When an individual is charged with a crime over which the District Court has jurisdiction (all misdemeanors, felonies punishable of a sentence of up to five years and certain other felonies), a criminal complaint issues against them. A criminal complaint is the document that identifies the crime that is alleged to have been committed. Before a criminal complaint can issue, there must be a finding by a magistrate that there is probable cause for the complaint to issue. A magistrate is a District Court official who is authorized by law to authorize the issuance of criminal complaints and issue process (such as an arrest warrant or summons). Probable cause is a very low standard; it simply means that reasonably trustworthy information exists that is sufficient to warrant a prudent person to believe that a crime has been committed and the accused is the perpetrator.
An act of theft committed by forcing the victim to withdraw money from an Automated Teller Machine ("ATM") is sufficient to trigger conviction under a Massachusetts statute prohibiting "confining to commit a felony" (see G.L. c. 265, § 21), the Supreme Judicial Court (the "SJC") decided last month.