If you or a loved one has spent time involved in the Massachusetts criminal justice system, you may have heard of someone receiving pre-trial probation or a general continuance. You may also have seen some of Aprodu | Conley's case result blogs which mention these two similar methods of resolving a criminal case. However, what these two dispositions mean is not necessarily common knowledge, so further explanation is necessary:
A General Continuance is a resolution of a criminal case where the case is continued for a specified period of time without an admission of guilt, a plea, or a trial. Instead, the criminal defendant simply is required to not be charged with any new criminal offenses during the specified time period. If the defendant does this, then the pending criminal case is dismissed. If the defendant does pick up a new charge, the generally continued case can then be brought back, and criminal proceedings are renewed until a trial or plea.
Pre-Trial Probation is very similar, but allows the government to more closely monitor a person. Like a General Continuance, Pre-Trial Probation results in the case being continued for a specified time period, with the potential for dismissal at the end of this period. The difference is, that under pre-trial probation, there are additional conditions which must also be met during this period. For example, the defendant may be required to have no contact with a specific person, remain drug free with random screening, or pay restitution. The Probation department monitors these conditions, and if there is a violation of a condition, the case can be brought back. The legal authority for placing a person on these conditions comes from M.G.L. c. 276, s. 87.
How and when can someone be given a General Continuance or Pre-Trial Probation
Getting Pre-Trial Probation or a General Continuance is not the norm. One thing that makes these dispositions rare is that the District Attorney's Office has to explicitly agree to them. That means that a judge cannot order these dispositions if the District Attorney's Office objects. As such, a lawyer will likely only be able to successfully negotiate for these resolutions on certain less serious or otherwise sympathetic cases.
Getting one of these dispositions can be particularly important for people who could have collateral consequences as a result of a guilty plea or an admission of guilt. For example, anyone who is not a U.S. citizen could be at risk of deportation if they admit or are found guilty of certain criminal offenses. Similarly, a guilty finding or admission could have consequences on certain professional licenses.
If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge, you should know about the options for resolving the case, especially if there is a chance for a General Continuance or Pre-Trial Probation. You should contact a knowledgeable lawyer for a free consultation to learn more.