The law is not black and white- guilty or not guilty. In many cases there is an in-between way to resolve different types of criminal charges. Every case is different and the options of resolving your case are different.
Cases can be dismissed in certain circumstances. If your case is dismissed that means you are no longer facing charges. For less serious charges like Operating on a Suspended License, we have been successful having cases dismissed upon payment of court costs, usually $100-200. Other times, we may file a motion to dismiss because the prosecutor cannot prove you committed the crime. If the judge allows the motion, then your case will be dismissed. Having your case dismissed is the best possible result.
Under M.G. L. c. 276, § 87, with the prosecutor and defendant in agreement, the court can place a defendant on pretrial probation. Most pretrial probation agreements are for one year but can be for less time. During that time, if you were placed on pretrial probation, there will be certain conditions you will follow:
- If the case involves alcohol or drugs, you will most likely be required to obtain substance abuse treatment and remain alcohol/drug free with random testing.
- If the case involved shoplifting, you will be required to pay restitution.
Most importantly you will have to avoid getting arrested or charged with any new crimes. If you successfully complete the terms of your pretrial probation, then your case will be dismissed. Should you be charged with a new crime or not comply with the terms of your pretrial probation, then the charges will not be dismissed. Instead your case will proceed towards trial. Importantly, if you are not a citizen of the United States, this type of disposition will avoid immigration issues.
Continuance Without A Finding
The next best option for a person not eligible for pretrial probation is known as a Continuance Without A Finding or CWOF. In order to receive a CWOF, you must admit that there are sufficient facts to find you guilty but the court stops short of doing so. Instead the court continues your case without a finding of guilt and places you on probation for a period of time generally 12-24 months. You will also have certain conditions of probation you will have to follow while on probation. The conditions of probation will depend on the crime. At the end of the probationary period, your case will be dismissed as long as you have followed the terms of your probation.
The biggest difference between pretrial probation and a continuance without a finding is what will happen if you don’t comply with your probationary terms. If you mess up on pretrial probation, you just continue to litigate your case up to and including trial. When you admit to sufficient facts (a CWOF), however, you give up your right to a trial and to fight the charges against you. This means that if you violate the terms of your probation, you will receive a notice of a probation violation. If the court finds you violated your probation, the court can revoke the continuance without a finding and enter a guilty. The court can then change the terms of your probation and/or sentence you to a term of imprisonment based on the facts of your case.
In other cases, the court may impose a guilty filed. A guilty filed is a conviction but you are not sentenced to probation or imprisonment. The prosecutor or defendant could ask that the case be brought forward and a sentence imposed within a specified period of time but as long as you stay out of trouble that rarely happens. Most guilty filed charges occur in cases where you received a sentence on another charge. For instance, if you are charged with Leaving the Scene of Property Damage and Malicious Destruction of Property, the court may find you guilty on the Leaving the Scene of Property charge and sentence you to one year of probation and then enter a guilty filed on the Malicious Destruction charge but not impose any sentence. Guilty filed is not a common way to resolve a case but does happen in certain circumstances.
Guilty with a Suspended Sentence
A suspended sentence occurs when a judge finds you guilty and sentences you to the house of correction but then suspends the sentence for a period of time and puts you on probation instead. For instance, the judge might sentence you to one year in the house of correction suspended for 18 months. That means, you will be on probation for 18 months. If you successfully complete the terms of your probation, your case will be over in 18 months and you will never go to jail. If you violate the terms of your probation and are found in violation after a hearing, then the judge will sentence you to one year in jail.
Suspended sentences can be helpful in certain cases. While it seems like a more severe punishment, if you are a person who struggles to follow the rules of probation, then a suspended sentence can be helpful. For most district court cases, the maximum sentence is 2.5 years in the house of correction but if you receive a one year suspended sentence, then the most the judge can give you is one year, not 2.5 years, if you violate the terms of your probation.
We are here to help you! Every case is different which means the way we approach your case and how we ultimately resolve your case is different. We will do everything we can to get you the best possible outcome based on the individual facts of your case. Contact us at Sweeney & Associates, LLC today for a free consultation. We can be reached at (617) 300-0212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.