What happens at the arraignment?

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

An arraignment is a court hearing. It is where the criminal court formally charges the person who abused you with the crime.

What is an arraignment?

The arraignment is the first step in the criminal process. If the person who abused you is charged with a crime, the first thing that will happen in court is the arraignment.

At the arraignment:

  • the court tells the abusive person the crimes it is charging them with;
  • the court tells the abusive person that they have the right to a lawyer;
  • the abusive person says if they are pleading guilty or not guilty;
  • the judge decides whether to set bail. Bail is the amount of money that the abusive person has to pay to get out of jail while their criminal case is going on;
  • the judge may set conditions of bail. This could be an order that the abusive person stay away and have no contact with you.
Do I have to go to the arraignment?

If you are the victim in the case, you do not have to go to the arraignment but you can go if you want. The court will not ask you to speak at the arraignment. The Victim Witness Advocate should update you about what happened at the arraignment whether you are there or not. 

If you go to the arraignment and want to ask for a 209A restraining order against the abusive person, you can file the paperwork for a restraining order on the same morning as the arraignment. The judge can hold a two-party hearing because the abusive person will be in court that day for their arraignment. This means that the judge could give you a restraining order for a year and you would not have to come back in two weeks to ask for it to be extended.


At an arraignment the judge might say that the abusive person has to stay away from and not contact you as a condition of bail. This is not the same thing as a 209A restraining order. You only have a restraining order against the abusive person if you fill out paperwork asking for one. See Is this a restraining order? below for more information.

How does the judge set bail?

Setting bail is a way for the court to make sure that the abusive person shows up for their trial. By setting bail, the court makes the abusive person pay money to the court. They will only get their money back if they show up for the trial. The courts believe that the higher the bail, the more likely the abusive person will be to show up again in court.

These are some things that the judge considers when deciding how much bail to set:

  • Whether the abusive person is likely to flee from the case (for example, whether they could leave the country easily);
  • The abusive persons ties to the community and whether they have any supports in the community to help ensure that they will come back to court;
  • The seriousness of the crime;
  • How much of a danger to the community the abusive person is;
  • Whether the abusive person has a criminal record;
  • How strong the case is against the abusive person.

In many cases, the abusive person does not have to pay any bail. The court says that the defendant is "released on personal recognizance." “Released on personal recognizance” means the court trusts they will show up for the next hearings even without giving money to the court to hold (bail).

The judge said that my abuser has to stay away from me as a condition of bail. Is this a restraining order?

No. Bail conditions are not the same as a restraining order.

When a judge sets bail, they also tell the abusive person that there are things that they are not allowed to do while their criminal case is open. These things are called “bail conditions.” Bail conditions are court orders. If the abusive person violates these orders by doing the things the judge told them they could not do, their bail could be “revoked” and they could go to jail while their criminal case is open. 

The most common bail condition is not to commit any new crimes. In domestic violence cases, the judge may order the abusive person not to contact and stay away from the victim in the case. This is usually done at the victim’s request. You can tell the Victim Witness Advocate that you’d like this as a condition. Bail conditions are not the same as a 209A restraining order. You can always ask for a 209A restraining order even if there are bail conditions like stay away and no contact.

Here are some of the differences between bail conditions and a 209A restraining order:

  • You do not have to ask for bail conditions. The judge can order the abusive person to stay away from you and not contact you even if you don’t go to the arraignment.
  • You must go to court, file paperwork, and talk to the judge to get a 209A restraining order. You will not get a 209A restraining order if you do not ask for one.
  • The court does not give you a copy of bail conditions. You do get a copy of a 209A restraining order if you ask for one and get one.
  • Bail conditions are part of the criminal case. So if the criminal case ends, the bail conditions go away too. A 209A restraining order is your case against the abusive person. It is separate from the criminal case. 
  • If the abusive person violates bail conditions, they probably will not be arrested. The DA’s office has to ask for their bail to be revoked. This requires a court hearing and a judge has to decide whether to revoke their bail and possibly send them to jail. 
  • Violating a 209A restraining order is its own crime. The abusive person could be arrested and charged with a new crime if they disobey the order.
What is a dangerousness hearing?

In some cases involving physical violence, the DA’s office can ask the judge to hold a special hearing about the safety of the victim or other people in the community. This is called a "dangerousness hearing." The DA’s office will ask for a dangerousness hearing at the arraignment. If the judge allows their request they will schedule a separate dangerousness hearing within about a week. Be prepared that you may have to testify in court if there is a dangerousness hearing. Talk with the District Attorney’s Office about whether you will have to testify. The abusive person can also bring evidence and witnesses to the hearing. 

If the judge decides that person is “dangerous” they can release them with certain conditions like a GPS monitoring device or order them to go to jail for 120 days without any bail. 

Will the abusive person have to go to jail after the arraignment?

The judge may send the person who abused you to jail after the arraignment, but probably not. If the judge does not set any bail, the court will let the abusive person go until the trial. If the judge does set bail, the abusive person will stay in jail until they pay the bail.

Will someone tell me if the person who abused me gets released on bail?

Someone from the DA’s office should call you after the arraignment. Usually this is the Victim Witness Advocate who works for the DA’s office. They should tell you what happened at the arraignment, how much the bail was, and what bail conditions were ordered. They should also tell you when the next court date is. You have a right to all of this information as the victim. You should review your plans to stay safe if the abusive person is going to be released.

What happens after the arraignment?

Some time after the arraignment, the abusive person will have to go to court for a pre-trial conference. At the pre-trial, they might plead guilty to something that settles the case. If they do not plead guilty, the court will set a trial date. There are usually several pre-trial hearings before the trial happens. The Victim/Witness Advocate at the DA's Office should tell you about any future court dates.

See What happens at the pre-trial Conference to learn more.

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