I Have an Arraignment. What do I Need to Know About Bail?
"Bail" is an amount of money a defendant pays into the court to make sure the defendant returns to court on the next date. If he or she doesn't return, the government takes your money and, to rub salt in the wound, issues a warrant for failure to appear.
There is a presumption under the bail statute (G.L. c. 276, § 58) that you will be released "on personal recognizance", meaning without having to pay any money on your promise to return.
The prosecution needs to overcome this presumption before bail can be imposed.
In deciding whether to set bail in a criminal case, in addition to the charges you are facing, the court will consider whether the defendant:
- Poses a flight risk (i.e., of running). Such as when the defendant has no ties to the community.
- Has a criminal record. The court will consider both adult and juvenile records, as well as any out-of-state criminal records.
- Has a history of not showing to court when they’re supposed to court ("defaulting").
- Is on probation or parole, or has other open cases. If so, the stakes are raised and the cost-benefit analysis changes for the defendant.
- From the area or has family in the area.
- In domestic violence cases, if a defendant’s release will pose a threat to the community or the victim.
If you think that bail might be imposed, you should bring a friend or family member with access to the money to pay your bail. As attorneys, we are not permitted to pay bail even if the client gives us the money.
For more information on what can happen if you fail to appear in court after having bail imposed on you, visit our Bail Jumping page.
What are Conditions of Release?
In addition to (or instead of) bail, the court can also set "conditions of release" at your arraignment. Common conditions of release are:
- stay away from the "victim" and/or any witnesses in the criminal case
- stay away from a certain location
- abstain from alcohol and/or drugs
- submit to drug and/or alcohol testing
- restrictions on travel
- wear a GPS bracelet and stay within (or away from) a prescribed area
- don't drive
Conditions of release ordered at your arraignment can seriously restrict your liberty. If there is a chance that conditions will be imposed, you will be far better off with an attorney.
District Court Arraignment FAQ
The primary purpose of the arraignment is a formal reading of the charges against you and to officially start the criminal process. This is part of our 6th Amendment right to be informed of the charges against us and the proof of those charges.
Yes, as embarrassing as it is, the clerk will read the charges out loud (we always try to "waive" the reading of the charges to avoid this, but many judges will not allow it).
When you first get to court, check in with the probation office. This is required and you'll be sent back there if your case is called and you haven't yet. You'll also go to the bottom of the list and be there all day. For the same reason, get to the court early (doors will be open by 8:30 AM) because the line gets long.
Probation will take some basic information from you (no questions about the facts of your case) and, if you are looking for a public defender, some basic financial information.
You'll then be directed to the "arraignment session or the "first session", where you will wait for your case to be called.
When your case is called, walk to the front of the court, where you'll be told by a court officer where to stand (you will probably have seen it as you're waiting). The clerk (the person sitting in front of and below the judge) will read the charges against you and enter a Not Guilty plea on your behalf (if you're asked, always plead Not Guilty).
The judge will then ask you what you want to do with your case and you'll have 3 options:
- You want to hire a criminal defense attorney and need another date for him or her to appear;
- You want a public defender (if you qualify);
- You want to try and resolve the case on your own (without a lawyer) that day and would like speak to the district attorney.
If you get a new date, it will be for a "pre-trial conference" at least 6 weeks out.
Honestly, I respect the fact that you want to take responsibility for your actions, but this is serious and there are ways to do that without pleading guilty and without a permanent criminal record.
Many minor cases can be dismissed outright with the payment of court costs. You might be appropriate for a continuation without a finding (a period of probation followed by a dismissal). Charges can be amended from a felony to a misdemeanor. And so on...
This is honestly why I recommend having an attorney negotiate the plea, as opposed to doing it yourself.
We can usually do better than what the district attorney will offer you and, if we think we can do better with the judge, we can do what is called a "disagreed upon disposition" (we agree to enter into a plea, but can't agree with the DA about what the punishment should be, so the judge decides).
I would plan on three hours, but it may be more or less depending on the court and the list of cases to be called. The arraignment itself is usually just a few minutes, but the wait to get there can be lengthy.
Absolutely not. You have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and you will not be asked about the facts of your case (the exceptions being if you choose to speak to the DA without a lawyer and if you accept a plea). In fact, if you have a lawyer, you won't say anything at all unless you accept a plea at the arraignment.