Criminal cases involving adult defendants are prosecuted in the four District Courts and the two Superior Courts located in Hampshire and Franklin Counties. Certain felonies, due to their seriousness, can only be prosecuted in Superior Court, such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, drug trafficking, and home invasion. Other crimes that could be prosecuted in District Court are sometimes prosecuted in Superior Court instead, where lengthier sentences to state prison are available. Examples include repeat drunk drivers, high-risk domestic abusers, and defendants who qualify as “habitual offenders” due to their lengthy criminal records.
In Superior Court, cases are tried to 12-person juries, as opposed to 6-person juries in District Court. Regardless, the Commonwealth’s standard of proof at trial remains the same: a person cannot be convicted unless all jurors unanimously agree, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty. This is a bedrock constitutional principle that helps guard against wrongful convictions.
There are nine Assistant District Attorneys who primarily prosecute cases in Superior Court, covering crimes that occur in all 47 cities and towns within the Northwestern District. Prosecutors from our District Courts often assist with Superior Court cases by “second-seating” the lead prosecutors on the case, which provides a valuable mentoring experience.
When a person commits a crime and is arrested by the police, they are normally brought to the District Court for arraignment upon a criminal complaint. But if the decision is made to prosecute the case in Superior Court, it must first be presented to the Grand Jury for indictment. The Grand Jury consists of 23 citizens who, during their three-month term of service, hear a variety of cases and determine whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. “Probable cause” means reasonable grounds to believe that a particular person committed a crime, and is a much lower standard of proof than is required to convict a defendant at trial.
When presenting a case to the Grand Jury, an Assistant District Attorney must disclose any significant exculpatory or mitigating evidence that might seriously affect the Grand Jury’s decision to indict. This ethical requirement ensures that the integrity of the Grand Jury process is preserved, and that indictments are based on trustworthy and reliable evidence.
Defendants in Superior Court can challenge their indictments by alleging either that the Grand Jury heard insufficient evidence to support the charges, or that the Grand Jury presentation was unfair or misleading. In deciding these motions, Superior Court judges can review the transcripts of the Grand Jury presentations, which are otherwise kept confidential. Following a Supreme Judicial Court decision in 2017, the entire Grand Jury presentation is transcribed by a stenographer, including any legal instructions provided by the Assistant District Attorney.
Often times, the earliest stages of a criminal investigation are the most critical. That is why our Superior Court Assistant District Attorneys volunteer for a 24/7 “on-call” rotation, ensuring that a prosecutor is always available to assist when a major crime and/or suspicious death occurs. These cases are often investigated by the Massachusetts State Police Detectives Unit, with teams of Troopers assigned to Hampshire and Franklin Counties. In cases involving serious or fatal motor vehicle crashes, the prosecutors also work closely with the Massachusetts State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section (CARS), who provides an in-depth analysis of the crash scene. The on-call prosecutor is available to answer any legal questions that may arise, review search warrant applications, weigh in on the appropriate charges to file, and even respond to the scene. Once involved in a case from its earliest stages, the prosecutor will likely handle the case as it makes its way through the court system.
Superior Court ADAs
- First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne
- Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Suhl
- Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci, Chief Trial Counsel
- Assistant District Attorney Linda Pisano, Chief of the Child Abuse Unit
- Assistant District Attorney Sandra Staub, Chief of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit
- Assistant District Attorney Jayme Parent, Chief of the Elder and Persons with Disabilities Unit
- Assistant District Attorney Frederic Bartmon, Child Abuse Unit
- Assistant District Attorney Matthew Thomas
- Assistant District Attorney Anne Yereniuk