What is a Dangerousness Hearing?
A "dangerousness hearing" may happen at or shortly after your arraignment on criminal charges. Massachusetts has a statute that allows the Court to jail a defendant for up to 120 days prior to trial, without bail or conditions of release, if there is "clear and convincing evidence that no conditions of release will reasonably assure the safety of others or the community" or, inother words, upon a "finding of dangerousness".
The request for a "finding of dangerousness" must be filed by the prosecution at the arraignment, or the first appearance of a defendant in front of the court. The request can only be made in certain types of serious cases such as burglary, certain cases involving domestic abuse and protective orders, witness intimidation, drug offenses (if there is a minimum mandatory of 3 years or more), OUI 3rd or Subsequent offense and some others.
A defendant can only be found to be "dangerous" after a hearing, where evidence is presented, called a "dangerousness hearing". Usually, the prosecution will ask that the dangerousness hearing take place on a future date in order to prepare.
At the dangerousness hearing, the judge "shall" consider the following factors:
- any danger posed to any person or the community that would result by the defendant's release;
- nature and circumstance of offense charged;
- the potential penalty;
- defendant's family ties;
- defendant's employment record;
- defendant's history of mental illness;
- defendant's reputation;
- risk that defendant will obstruct justice or attempt to obstruct justice;
- risk that the defendant will threaten, injure or intimidate a prospective witness or juror;
- defendant's record of convictions;
- any illegal drug distribution or present drug dependency;
- defendant's bail status in other cases;
- whether allegations involve abuse or a violation of a temporary or permanent order of protection;
- whether defendant has had orders of protection issued against him; and
- defendant's probation status and/or parole status and whether defendant is on release pending sentence or during an appeal from a conviction.
Note that the rules of evidence do not apply, but your attorney can summons and cross-examine witnesses.
If, after the dangerousness hearing, the judge finds that there is "clear and convincing evidence that no conditions of release will reasonably assure the safety of others or the community", the defendant can be held for up to 4 months prior to trial. A defendant can immediately appeal a finding of dangerousness to the Superior Court and, if necessary, to a single justice of the Appeals Court.
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.