What to expect at a clerk magistrates hearing in Massachusetts

Who is a clerk’s hearing available to?

A Clerk’s Magistrate Hearing, also known as a Show Cause Hearing, is an incredible opportunity for you to prevent a criminal case from appearing on your criminal record (CORI). You will receive a notice to appear for a clerk’s hearing if you were not arrested and brought in for arraignment. This is common for misdemeanor charges and for felonies for which the officer chooses not to arrest you on-site, or for crimes in which an officer was not actually present. The most common clerk’s hearing occurs in response to a Motor Vehicle Citation, or speeding ticket. In this case, you will not receive a notice to attend. Instead it is your responsibility to go to the court within four days of receiving the ticket. A clerk’s hearing occurs in lieu of an arrest when civilians ask the court to bring a criminal charge against you. Massachusetts law requires that, if the officer does not arrest you, the officer ask the court to notify you before a complaint is filed against you. You will then be issued the notice before you are formally charged. The notice typically comes in the mail. Many respondents see this as an indication that the matter is not serious. This is not the case.

What happens at the hearing?

This is your opportunity to have charges thrown out before they can be officially brought against you. At this hearing an accuser can testify against you, typically a police officer presenting their side of the story. They may also bring additional witnesses to the incident. The standard of proof at this hearing is probable cause, meaning there is a reasonable basis for assuming that a crime has been committed. This standard is often easy for the accuser to meet.

You will then have an opportunity to bring witnesses and present evidence. 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. If you succeed, nothing will be marked on your criminal record. It is important to understand that statements made at a clerk’s 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.

After hearing the testimony on both sides, the clerk magistrate will determine if probable cause exists here. If the standard is met, charges will be filed against you. The clerk magistrate may instead decide to hold the complaint for a certain amount of time, often when the accused has no prior criminal history. In this case, the allegations will be dismissed if you have no further run-ins with law enforcement during that period. The allegations may also be dismissed completely if probable cause does not exist.

These hearings may be less formal than district court hearings after charges are filed, but the power they carry cannot be overstated. These hearings should not be taken lightly. This may be your last shot to keep your criminal record clean. If we cannot get your case dismissed outright, our attorneys have the option of negotiating with your accuser to stop the case from going any further.

Our knowledgeable team of criminal defense 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, then contact a Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for your free initial consultation.

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