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What does a trial mean for me?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2019

The District Attorney's office will probably call you or write to you before the trial date. They will probably want to interview you.

You should let the District Attorney's office know as soon as possible if you have names of witnesses, medical records, tape recordings, photographs, property damage bills, or anything else that will help them prepare their case.

You do not have to tell everything to the District Attorney's office or the Victim Witness Advocate. It is important to help the DA's office as much as you can, but you do not have to tell them everything about your life. For example, if the DA wants you to sign a release so they can talk to your therapist, you can refuse to sign it. It’s okay to say no to some things.

What do I do if the person who abused me contacts me or wants to talk to me?

The abusive person should not contact you if you have a 209A protective order or if the court told them at the arraignment not to contact you. If there is an order telling them not to contact you and they contact you anyway, then they are violating the court order. You can report this to the District Attorney's office, the Victim/Witness Advocate, or to the police.

The abusive person should not contact you. If they want to talk to you about the case they should do it through their lawyer. You should not contact them either.

What if the abusive person's lawyer contacts me or wants to talk to me?

The lawyer is not doing anything wrong by trying to talk to you. But you do not have to talk to the lawyer before the trial. If you do not want to talk to the lawyer, just say so. If the lawyer wants to try to settle the case, the lawyer should do it with the District Attorney's office, not with you. If the lawyer wants to ask you questions, they can do that during the trial, while you are in court testifying.

But if you want to talk to the abusive person's lawyer before the trial, you can. It is up to you.

It is very important that you figure out who the abusive person's lawyer is, and to be careful when you speak to them. That lawyer is there to represent the abusive person. The lawyer may try to confuse you. The abusive person's lawyer may use whatever you tell them to confuse your testimony in court.

When do I get to tell what happened?

If there is a trial, the District Attorney's office will ask you to tell the court what happened. Telling the court what happened is called “testifying,” You will have to swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You will testify on the witness stand, in front of the judge and maybe a jury. An Assistant District Attorney will ask you questions about what happened. The abusive person’s lawyer will also ask you questions.

The abusive person and their attorney will be in the courtroom. Other people may be sitting in the courtroom. You can bring friends and family members to be in the courtroom if you want.

Sometimes there is no trial. The abusive person may agree to a “plea bargain.” If the abusive person agrees to a plea bargain, you may not get to tell a judge or jury what happened.

What else happens at the trial?

If there were other witnesses, including the police, they will also be asked to testify. The abuser may testify, too, but he does not have to. Once everyone has testified, either the judge or a jury will make a decision.

What happens if the judge or jury decides the abusive person is guilty?

Many things can happen if the judge or jury decides the abusive person is guilty. The court might send them to jail or give them probation. The court may order them to go to counseling or do other things. It depends on a lot of things, like the type of crime and their past criminal record.

You can talk to the Assistant District Attorney about the types of sentences the person who abused you might get.

What happens if a judge or jury decides the abusive person is not guilty?

The abusive person will be free to leave the court after the trial if the judge or jury decides they are not guilty. You cannot file another criminal complaint about the same event. If the same person abuses you again, you can file a new criminal complaint about the new abuse.

There is always the chance that the abuser will walk out of the court after the trial. You need to think about your safety. It is good to do some safety planning before the trial about how to get home safely that day and how to stay safe afterwards. See our sample Safety Plan .

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