The Massachusetts criminal courts can seem like a foreign place to those who are unfamiliar with them. The lawyers and judges speak in acronyms, rather than sentences, and things move at lightning speed. Therefore, knowing the language of the criminal courts is essential when you are being charged with a crime. Below is a list of the terms that people frequently ask me to explain, and their meaning:
1) "First Session" - the courtroom where you will appear for your first hearing, the arraignment, is often referred to as the first session. At this hearing, the charges against you are read, you will enter a plea of not guilty, an attorney will be appointed if you qualify, issues of bail will be addressed and the next court date will be set.
2) "BOP" - this refers to your Board of Probation record, your criminal record. It lists all of the crimes that you have been charged with and the outcome of the case. A copy is given to the judge, the prosecutor and your attorney at the arraignment.
3) "PTC" - this is a pretrial conference. At the PTC, your attorney will discuss issues of discovery and defenses with the prosecutor and also discuss the possibility of a potential plea.
4)"PTP" - Pretrial Probation is a type of disposition that may be given in a case. It is one that can only be given when the prosecutor is in agreement. It allows your case to be continued for a specified period of time without a disposition. If at the end of the time period you have met the conditions imposed by the court - typically having no new arrests - the matter will be dismissed. If something goes wrong, your case can be put back on the criminal list and it will proceed again. You will not have waived your right to a trial or to any defenses.
5)"CWOF" - is a type of plea that you may enter into, called a continuance without a finding. This is where there is an admission that the facts, if proven, are sufficient to support a finding of guilty of the charges, but a guilty finding does not enter. The case is continued for a period of time and there may be conditions. If you are successful in completing the probation period, the case will be dismissed and not guilty finding will enter. If you violate your probation, the court can enter a guilty finding and sentence you accordingly. You will have waived your right to a trial.
6)"DWOP" - this stands for Dismissed Without Prejudice. Typically this occurs when on the day of your trial the prosecutor does not have the witnesses or evidence needed to move forward with your trial.
7) "Suspended Sentence" and "Split Sentence" - with a guilty finding you may be sentenced to either probation or jail time, or a combination of both. An example of a split sentence is when a judge gives you 2 years in the house of correction, but only order that you serve 6 months of it now followed by 2 years of probation. If you successfully complete probation, you will not have to do the remaining year and a half in the house of correction. If you violate, the judge can send you back for the rest of the time. If you were given 2 years suspended for two years it means that you would be on probation for 2 years and if you violated you would serve a 2 year sentence.
8)"VOP" - is a violation of probation.
9)"Green Sheet" - when you tender a plea to the court, it is done on a form that is often called a green sheet because in many courts the paper that it is printed on is green. You will have to read the waiver of rights on the form carefully, and sign to acknowledge that you understand those rights.
This list certainly not all inclusive and I would welcome readers to ask about any other terms that they wish to learn about.