The Institution of the Criminal Process – Arrest or Summons

Criminal cases in the Massachusetts District Court system begin in one of two ways: an arrest , or a summons .

A. Arrest.  In many cases, the criminal process is started by an arrest of the accused by police. What a person does in the course of the arrest, in terms of giving a statement to or otherwise cooperating with police, is very important. In most District Court criminal cases, the entire police investigation is completed within a few hours of the arrest, before the accused even makes an initial court appearance. Statements of witnesses will be taken at the scene. Statements of accused will be taken at the scene, or at the police station following an arrest. It is generally not in an accused’s best interest to make a statement to the police. In many cases, the existence of a statement by an accused can mean the difference between an acquittal and a conviction.

1. Booking. Once an accused is arrested, he or she will be taken to the police station to be booked. Booking includes having photos and fingerprints taken, as well as answering background information, such as name, address, telephone number, etc. Prior to any substantive questioning, the accused will be read Miranda Rights; the right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer, the right to have a lawyer free of charge prior to any questioning if an accused cannot afford one, the right to stop questioning at any time. An accused should heed the Miranda Rights, and demand to speak to a lawyer prior to any questioning. In almost every case where an accused asserts his or her right to a lawyer, questioning stops and never resumes; the police know that once a lawyer is involved the accused will not provide any incriminating statements.

2. Bail. An accused is entitled to a determination of bail promptly, even if the courts are closed. Often, an arrest occurs in the evening. In such situations, an accused is entitled to a determination of bail by having a bail commissioner called, who is empowered to set the amount of bail. The accused will then have an opportunity to make phone calls to arrange to meet the bail set. If an accused makes bail, he is released and told when and where to report to court. The ‘when’ is usually the next business day at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m.

B. Summons. A summons is a document mailed to the accused person, informing him or her that a criminal complaint has or will be issued against him or her. It instructs the accused to appear in court on a certain date at a certain time. If the accused does not so appear, an arrest warrant normally will be issued, subjecting the accused to arrest at any time.