Written by attorney Patrick T. Donovan

Guide to Criminal Dispositions in Massachusetts

Possible Dispositions

Pre-Trial Probation andDismissals

Pretrial probation is only available if the Commonwealth consents. It is where the Commonwealth agrees to dismiss the case after either a set period of time or amount of conditions or both. There is no admission to wrongdoing. If the defendant cannot successfully complete pretrial probation case will be restored to the trial list.

There are two types of dismissals in Massachusetts dismissals with prejudice and without prejudice. If a case is dismissed with prejudice the case cannot be retried. If a case is dismissed without prejudice the case may be reopened. In some of the more minor cases the Commonwealth may move to dismiss the case upon conditions or payment. The Commonwealth needs to consent to any type of pretrial dismissal.


CWOF stands for continuation without a finding A CWOF is where the court could find based on the evidence before it that there are sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt but will refrain from doing so and instead continue the case without a finding generally along specific terms and conditions imposed first set period of time. Assuming the Defendant successfully completes the probationary period the case will be dismissed If the Defendant odes not complete the probationary period successfully the Court may revoke the CWOF impose a GUILTY and sentence the person to the maximum sentence. The defendant's plea technically remained not guilty; a CWOF is NOT a conviction. The defendant stipulates that the evidence is sufficient to find him or her guilty and admits wrongdoing. The District Court then places the defendant on probation for a certain amount of time and sets certain conditions and fees. Prior to trial the Judge does not the Commonwealth’s consent in allowing a continuation without finding however, the court cannot impose a CWOF after trial over the objection of the Commonwealth. A continuation without a finding is not permitted in certain cases.


The final disposition is a guilty. If the sentence is a guilty there is a conviction. If there is a guilty finding other penalties such as license loss and entry into the DNA database may apply. A guilty must be followed with a sentence. Guilty sentences can either be a file, fine, straight probation, suspended sentence, split sentence or straight probation.

A guilty file is where the case is placed on file and there is no real sentence other than the conviction. A guilty fine is a conviction and a payment of money.

Straight probation is where the person avoids jail as long as they successfully complete probation. If the person violates probation the person may get any amount of jail time the Court sees fit. The court may impose from one day to the maximum sentence.

A Suspended Sentence is where the person is given a term of probation and a set amount of jail time to be imposed if the person violates probation. The benefit here is the amount of possible jail time is capped.

A Split Sentence is where some is given both jail time and probation.

A straight sentence is a period of incarceration. In the District the Court can only sentence people to the House of Correction.

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