What is the difference between probable cause and show cause hearings in Massachusetts?

What is a show cause hearing?

A show cause hearing is held before a Massachusetts district court magistrate to establish whether or not there is probable cause that you committed the crime you are accused of. In other words, the prosecution must demonstrate that the evidence shows reasonable grounds for you to be charged with the crime. It is generally available to you if you are accused of committing a misdemeanor crime that you were not arrested for. You may request one within four days of receiving a motor vehicle citation that details misdemeanor charges. At this hearing you, the accused, may bring witnesses. The clerk magistrate will ultimately determine if there is sufficient evidence to constitute probable cause.  If he or she determines there is, you will be given a date for your arraignment, where charges will be formally brought against you. If you were arrested, charged with a felony, or the magistrate determines that you may be dangerous, you are not entitled to a show cause hearing.

What is a probable cause hearing?

A probable cause hearing is one in which a judge determines whether there was probable cause to arrest you or to warrant a search or some other step against you. Importantly, law enforcement must always establish probable cause before they can arrest or search a defendant. This type of hearing may occur after charges have been filed, to determine whether or not a case can be brought to trial,  or after an arrest has been made, to determine whether the arrest was legal or not. The latter usually occurs in conjunction with a defendant’s arraignment. The probable cause hearing basically requires law enforcement to show they had probable cause to arrest someone.

What is the difference?

While both show cause hearings and probable cause hearings serve the same function: to demonstrate probable cause that a defendant committed a crime, they operate differently in the criminal justice system. Probable cause hearings occur when law enforcement is trying to secure a warrant for arrest, or after they arrest somebody without a warrant. Show cause hearings, however, are available to individuals who were never arrested in the first place. Furthermore, show cause hearings are limited to misdemeanor offenses, while probably cause hearings are not.

What does this mean for you?

You should absolutely have an attorney by your side if you are scheduled to appear at a probable cause hearing or a show cause hearing. While neither hearing immediately ends in a criminal penalty, it can ultimately be the difference between your conviction and your acquittal, and will likely determine whether or not the crime marks your criminal record. Courts are typically more sympathetic to a police officer than the accused, so it is imperative that you come prepared with evidence of your innocence. It is important to understand that statements made at a hearing can be used against you. It is in your best interest to contact Altman & Altman LLP to represent you at this early stage to prevent you from implicating yourself.

Give us a call.

Our knowledgeable team of lawyers represents clients who are under investigation or charged with crimes throughout Greater Boston and Massachusetts. We understand the seriousness of these charges, and our phones are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure that you can always reach us when you need to. If you are facing a clerk magistrate hearing, contact a Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for your free initial consultation. To schedule your free consultation with Altman & Altman LLP, call 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199 (toll free), or contact us online.


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