Your cousin Rob is a bad apple. Rotten to the core. His rap sheet is a mile long and it's about to get longer. Last night he was caught prowling around his neighbor's house and got arrested by the Fitchburg Police Department. Somehow he made managed to make bail and now your family is looking to you for answers. Where can Rob get legal help? What's the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony? They keep firing questions at you, and hopefully we can answer some general ones.
At FindLaw, we've tried to demystify the Worcester County criminal justice system. Here's some basic information to help you get acquainted with some basic legal principles and terminology if you or a loved one is facing a criminal case in Fitchburg.
Massachusetts Penal Code
There are many criminal laws in Massachusetts. Some are straightforward, others need some explanation. Take a look for yourself.
Massachusetts Statute of Limitations
Most states have a statute of limitations or time limit for the Worcester County prosecutor to file criminal charges.
There is no time limit for any crime involving murder, indecent assault and battery on child under 14 or person with intellectual disability; reckless behavior with risk of harm or sexual abuse to a child; rape of child; rape and abuse of a child; assault of child with intent to commit rape.
For rape and assault with intent to commit rape, its 15 years from the date of the incident.
For armed robbery, assault on person over 60, or incest, its 10 years from the date of the incident.
For all other crimes, the time limit is within 6 years of offense.
Getting Arrested in Fitchburg
Your Fitchburg criminal case begins with an arrest. The ladies and gentleman in blue from the Fitchburg Police, Massachusetts State Police or the Worcester County sheriff's office will pay you a visit.
The officer believes he has probable cause to place you under arrest for either a felony or a misdemeanor. The officer might have a warrant, but they don't always need one.
The U.S. Constitution and the state of Massachusetts give criminal defendants several protections under the law such as the right to have an attorney present during questioning if you are taken into custody
You've heard about your Miranda rights. The police need to tell you these warnings anytime you are in custody and the subject of interrogation.
Worcester County Jail
After your arrested, the cops have two options -- take you to jail for booking or release you with a promise to appear at a later date. If you're trying to find an inmate, he or she is probably at the Worcester County Main Jail.
What Should I Know About Posting Bail?
If you want to go home, you'll either be released on your own recognizance or have to post bail. Bail is money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.
You're probably going to have to go to court. For some, this is a scary and intimidating thought. Most people don't normally spend their free time at one of the Fitchburg courthouses. If you want a lawyer to represent you, you can hire a Fitchburg criminal defense attorney.
Massachusetts Criminal Laws and Penalties
Let's talk about the charges you might be facing and the range of sentences. A judge will decide what sentence you'll be getting if you plead or get convicted. He or she can impose a fine and or probation, or incarceration, with or without a fine.
Felony offenses are served in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. Jail sentences for misdemeanor offenses are served in the county jail.
Criminal offenses are broken down into two categories--felonies and misdemeanors.
Felonies vs. Misdemeanors
Misdemeanors are defined as offenses that do not carry a potential prison sentence. They can, however, carry a jail sentence, punishable by up to 2½ years in county jail, or a fine up to $1,000, or both.
Typical misdemeanors in Fitchburg include assault, battery, shoplifting, and driving under the influence.
Felonies are those criminal offenses that are punishable by a period of incarceration in prison or by the death penalty. Each felony criminal statute includes the possible penalties for each individual felony.
Typical felonies in Fitchburg include robbery, theft, burglary, or and drug sales.
Within any given range, the actual sentence will depend on a number of factors that such as your criminal history, impact on the victim, your behavior while on bond, denial or acceptance of responsibility, work history, family history, indicators of risk, and remorse.
For all crimes, felony or misdemeanor, you may have to incur additional penalties such mandatory counseling or substance abuse classes.
If you don't take a plea deal, you'll have a trial where the Fitchburg district attorney must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
You have the right to a jury trial where twelve people decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. Remember, you can't be compelled to testify.
All twelve jurors must agree in order to convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, the judge will declare a "mistrial" your case may be tried again before a different jury, settled by way of plea bargain or even dismissed.
If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.
A Final Word About Fitchburg Criminal Cases
Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. Anyone charged with an offense should at least consider consulting a skilled attorney.