Massachusetts Criminal Charges + Sentencing, Hearings & Statute of Limitations

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For those who have committed a federal crime in Massachusetts, be aware that the charges generally are more serious than if you are simply charged at the state level. In most federal charge cases in Massachusetts, you will face more severe penalties. This is also exacerbated because the federal government usually has plenty of resources to secure your conviction.

So, you need to have an excellent grasp of the entire federal charges process in Massachusetts if you are being accused of a crime there. A good example is a drug charge. If convicted on a state charge, you could receive a few years in prison. But at the federal level, you may get five or even 10 years.

When you are brought up on charges in Massachusetts at the federal level, the feds must inform you about what the charges are against you. This is mandated by the US Constitution. After this, the US government will probably hold you in jail at the appropriate federal district in Massachusetts pending your trial.

The Preliminary Hearing

When you are ready for your preliminary hearing, which must occur within three days of your arrest, you and your defense counsel will first hear the evidence against you. In most cases, the US government will have a lot of high quality evidence against you. Usually, the feds wait to arrest you until they have plenty of evidence.

Note that the burden of proof for the prosecution is low at this point. Probable cause need only be shown that you may have committed a crime. So in most cases, this means that the case will go to trial.

Your lawyer will want to take advantage of this chance to listen to the evidence against you. In some cases, she may decide to delay the preliminary hearing beyond three days to have more time to prepare your case.

Note that more than 90% of people charged with federal criminal charges plead guilty. This is because most people charged with federal crimes who go to trial are convicted. Many defendants choose to plea guilty and the federal government may agree to drop some charges and/or to ask for a more lenient sentence.

If you plea guilty and take a plea bargain, the judge may issue a sentence. But often he or she will wait for results from a presentence report from the probation office before handing down a sentence.

The Bond Hearing

The Massachusetts federal bond hearing is held in the appropriate district court, and you will want to be released on bond pending trial. Whether or not this will happen depends upon the severity of the charges you face, and if you have suitable character witnesses to testify for you.

Burden of Proof

When it comes to the federal criminal trial, the burden of proof rests with the federal government. Defendants need not prove they are innocent. Rather, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. The evidence in a federal criminal trial has to be so strong that there is no reasonable doubt that you committed the crime.

Note if you are found not guilty, you must be released immediately from federal custody, and the government cannot appeal. It also is prohibited for you to be charged again for the same crime. However, you can be charged at the state level for the same crime in some cases.

Federal Jurisdictions

The state of Massachusetts has one federal court, the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Sentences for Federal Crimes

Any time you face a federal crime charge in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you should have a highly experienced defense attorney. An experienced federal defense lawyer will be able to make sure you do not face more federal charges than necessary. Your attorney also will make sure that any sentence you receive is in full compliance with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These are the rules that are laid out for people who have been convicted of felonies and serious misdemeanors at the federal level. These guidelines do not apply to less serious misdemeanors.

The major factors that influence your sentence per the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are the type of offense and your criminal history. There are 43 different offense levels in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. There are six different criminal history categories.

Some of the items that the federal judge will consider in your sentence are:

  • Do you have a family to provide for?
  • Did you come from a disadvantaged background?
  • What is your previous record?
  • Do you have character witnesses?
  • Did you receive drug and alcohol counseling?

There can be reduction in the time that you have to serve for your federal crime. The prosecution can file a motion to reduce your sentence in some circumstances, such as if you are helping the prosecution to pursue charges against other defendants. The court does not have to allow the reduction; it may decide to not allow it if it thinks the information you are supplying is not reliable or is insignificant.

On the other hand, it is possible for you to receive an increase in time served for various reasons. Some of these include hate crime motivation, a crime against a vulnerable population, terrorism and government official victims. Adjustments can be made to increase your sentence depending upon how significant your role in the crime was. Enhancements in sentence also can apply if you abused a position of trust, such as a person in a government position who embezzled funds.

It also is possible for there to be a departure from the guideline range in cases that deviate from normal federal crime cases. For example, some of the common grounds for departure that could result in a harsher or more lenient sentence include:

  • Death
  • Physical injury that is severe
  • Extreme psychological injury
  • Abduction or unlawful restraint
  • Property damage
  • Criminal purpose
  • Disruption of government function
  • Conduct of the victim
  • Diminished capacity
  • Coercion and duress

Top Crime Issues

The major federal crime issues here are related to drug trafficking.

Statute of Limitations

For many federal crimes, there is a statute of limitations that limits the amount of time after an alleged crime that you may be charged and convicted. Of course, murder and sexual crimes against minors do not have these limitations.

  • Assault – 2 years
  • Contract – 10 years
  • False imprisonment – 2 years
  • Fraud – 5 years
  • Judgements – 20 years
  • Libel – 1 year
  • Personal injury – 2 years
  • Property damage – 5 years
  • Slander – 1 year
  • Wrongful death – 2 years

Criminal Violations

  • Arson – No limit
  • Assault – 3 years
  • Burglary – 3 years
  • Murder – no limit
  • Manslaughter – no limit
  • Rape – no limit or 3 years, depending on case
  • Kidnapping – 3 years
  • Robbery – 3 years

Federal Charges in Massachusetts

It is important to understand the differences between state and federal charges. There are many differences in different parts of the case. At the federal level, prosecutors are known as assistant US attorneys. They usually have fewer cases to handle than the Massachusetts state prosecutor, and they will spend more time working on the cases they do have. This means if you are appearing in federal court, your case is receiving a lot of attention from the assistant US attorney.

In state court, the police frequently decide who should be charged and the state prosecutor usually only sees the case just before the court date. But in federal court, federal prosecutors will often work with federal law enforcement as they work on the case. By the time you learn that you have been charged with a federal crime in Massachusetts, it is likely you have been investigated for many weeks.

For criminal charges at the federal level, the cases are heard by two types of federal judges. The first is the US magistrate judge. This type of judge is often the first federal judge you will see after you have been arrested. The federal magistrate judge also may hear motions on your case. The other type of judge is the US district court judge. These judges are appointed by the president and are confirmed by the US Senate. A federal district court judge serves for life.

The federal district court judge has fewer cases than the typical state court judge. In state court, it is normal for many cases to be handled during one hearing. This will rarely occur in federal court. If you have a hearing in federal court, that case is usually the only one being heard at this time. If you have a federal trial date set, your criminal case is normally the only one that the judge is hearing that day.

In state court, it is possible that the prosecutor will not be ready with the case because state court trial days are very unpredictable. There are many cases being heard and it is not always certain when yours will be heard. If this happens in state court, it is possible for the case to be dismissed.

But this will seldom happen in federal court. The federal prosecutor has prepared only for your case on that day; he or she will be making sure they are ready and all witnesses are ready to testify.,

Bail is also different with federal criminal charges in Massachusetts compared with state charges. In a state court hearing, bail is usually just a matter of coming up with a certain amount of money. But in federal court, your judge will usually set several conditions for you to be released. Such conditions may include bail, but it is often required for you to check in on a regular basis with the pretrial services officer, get mental health treatment, and have your financial information reviewed. This is especially common if you are accused of a white collar crime. If you are deemed a flight risk, the federal court may require that you be electronically monitored with a bracelet worn on your ankle.

As far as the jury, it also is different from state charges. On a state case, the jury comes from the same county as the court. But federal jurors come from the judicial district or from the judicial division where the federal court is. Most federal judicial districts are made up of several counties. Thus, in most federal courts, jurors will come from a more diverse areas in terms of geography. As the jurors are more geographically diverse, it is common for federal jurors to have more diverse demographics as well. Because the jury can consist of people of different financial classes, races, ethnicities and religions, juror behavior can tend to be more difficult to predict.

Also federal sentencing guidelines dictate how you will be sentenced for a federal crime. There are several federal laws that state how the sentence will be imposed at the federal level.

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