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How Do I Avoid Jail Time for a Felony in Massachusetts?

March 21, 2022 by Anthony Riccio

A felony violation has a potential penalty of over 2.5 years in jail or a commission to state prison. The severity of felony charges and the degrees of felonies vary greatly. Once a charge fulfills the Massachusetts law definition of felony, a conviction of the crime carries all the potential repercussions of a felony conviction. 

What is a Felony Offense?

A felony in Massachusetts is defined as a crime punishable by a state prison sentence up to and including life imprisonment. It is defined as a violation of a law that carries the possibility of a state jail sentence. Arson, burglary, armed robbery, murder, attempted homicide, rape or sexual assault, abduction, and aggravated assault are examples of felonies. 

A felony conviction is a serious issue that can lead to a lengthy state jail sentence and the loss of certain privileges and basic rights such as U.S. citizenship and immigrant benefits. A felony conviction in Massachusetts can result in the loss of a job, the right to own a firearm, or the right to vote.

However, in some situations, a prosecutor may agree to lower a felony charge to a misdemeanor to settle the case. In other circumstances, a trial before a judge or jury will be necessary to prevent a felony conviction.

How to Avoid a Felony Jail Term in Massachusetts

There are several ways to avoid imprisonment for felony offenses in Massachusetts. Some of them include:

Pretrial Diversion

A pretrial diversion is a powerful instrument that offers an alternative to the traditional processing and handling of criminal cases. The goal is to divert offenders away from typical trials and sentencing, giving them and court officials the chance to address the root causes of criminal conduct in the hopes of preventing reoffending.

In Massachusetts, pretrial diversion is only accessible in the District Court, and it is regulated by General Laws chapter 276A. It is available to anyone charged with a crime that could result in a jail sentence and over which the District Court has final jurisdiction. Furthermore, the candidate for pretrial diversion must have no prior convictions after the age of eighteen and no pending warrants, appeals, or continuances in any court. Finally, the applicant must have obtained a recommendation from a program indicating that involvement in such a program would be beneficial to the individual.

Before arraignment, the defense attorney will discuss the possibility of pretrial diversion with the District Attorney and the probation department. Once a candidate qualifies, they are entitled to a 14-day stay of proceedings to determine and negotiate an ideal program. Typically, these programs entail performing community service or undergoing drug and alcohol rehab. The court can dismiss the charges if the defendant completes the program and they will not have a criminal record.

Pretrial Probation

If pretrial diversion is not an option, the defense attorney may request a pretrial probation. This is also known as a “general continuance.” A District Court judge has the authority under section 87 of General Laws chapter 276 to place an accused person on probation before trial without a plea, finding, or judgment of guilt. 

The advantage of this resolution is similar to that of a pretrial diversion program: the case is usually dismissed once the accused agrees to specific terms negotiated by defense counsel. Pretrial probation differs from pretrial diversion in that it happens after a defendant has been arraigned in court.

Outright Dismissal

Another type of noncriminal disposition is dismissal. Pretrial dismissals without probation or pretrial diversion or probation are uncommon, but they happen. These frequently take the form of motions to dismiss, which are filed when a crucial witness fails to testify and the prosecution can no longer proceed with the case. 

Dismissals can also be sought through motions to suppress. Many dismissals are “without prejudice,” which means the prosecution could reopen the case with new complaints. When a case is dismissed “with prejudice,” it means that the matter is concluded totally, and there will be no further prosecutions.

Intermediate sanctions

Intermediate sanctions are another form of non-jail penalties. Standard probation, community service, supervised probation, home confinement, and day reporting are some of the options. The judge may also impose certain requirements, such as drug rehabilitation and counseling. Standard probation, sometimes known as “straight probation,” occurs when a court, rather than giving a jail sentence, imposes probation. Straight probation has a clear advantage: a defendant doesn’t go to jail after being found guilty, and no sentence shows on their records. However, if the defendant breaks the probation terms, the judge may impose the maximum penalty for the offense.

A District Court can also suspend a sentence in whole or in part. For instance, if a person is convicted of assault and battery, a judge can sentence them to one year in the House of Corrections, suspended for 2 years as probation.

Continuance without a Finding

A noncriminal disposition known as a Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF) is quite common. In summary, a CWOF is a form of plea where the defendant acknowledges that the court might find him guilty based on the available evidence but instead requests that the case be continued without a guilty finding for a set length of time. They will then be required to do specific things while the case is ongoing. 

These actions may include refraining from contacting the alleged victim, drug counseling, or other requirements negotiated by defense counsel. The case is dismissed at the expiration of the CWOF period. The disadvantage is that if the defendant fails to finish the continuance, a guilty verdict may be entered and sentencing passed.

Handle Felony Charges With Riccio Law

Felony charges should not necessarily lead to jail convictions. An effective defense attorney can help defendants negotiate or file for these alternative forms of resolution. Riccio Law, primarily serving clients across Greater Boston and Southern Massachusetts, has garnered significant experience handling felony cases right from the district court to superior court. Reach out to us today for help with your felony case.