Clerk Magistrate Hearings In Massachusetts

Clerk Magistrate Hearings

Clerk magistrate hearings are one way that people in Massachusetts can be charged with a crime, usually when they have not been arrested. Clerk magistrate hearings are also called “show-cause” hearings. These show-cause hearings most often occur in cases in which a police officer did not actually witness the alleged criminal activity.

What Is A Clerk Magistrate Hearing?

A clerk magistrate hearing is an informal proceeding to determine if a criminal charge should issue against someone. It is a private hearing, not open to the public, though it is recorded. You may have a lawyer with you at the hearing, and you should. If the magistrate issues the criminal charge after the hearing, you will be summonsed to court to be arraigned on the charge. If the clerk does not find probable cause, then no charge will issue, and there will be no record of the hearing.  If you do not show up for the hearing, the criminal charge will issue against you and you will be summonsed into court to be arraigned on the criminal charge.

A Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing is initiated when someone, usually a police officer, but not always, files an “Application for a Criminal Complaint” with the Clerk of the District Court. After the filing of the application for complaint, a clerk magistrate hearing is then scheduled and notice is sent to the respondent in the mail. This notice is called a Summons. Summonses typically arrive through regular mail, so often individuals receiving them do not understand the seriousness of the matter. They may think they are merely being asked to come down to the clerk’s office to correct a minor misunderstanding. This is simply not the case. The clerk magistrate’s hearing is a critical step towards either the initiation of criminal proceedings, or the end to any legal worries.

A person summonsed for a clerk’s hearing is called a “respondent.” They aren’t called a Defendant yet, because no criminal charge has been issued against them at this point. The issue at a magistrate hearing is whether probable cause exists to issue a criminal charge. If the magistrate finds that there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of probable cause, then they will issue a criminal Complaint and the respondent will then be summonsed again, this time for an Arraignment in court.

What Should I Expect at a Clerk Magistrate Hearing?

At the clerk magistrate hearing, the complainant – often a police officer, sometimes a person who is alleging they are the victim of a crime –  is given the opportunity to present their version of the events, as set out in their Application for Criminal Complaint. Other witnesses may be called to give testimony. You, as the respondent, then have the right to testify on your behalf or present other evidence.

After hearing the testimony and other evidence presented by both sides, the clerk magistrate will determine if probable cause exists to support the allegations set out in the Criminal Complaint. Probable Cause means “more likely than not”, and can be thought of as “a 51% likelihood that the person committed the crime.”  It is FAR lower than the Beyond Reasonable Doubt standard of proof required in a criminal trial in court. 

If the probable cause standard is met, the complaint will be accepted and formal criminal charges will issue. The clerk magistrate may, in the alternative, decide to hold the application for complaint for a specified period of time and see if there are any further problems between the parties. This is most often done when the respondent does not have a criminal history. If the respondent does not appear before the clerk magistrate on any additional summons during that time, the complaint will be administratively dismissed-- which means it will not become a part of your record. 

If the clerk magistrate does not find probable cause exists to support the allegations, then the application for complaint is dismissed and will not lead to criminal charges or appear on your record.

A clerk magistrate’s hearing is an important matter, and should not be ignored. This is a chance to avoid a criminal charge and all that entails, including the potential for probation or jail time, fines and fees, and the lifetime consequences of a conviction on your record. It is also a critical opportunity to gather the facts concerning the prosecution’s potential case against you.

You Need an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney to Represent You at a Clerk’s Hearing.

Having a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney represent you at the clerk magistrate hearing is not just recommend, it is necessary. An experienced criminal defense attorney understands the nuances of the probable cause standard and the clerk magistrate hearing process. Even more importantly, he knows the ways to derail a prosecution at this stage, working with the clerk magistrate to resolve the matter short of criminal charges. Maybe most importantly because the hearings are recorded, a lawyer can advise you as to whether or not you should testify (you shouldn’t, but he can speak for you). 

We understand the seriousness of a clerk magistrate hearing and will fight aggressively for you to avoid any sort of criminal charges. We also know how to use the hearing as an opportunity to discover the weaknesses in the prosecution's potential case, so we can be prepared to successfully defend you right from the start, should a criminal charge issue.

Ernest Stone has almost three decades of experience defending good people in Massachusetts, including successfully defending hundreds of Clerk Magistrate Hearings.

If you or a loved one is facing the possibility of criminal charges in Massachusetts, having a highly knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney by your side is important. Contact H. Ernest Stone, Attorney PC, today for a free consultation. 

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