Understanding Outcomes in Criminal Cases in Massachusetts
GuiltyYou can receive a guilty two ways: first, by being found guilty after a trial by judge or jury. The second is by pleading guilty. Both have the same effect. A guilty will appear on your criminal record, and you will be sentenced to some form of punishment (whether it is a fine, probation time, or jail time). If you receive a guilty filed, this means that you have the guilty on your record, and you have no additional punishment for the offense.
Continued Without a FindingIn certain cases, the district attorney will agree to a plea bargain where the result is called "Continued Without a Finding", or CWOF. A Cwof basically means that if the Commonwealth can prove everything that they say they can prove, there is enough evidence to find you guilty. However, this is not a guilty finding. At the time of plea, the defendant is placed on probation for a period of time. At the end of the time, if probation is completed successfully, the case is dismissed. A CWOF appears on your criminal record.
For job purposes, with a CWOF, you can say that you were not convicted of a crime. For immigration purposes, a CWOF can affect your immigration status, resulting in deportation, denial of a green card or the like. In cases such as an OUI, if you received a CWOF on a first offense, if you are arrested on a second OUI, it does count as a second offense, even though the CWOF was not a conviction.
Pretrial ProbationPretrial probation means that the district attorney is willing to give the defendant a break. The case is placed on hold in the court system (without a plea) for a period of time, During this period of time, the defendant is on probation. At the end of the probation, if it is completed successfully, the case appears as dismissed on the defendant's record. It is different from a CWOF because there is no plea. If the defendant violates the probation in this case, the case is reopened, and the defendant is able to either proceed to trial, or to negotiate a plea.
The case appears as open with pretrial probation on your criminal record until the probation period is completed. Upon completion, the case appears as dismissed.
DismissedWhen a District Attorney does not have enough evidence to proceed, or is willing to dismiss charges (sometimes upon the payment of a fine), a dismissal is entered. This means that the charge is dismissed and the case is closed.