Taking your case to court? Experience matters.

Whether going to Trial Court or all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court, experienced counsel can help better ensure your rights are protected.

Going to court is an intimidating process. Whether dealing with drug charges, a sex offense or the alleged commission of a violent crime, it is important to take the process seriously. If the charges result in a conviction, serious penalties may apply. It is important to know that criminal penalties, which can include monetary fines and potential imprisonment, are also not the end. Additional, societal punishments which unfortunately accompany a conviction include difficulties finding employment and/or housing and lost scholarship opportunities.

Anyone who has been charged with a crime would benefit from a basic understanding of the court system. In Massachusetts, the primary components of the court system are the Trial Court, Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court.

The Massachusetts Court System: The Basics

There are seven different types of trial courts throughout the state, each with its own jurisdiction and responsibilities. Those court departments are the Superior Court, District Court, Boston Municipal Court, Housing Court, Juvenile Court, Land Court and Probate and Family Court.

The Superior Court is responsible for most criminal felonies, as well as civil actions having an amount in controversy that exceeds $25,000. The District Court is responsible for misdemeanors, some felonies and civil matters with less than $25,000 at issue. The Boston Municipal Court is the Suffolk County equivalent to the District Courts in the other counties. The Housing Court hears issues relating to residential housing like zoning matters or landlord-tenant disputes, while the Juvenile Court focuses on cases involving youthful offenders, parental rights, and other issues involving children. Land Court has jurisdiction over title to real property issues and foreclosures. Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction over divorce, child support and other family-law matters.

In some situations, a case that is heard and decided by one of the seven Trial Courts may go on to the Appeals Court. This process involves a review for errors, not a retrial. If the Appeals Court's ultimate decision is contested, the case may move on to the Supreme Judicial Court - the highest appellate court in Massachusetts.

A long history, but with recent changes

The Supreme Judicial Court is the oldest continuously operating appellate court system in the Western Hemisphere. Although this court has deep roots, there have also been some recent changes. Most recently, three new justices were appointed, which, as the Boston Globe recently noted, marks a "historic remake of Massachusetts's highest court." This "new" court began hearing cases in September, including an appeal of a conviction for illegal firearms possession argued by Yannetti Criminal Defense Firm attorney, Greg L. Johnson, who told The Globe that the "panel was very respectful, thoughtful, and asked probing questions of both sides."

Impact of the changes on future cases

Although it is too soon to tell exactly how the presence of these three new justices will affect the court's decisions, the change does provide an example of the importance of experienced counsel who understand and can expertly navigate the local court system when handling a criminal matter.