What Happens at Your First Appearance in Court

Preparing for your Initial Hearing in Massachusetts

After an arrest or summons to appear, your first court appearance is officially referred to as an arraignment. This initial hearing is when the charges against you will be read by the Clerk of the Court, and when your plea or response to those charges will be entered.

In Massachusetts district courts, a plea of not guilty will be entered for you. In a superior court, you will normally be asked to stand and tell the court how you plead. Note that if your criminal charges are serious, your case will usually be heard in superior court.

Do I need an attorney present for my first court appearance? – It depends. Typically, in district courts most cases will move through arraignment smoothly and without much response needed from the defendant.

Even if the court assigns you a public defender, you will have enough time after the arraignment to find an attorney who is exceptionally well-qualified to represent you through the remainder of the criminal court process and to successful resolution.

It is normal to be anxious about your first appearance. But in an overwhelming majority of MA district court arraignments, it is not essential to have your attorney present.


However, if your crime carries very serious penalties and goes through a superior court, there might be a number of issues that arise surrounding whether or not you can be released pending trial. This is called a bail hearing, or in rare cases, a “dangerous” hearing.

In this situation, your family or loved one may want to help in finding a private attorney to be present at the arraignment. See below for more about bail.

Please also know that the Oberhauser Law team aggressively defends individuals accused of serious crimes in Essex Superior Court and in Middlesex Superior Court. To ensure your rights and freedoms are protected, call us today to find out how we can assist you or a loved one at first appearance.

Know Your Rights

First appearance hearings are also where your Constitutional rights will be read to you regarding the criminal court process and right to representation.

You are constitutionally guaranteed the right to be legally represented in all criminal matters before the court.

As mentioned, if you qualify for a court appointed lawyer, one will be assigned to you before the session is out.

If you plan to hire a private attorney, this is typically indicated to the court at the arraignment as well.

If your first appearance is in superior court, the next issue reviewed will be about bail.

Bail Issues May Arise.

In the majority of cases, defendants are either released on conditions, or released on their own recognizance (their ‘promise’ to appear at all future court dates.)

However, if you are charged with a very serious crime, have repeat offenses, and/or have ever “skipped” court before, a bail hearing will commence to discuss the possibility of setting bail, or of revoking bail and detaining you until the next court date.

If bail is warranted, the amount and conditions of bail will be set by the judge at this time. The judge may also elect to release you on certain conditions.

A judge has discretion in determining how to order your release with conditions, and you should listen carefully so you fully understand all such requirements.

Again, in both district and superior courts, a majority of people will be released on conditions or under OR – their own recognizance.

Finally, the next court appearance time and date will be scheduled and set by the judge.

In Massachusetts, the next court appearance after the arraignment is usually for the pre-trial conference, sometimes referred to as a pre-trial hearing.

**It is crucial to have an attorney who has the right kind of case experience and legal expertise defending you and in your corner before your Pre-trial Conference.** Call Attorney Greg Oberhauser for a consult today!

Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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Posted in: criminal