing in court.

Having a Warrant Cleared.

A bench warrant can have many serious consequences, but it is possible to have this issue cleared up if the proper actions are taken. So, you should address the issues that led to the warrant as soon as you can. It is wise to have an experienced lawyer handle the case so that you can limit the consequences.

What Is the Difference Between an Arrest Warrant and a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant is issued by a judge when you violate the rules of the court, such as for failure to appear. On the other hand, the arrest warrant process is handled by the police. The police file a statement telling the judge why you should be arrest, usually that you are thought to have committed a crime.

You usually will not know that there is an arrest warrant for you. If you do learn that there is one, you should contact a lawyer immediately so that he can negotiate how you will anser the warrant and limit the consequences of the arrest. Appearing on your own to answer for a warrant is always better, in the eyes of a judge, than being arrested on it. It shows that you are committed to defending yourself and showing up for court in the future. These are important factors when a judge is considering ordering bail in a case.

Stages of a Criminal Case in Massachusetts

Stages Of A Criminal Case in Massachusetts State Court

Criminal cases in Massachusetts go through several procedural stages. During the course of your case you will hear the lawyers and judge refer to these terms. The descriptions in this list are general and meant for the layperson. There are numerous rules, statutes and cases that relate to the terms used below; your lawyer knows about those (hopefully). You don’t have to.courtroom

Complaint — A Criminal Complaint is the document that officially charges you with a crime.  it lists the offenses you are alleged to have committed, and the penalties they carry. It is not evidence against you, it is simply the way the case gets started in court.  The “docket number” at the top of the complaint is the number the court will use to identify that case.

Indictment — If the charge is a felony, and if the government wishes to pursue the case in the Superior Court, the prosecutor must go before a grand jury and prove “probable cause” that a crime was committed and that you are the person who committed it. The grand jury will vote on whether it is more likely than not that a crime was committed, and that you committed it.  If they vote “yes”, then an Indictment will issue. This is the document that takes the place of a Complaint in the Superior Court.  The grand jury proceeding almost always happen without you knowing about it.

Show-Cause Hearing — If the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony that can stay in District Court, and if no police officer witnessed the offense, then the probable cause determination will be made before a Clerk-Magistrate in an informal hearing. Usually, these take place in a conference room at the District Court, and the only people in the room are the magistrate,a police officer, and you — and your lawyer if you have one.

Arraignment — This is your first appearance before a judge, when you are officially notified of the charges against you. This is when you will receive copies of the Complaint or Indictment.

Bail Hearing — At a bail hearing, it will be decided whether you will be released on your own recognizance, or held on bail. If you are held on bail, you will not be released from custody until someone posts with the court the amount of money set by the judge at the bail hearing.

Dangerousness Hearing — Also known as a “58A” hearing, this is when the prosecutor asks the judge to have you held in custody without any bail, so that, as a practical matter, you cannot get out until the case is resolved. A request for a dangerousness hearing is usually made at arraignment. The hearing must be held within seven days.

Pretrial Hearing — This is the first court date after the arraignment. Lots of things can happen at this hearing, depending upon your case and your lawyer’s strategy. Depending upon the particular court, there could well be more than one pretrial hearing date.

Pretrial Conference — This is a meeting between the prosecutor and your lawyer at which they agree, as far as they can, upon the details of the trial, should there be one. They discuss things like the number and identity of witnesses for each side, any special legal issues that have to be decided by the judge, and whether any substantive motions are going to be filed, such as motions to dismiss or suppress. In Superior Court, the pretrial conference is often scheduled by the court. In District Court, the pretrial conference happens during another scheduled court date, often a pretrial hearing.

Compliance Date — If the judge orders the prosecutor to turn information over to the defense, he will establish a compliance date by which the information must be supplied. Often the “discovery” is supplied on the compliance date itself. The compliance date can be an in-court date, when the parties have to appear before the judge an confirm that the information was turned over, or out-of- court, where the defense has the burden of bringing the case back in front of the judge if the information is not received.

Election Date — The court date scheduled for the election of a trial date. Even if you have no intention of going to trial, you may have an election date scheduled. In the District Court, the Compliance and Elections Dates are often combined, and the case is scheduled for “C & E” on a particular day.

Motion Date — The date on which the court has scheduled the hearing of a motion in your case.

Status Date — At any point in the case after arraignment, your case could be scheduled for a status date, which essentially means that everyone is waiting for something to happen. Status dates are scheduled when the parties are awaiting receipt of medical records, the outcome of some hearing or trial, a psychiatric evaluation, or one of many other events.

Trial Date — The date upon which you are scheduled to go to trial. Most district courts will have several, if not many cases scheduled for trial on the same day. Most of those cases will be resolved on that day without trial, some may be continued (rescheduled) for various reasons, and usually at least one will go to trial before a jury. Some people think that because many cases are scheduled for their trial date, they will not really have to go to trial that day. Those are usually the people who do go to trial that day, and are unprepared. If your trial is scheduled in the Superior Court, your case will go to trial that day, unless you decide to change your plea.

Do I need a lawyer?

“I’ve been charged with a crime. Do I need a lawyer?”

If you have to ask this question, the answer is likely “yes.” One of the realities of the criminal system is that events that you know are simple or minor may not be so simple or minor in the eyes of the police, prosecutors or court.  Many, many people have arrived at court to address what they believe is a minor matter only to find out that an event or statement has been misconstrued and the case is now much more serious than they believed.

Just as frequently, someone goes in to court and resolves what they think is a minor matter, only to find out that it has serious ramifications they didn’t know about.

Criminal charges can affect areas of your life you may not expect:

  • professional licensure suspensions or loss
  • restrictions to your ability to attend or participate in your child’s school events
  • loss of current employment
  • impairment of future employment
  • drivers license suspensions
  • loss of commercial driver’s licence
  • auto insurance rate increases
  • ineligibility for, or loss of, financial aid for school
  • loss of insurance coverage
  • loss of license to possess or carry firearms
  • sex offender, DNA or domestic violence registration
  • civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person

The severity of your circumstances can be determined only with the aid of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, and only after he or she is familiar with the facts of your case and learns about who you are.

If you’ve never been involved with the criminal justice system before, being charged with a crime can be a terrifying experience. Before you have a chance to even understand what’s happening, you can be forced to make critical decisions in a situation that you may know nothing about. And making the wrong decision can have implications for the rest of your life.

If you are wondering if you need a lawyer, you probably do.

Should I Talk to the Police?

 NO!

Not without a lawyer, or at least not until you have consulted with one.

You have an absolute right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present during any questioning.

Many people sitting in prison today would be free if they had exercised their right to keep their mouths shut.

Do not talk to the police, even if they ask you to. Make no statement and sign nothing.  If the police think that you will talk, they may try to interview you. They will tell you, and you may believe, that this is your chance to tell your story. It isn’t.

What it is, however, your chance to get yourself in more trouble. The police are not going to clear you of suspicion. Their role is to gather evidence to convict you of a crime.

  • If they ask you to call and talk to them on the phone, don’t. 
  • If they ask you to come down to the station to “clear some things up,” don’t. 
  • If they say they want to give you a chance to tell your side of the story, don’t. 

Consult a lawyer first.

When the police ask you questions, the first—and only—words out of your mouth should be: “I do not wish to speak with you. I won’t answer any questions without my lawyer.”

The police regularly use deceptive tactics and lie to people under investigation. In many cases such tactics are perfectly legal. They say that if you tell them your side of the story, they will not arrest you. That is usually a lie, or sometimes it means they won’t arrest you at that moment, but will later. It is a regular police tactic used in the hope that those accused will make a statement which can later be used against them in court.

The police will try to trick you into talking to them without a lawyer by saying things like:

  • “If you didn’t do it, you don’t need a lawyer.”
  • “Only guilty people ask for a lawyer.”
  • “This is your only chance to tell your side of the story.”
  • “If you get a lawyer now, we will never hear your side of the story.”

These are lies the police frequently tell in hopes of getting you to give up your right to consult with a lawyer and to have that lawyer present with you during questioning. If the police can trick you into talking without a lawyer, they will take advantage of your limited understanding of the law.

Whatever you are going to say at that moment you can say later, if your lawyer believes it will help.  Most likely, whatever you are going to say at that moment is not going to help.  Because the police usually aren’t really looking for the other side of the story.  They get one side of the story, and they consider their work finished.

Whether you should speak with the police or prosecutor at some point is an extremely important and complex decision, one that can only be made with the advice of competent legal counsel.