What happens at the arraignment?

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated October 2009

An arraignment is a hearing. It is where the court formally charges your abuser with the crime.

If the person who abused you is arrested and the District Attorney files a criminal complaint against him, 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 abuser the crimes it is charging him with;
  • the court tells the abuser that he has the right to a lawyer;
  • the abuser says if he is pleading guilty or not guilty;
  • the judge sets bail (the amount of money that the abuser has to pay to get out of jail until his trial) and any conditions of bail (such as he 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. He or she 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 his trial. By setting bail, the court makes the abuser pay money to the court. The abuser will only get his money back if he shows up for the trial. The courts believe that the higher the bail, the more likely he 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 abuser 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 he or she decides to set bail. This is called a "dangerousness hearing." The more dangerous the abuser 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 abuser 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 he 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 abuser to jail after the arraignment, but probably not. If the judge does not set any bail, the court will let your abuser go until the trial. If the judge does set bail, your abuser will stay in jail until he pays the bail.

Will someone tell me if he gets released on bail?

The police should tell you if he pays bail and the court lets him 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 he is released.

What happens after the arraignment?

Some time after the arraignment, the abuser will have to go to court for a pre-trial conference. At that conference, he may plead guilty to something that settles the case. If he does 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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