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What happens at the arraignment?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2019

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

If the person who abused you is arrested and the District Attorney files a criminal complaint against them, the first thing that will happen in court is the arraignment. If you file the criminal complaint yourself, the arraignment happens after the “show cause” hearing.

At the arraignment:

  • the court tells the abusive person the crimes it is charging them with;
  • the court tells the abusive person that they has the right to a lawyer;
  • the abusive person says if they are pleading guilty or not guilty;
  • the judge sets bail (the amount of money that the abusive person has to pay to get out of jail until their trial) and any conditions of bail (such as they can’t leave the state).

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 Assistant DA may ask you to speak at another hearing, later on. The Assistant DA will send you a witness summons telling you the date you are to appear and testify about the abuse.

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 shows up for the trial. The courts believe that the higher the bail, the more likely they will be to show up again in court.

Usually when the court decides how much bail to ask someone to pay it is only thinking about how much money it will take to make the abusive person come back to court.

But in some cases, the judge can think about the safety of the victim or other people in the community when they decide to set bail. This is called a "dangerousness hearing." The more dangerous the person who abused you seems to be, the higher the bail will be. If you think the person who abused you is dangerous, you should ask the DA's office for a dangerousness hearing. Be prepared that you will probably have to testify in court if there is a dangerousness hearing. You should talk about that with the DA's office too.

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).

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 you go until the trial. If the judge does set bail, they will stay in jail until they pays the bail.

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

The police should tell you if the person who abused you pays bail and the court lets them go. Sometimes the police do not tell you. You can call the courthouse or the Victim/Witness Advocate to check. You should also review your plans to stay safe if they are 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 that conference, they may plead guilty to something that settles the case. If they do not plead guilty, the court will set a trial date. The Victim/Witness Advocate at the DA's Office should tell you about any dates.

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