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What to Do if You Get a Criminal Citation in MA?

Posted on April 28, 2022 in

A criminal citation is something that you may receive in the mail in Massachusetts. It is a slip of paper titled Massachusetts Uniform Citation, with details about the violation that you allegedly committed. If the box labeled “Criminal Application” at the top of the citation is checked, this is cause for concern. It is important to respond to this type of citation right away, as it means that you are facing a criminal accusation.

What Is a Criminal Citation?

A criminal citation does not mean that you are under arrest or there is a warrant out that allows a police officer to arrest you on sight. It does mean, however, that you are being charged with a criminal offense. Mailed criminal citations are used for multiple misdemeanor crimes in Massachusetts, including operating under the influence, property crimes and assault.

What Should You Do if You Get a Criminal Citation?

Do not discard the criminal citation or ignore it. You are responsible for responding to the citation in the proper manner within four days of the date of the violation. Here’s what to do:

  1. Read the citation carefully for more information. It will list your personal information and details about the alleged offense. Read the back of the notice for your response instructions.
  2. Respond within four business days. You must complete the form on the back of the citation and submit it within four days.
  3. You can respond to a criminal citation in person at the courthouse indicated on the front of the citation, if desired. Visit the Clerk-Magistrate at the specific court mentioned and bring the filled-out citation with you. 
  4. You can also respond by mail. You must mail your response directly to the court listed on the citation, not to the P.O. Box that mailed you the citation. Do not use the pre-addressed envelope that came with the citation, either. 
  5. Do not attempt to pay your criminal citation. You cannot pay this type of citation by mail, by phone or online. You also cannot appeal a criminal citation by checking Box 2.
  6. If you don’t see your criminal citation right away or respond within four business days, fill out the form and submit it anyway. The court may decide to be lenient on the missed deadline, but it may not.

Once the court receives your completed form, you will wait for a response. You should receive a letter in the mail notifying you of what comes next shortly.

What Happens After You Respond to a Criminal Citation?

After responding to a criminal citation, you will receive a notice in the mail giving you the date of your court hearing. The initial hearing is known as a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing. At this hearing, you will have the chance to argue why a criminal complaint should not be issued against you. The prosecuting officer will also present evidence as to why there are grounds for a charge. You may have a Woburn criminal defense attorney present for the hearing, although it is not required. If the magistrate believes there is enough evidence, your case will move forward and become a criminal charge. Otherwise, the case will be dismissed.

What Happens if You Don’t Respond to a Criminal Citation in Massachusetts?

If you fail to respond to a criminal citation by the deadline, you will automatically be charged with a crime. The next notice that you receive in the mail will be your notice to appear at an arraignment hearing to hear your criminal charges. If you don’t show up at the arraignment, a warrant will be issued for your arrest in Massachusetts.

Do You Need to Hire an Attorney for a Criminal Citation in Massachusetts?

Hiring a criminal defense attorney to represent you during the Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing can help you prevent your case from going any further. There is a good chance that your attorney can prevent a criminal charge from being issued against you by arguing that there is not enough evidence of a crime to proceed with a case. If a complaint does get issued, your attorney can represent you during follow-up hearings and the rest of your criminal case. With a lawyer by your side, you are much more likely to avoid criminal charges.